Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool: Talking points from Champions League win
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 15/08/17 11:57pm
After Liverpool won 2-1 at Hoffenheim in the first leg of their Champions League play-off round tie, we pick out the talking points from the match…
A year ago today, Trent Alexander-Arnold was more than two months off making his first-team debut for Liverpool. But, with Nathaniel Clyne out injured, the 18-year-old has more than seized the opportunities afforded to him at right-back over the last month or so.
Against Hoffenheim he looked confident, composed and showed good decision-making to get forward at the right times to support the attacks. He kept Andrej Kramaric quiet all match and capped off a fine display with his first goal for the club, firing in a brilliant, curling free-kick from 30 yards out to put Liverpool ahead.
The only blot on the copy book was when he allowed Mark Uth to get goal-side to score Hoffenheim's late goal as he was appealing for offside. That should be a lesson learned, but otherwise it was a very encouraging display.
"For an 18-year-old to have the balls to kick a free-kick is better than the mistake," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp afterwards.
"It was a very intensive match for him, he still has a little few things to learn, but he is an incredible young player."
Mignolet is spot on, again
Simon Mignolet has come in for criticism during his time at Liverpool, but he played a crucial role in securing a first-leg lead.
Not only did he keep out Kramaric's tame penalty - his seventh save from 20 penalties at Liverpool - but he also made several other key stops.
He was out sharply to deny Serge Gnabry late in the first half and saved well from Nadiem Amiri later in the game as Liverpool ensured they take an advantage to Anfield for the second leg on August 23.
If Mignolet can consistently produce these sort of performances then it might just help another issue…
Liverpool lose control
Having been criticised for their defending from set-pieces against Watford on Saturday, it was expected that Hoffenheim would cause Liverpool more problems, given their strengths in that particular area of the game.
Yet the visitors largely defended well until late in the game, when they almost threw their advantage away. First, Alexander-Arnold lost Uth from a cross-field pass, then Benjamin Hubner missed a free header in injury-time from a free-kick curled into the box.
"It wasn't defended properly and that's where you worry about Liverpool," said former Arsenal forward Ian Wright on The Debate on Sky Sports Premier League.
"Going forward there is a lot of off-the-cuff play, but they don't seem to pay any attention to what is going on at the back. I can't understand why they are not doing it, they just need to get them as a unit to work together and defend as a team."
Coutinho for Van Dijk?
Liverpool have signed one defender this summer - Andy Robertson - but he is yet to play competitively. They have been linked with a move for Virgil van Dijk, although Southampton say they are not planning to sell.
Liverpool also say they are not planning to sell Barcelona target Philippe Coutinho, but would they be better off if they brought in Van Dijk and sold Coutinho?
"I'd go with the defender," said Wright. "But I would try to find more defenders because I don't think it's going to be just one guy and everything will be rosy. You need a unit defending together.
"One guy is not going to stop them conceding goals from set pieces as they have done, but it's more important than keeping Coutinho right now."
Mane stars in front three
While Roberto Firmino was largely quiet on his return to Hoffenheim, where he played between 2011 and 2015, and Mohamed Salah failed to make an impact despite having a couple of good chances, Sadio Mane ran the hosts ragged.
The 25-year-old looked unplayable at times as he tormented defenders with his pace, direct running and skill.
He won the free-kick for the opening goal with a burst through the middle that forced Ermin Bicakcic to bring him down and on the left he constantly caused problems as he darted past players. He should also have registered another assist as he set up for Firmino for a shot from eight yards out.
Mane was a big miss for Liverpool when he was out injured last season and it looks like he will be a key player again.