Liverpool booked a place in the Champions’ League group stages with a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim, in a terrific attacking performance at Anfield.
With Jurgen Klopp’s side taking a 2-1 away lead going into the tie, the Germans were very confident ahead of the clash – reflected in manager Julien Naglesmann’s comments:
“I don’t care about home or away, we won’t be intimidated by Anfield. I am not overly in awe of this club.”
The 30 year old must have been regretting his comments as early as the 22nd minute though: Liverpool got off to a lightening start, with the sizzling Anfield atmosphere invariably playing a part.
The Reds applied plenty of early pressure and intensity, and were rewarded when Emre Can’s deflected effort put the hosts ahead.
Hoffenheim looked stung, and the Merseysiders continued their rampant start with new signing Mohamed Salah netting his first European goal for Liverpool – tapping in after Georginio Wijnaldum’s effort hit the post.
The siege did not end there.
As Klopp’s side again poured forward, Sadio Mane spotted Roberto Firmino on the overlap, who crossed for Emre Can to drill in a powerful shot. It was the German’s second, and his side’s third.
Naglesmann brought on striker Mark Uth shortly after in an attempt to cause Liverpool problems on the counter atrack, and he immediately made an impact – firing home past Simon Mignolet at the Kop End to offer the visitors a slight glimmer of hope as the Reds’ intensity dropped just before the break.
But any Die Kraichgauer hopes were extinguished in the 62nd minute, as Roberto Firmino tapped in following captain Jordan Henderson’s persistence to put the tie behind Naglesmann’s side.
Hoffenheim weren’t done yet, though.
More careless defending from the hosts was punished by Sandro Wagner, leaping higher than Dejan Lovren to head home and leave Mignolet stranded.
It mattered little though, as Liverpool sealed their place in the group stages of the Champions League.
Here are my MOTM contenders from the contest at Anfield..
3 – Emre Can
Can was rested during Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace, with Klopp taking a bold decision to rest him ahead of a crucial Champions League tie against the German side at Anfield – and it was a decision that reaped rewards.
The German received a few detractors following some underwhelming performances in the centre of the park lately, being criticised for failing to bring some much-needed guile to the play.
It was a much improved performance though by the 23 year old; with more license to roam with better defensive protection in the midfield, he flourished against Hoffenheim.
Can acted as a decoy for the three centre-backs, occupying horizontal half spaces that manager Jurgen Klopp does at times crave. As on several occasions Naglesmann’s side were guilty of suspect defensive positioning, the midfielder ruthlessly capitalised on this.
He found himself in acres of space to fire home Liverpool’s opener, before occupying the right hand side and drilling home. Whilst the German’s poor defensive shape may have paid a part in Can finding himself in so much space throughout, it is an underrated side of his game.
Can can take plenty of respite from his performance, and this would have no doubt have increased the cries from supporters for a new contract extension.
2- Sadio Mane
The Senegalese grabbed Liverpool’s winner on Saturday, and he again turned in another influential performance as the Merseysiders cruised to victory. Although Mane wasn’t on the scoresheet this time, he played a part in two of the Reds’ first half goals.
His direct style of play and pace caused Hoffenheim countless problems in the opening stages – and probably should’ve put the hosts ahead, only to see his low effort saved by Baumann.
The 25-year old then combined terrific awareness with skill for the opener, finding Emre Can in space with a cheeky backheel which created the opening goal. He set up the third in similar fashion, this time backheeling it to teammate Roberto Firmino who again picked out Can to finish.
The left winger continued to harass the likes of Benjamin Hübner and Kevin Vogt who were starting in a back three for the visitors, continually beating his man by the byline and thus creating several chances.
He added an extra dimension that the Reds were needing from the off, injecting much needed intensity, dynamism and end product.
1 – Roberto Firmino
Mane gave him a close fight, but, Roberto Firmino is my Man Of The Match.
What’s been said about him that hasn’t been said before? There has been plenty made about the creativity of Liverpool’s little magician Philippe Coutinho, and the pace and direct threat in wingers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – but Firmino is probably a prominent member of the squad that rarely gets singled out for praise in comparison to his attacking compatriots.
At times you need to watch the Brazilian closer to see the influence he has on Liverpool’s play – but on Wednesday night, he was directly involved in two first half goals, and even got on the scoresheet in the second half.
With his position a false nine in the 4-3-3, Firmino continually dropped deep to support any attacking forays, and also drifted infield to create opportunities going forward for wingers Mane and Salah throughout.
His vision was superb in setting up the latter’s strike, finding Georginio Wijnaldum in acres of space – with the Egyptian slotting home the loose ball.
The 25-year old then clipped a delightful ball to the right hand side for Emre Can to score his second of the game and Liverpool’s third, showcasing an unique side to a false nine’s game.
Firmino finally bagged his deserved goal with a tap in following Jordan Henderson’s unselfishness to square it to him.
He was by far Klopp’s biggest creative outlet on the night, and just another glimpse of the attacking intelligence he really possesses to his game.