Hoffenheim vs Liverpool. UEFA Champions League Qualifying Play-Offs Round.
Tuesday 15 August 2017 20:33, UK
Liverpool will be without striker Daniel Sturridge for Tuesday night's Champions League play-off first-leg tie at Hoffenheim.
Sturridge missed Saturday's Premier League opener at Watford after suffering a thigh injury in pre-season, but there was hope he could feature against the Bundesliga side.
However, it now appears the game has come too soon for the injury-plagued England international, with the 27-year-old joining unsettled playmaker Philippe Coutinho by being not included in Jurgen Klopp's 22-man squad for the trip to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
The Liverpool manager will need no warnings about the threat awaiting his side on Tuesday evening though after Hoffenheim progressed to this clash via a fourth-place finish in the Bundesliga last season.
And the German, who will be returning to his homeland, has told his players they will need to be at their very best if they want to make it through to the group stage of the Champions League.
"If we're only at 95 per cent against Hoffenheim we'll have big, big problems, and they will knock us out," Klopp told German broadcaster DAZN.
"They are a real tough nut to crack. It's a great team, with a top coach and great development.
"I saw them play against Bologna in their pre-season friendly and how much possession they had. They have a real cheeky confidence. They were very good."
Meanwhile Hoffenheim, who do not kick off their Bundesliga campaign until Saturday when they host Werder Bremen, are confident of knocking Liverpool out.
"We're at home first, and we have to try to win both games," midfielder Serge Gnabry told Kicker.
"The two teams will approach it very differently [to their previous games], and will give absolutely everything. We've definitely got a chance. There's a lot on the line for both clubs."
The Reds will be without Sturridge (thigh), Coutinho (back), Adam Lallana (thigh) and Nathaniel Clyne (back) for the game after the quartet all missed Saturday's 3-3 draw at Watford with injury
Hoffenheim secured their highest Bundesliga finish of fourth last season, nine years after being promoted to the top flight for the first time.
Liverpool started 2017 in second place - six points behind leaders Chelsea and ended the season 17 points behind the champions.
Hoffenheim lost only two of their last 14 league games.
In the last eight seasons, Liverpool have finished 23, 22, 37, 28, 2, 25, 21 & 17 points respectively behind the champions.
Hoffenheim are unbeaten in 17 home league games, winning 11. They've lost only one of the last 22.
Liverpool won 76 points last season, 16 more than during 2015-16.
Hoffenheim kept a clean sheet in four of their last five home league games. Going further back, they have kept a clean sheet in eight of the last 13.
Liverpool unbeaten in 14 PL games against sides in the top eight last season, winning seven.
Hoffenheim won only three of their last 13 away league games, and lost two of the last four.
Liverpool won 17 points after conceding the opening goal last season, joint most with Tottenham.
Julian Nagelsmann became the youngest manager in Bundesliga history when he was appointed in February 2016 at the age of 28. Hoffenheim were seven points from safety when he took over from Huub Stevens, but won seven of their last 14 league games to survive, before going on to finish fourth in his first full season. His playing career was ended at U19 level by a series of knee injuries
Liverpool won four of their last five away PL games, and went three without conceding before Saturday's 3-3 draw at Watford
This is a really tough tie for Liverpool. They were defensively questionable again against Watford. Have they improved? No.
The Virgil van Dijk cloud was hanging over them and now the Philippe Coutinho cloud is darkening. They need positive resolutions to both deals if they are to be really successful this season.
Why on earth do you spend £10m on Andrew Robertson and then not even put him in the squad? I know he's due to be a Dad, but all of the sudden they play the guy who was supposed to be out of the door in Alberto Moreno.
What have they actually changed from last season? They're better counter-attacking team with Mohamed Salah, but the issue for Liverpool is not about attacking, it's about defending, just like Arsenal.
Their goalkeeper and centre backs are questionable, and if Klopp could turn round and say to Mamadou Sakho 'you upset me, but you could be my centre back' that's all it would take, but it sound likes he's too stubborn.
Hoffenheim are a difficult side and have the physical presence to trouble Liverpool's defence, but I think the visitors will score first with Roberto Firmino, partly because I like these football scripts for players to score against their former clubs, but my bet would be for Hoffenheim to come from behind to win.
Charlie predicts: 2-1 (10/1 with Sky Bet)
Liverpool are Sky Bet's 13/10 favourites to establish a first-leg lead, with Hoffenheim 21/10 despite home advantage, while the draw is priced at 13/5. The Reds are odds-on to progress with their hosts given a 9/4 chance, while Klopp's men are also naturally shorter in the Champions League outright market at 25/1. Former Leicester man Andrej Kramaric heads a wide-open first goalscorer market at 5/1, with Sadio Mane considered the Reds' main threat at 11/2, while Roberto Firmino is enhanced from 13/2 to 15/2 to net first against his former club.