Liverpool 4 (6)
Hoffenheim 2 (3)
By Umarah Naz
It’s 19:45 at Anfield under the lights. As the Champions League music rings out around the stadium packed with over fifty thousand fans, the anticipation is heightened by the significance of the next ninety minutes.
Avoid defeat and Liverpool Football Club build upon the foundations laid last season by cementing their place in the group stages of the Champions League; a competition that has traditionally been a forte but recently grown to be a luxury.
Reds have yearned for another crack at at Europe’s elite since the throughly underwhelming return in 2014/15. A single group win was all that could be mustered with it all ending far too soon. Those demons have had to wait a long time to be laid to rest and Wednesday night was the opportunity to get that ball rolling.
The scene was set, the rhetoric had ended and it was time for the players to finish their managers talking on the pitch. And although there really should have been nothing to worry about when it came to Liverpool finishing the job after winning 2-1 last week, it’s never really a done deal when it comes to Klopp’s Reds.
The defensive problems always sow the seeds of doubt in the most upbeat of fans. But who needs a good defence when you have attacking options like Liverpool have? ‘You score, we’ll score more’ seems to have been the Liverpool way but whereas the defence have always quite happily upheld their end of the bargain, the attack always hasn’t. Needs fixing, right?
Much to the disappointment of some, Klopp reverted back to the team that beat Hoffenheim last week in Germany despite an excellent showing by the changed team against Crystal Palace. One can only think rotations and match fitness influenced his choices.
But the first twenty minutes or so put any fears to bed. The trio of Mané, Salah and Firmino were absolutely exhilarating to watch as they cut through the Hoffenheim defence like a hot knife through butter time and again.
It took just ten minutes for Emre Can to score. Firmino’s pass found Mane who played the most gorgeous backheel to a marauding Can who’s shot deflected in.
Eight minutes later, Salah scored his first goal at Anfield followed by a rather understated but brilliantly cool celebration. Firmino was again involved doing the hard work beating defenders and placing the ball into the feet of a somewhat surprised Wijnaldum. His shot hit the post but rebounded perfectly into the path of the waiting Egyptian who fired home for a 2-0 lead.
But those were mere starters for the main course waiting to be served up. A Wijnaldum-Mané-Firmino-Can centrepiece that needs to be seen to be appreciated. Meagre words cannot do it justice so I won’t even begin to try. Klopp said it best, ‘THAT’S FOOTBALL!’
Liverpool are running rampant and Jürgen Klopp loves it!
What a team goal this is 👏 pic.twitter.com/GsvCFxYOBl
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) August 23, 2017
As Liverpool were running rampant, Hoffenheim had a few chances of their own to score. Gnabry was a nuisance upfront for them and came close were it not for some poor finishing, an offside flag and good defending by TAA.
Nagelsmann’s men did get a couple of consolation goals but the Reds were out of sight by then. Liverpool could easily have added a few more with Mané, Firmino and Wijnaldum but were denied by Baumann.
If anyone deserved a goal to cap off a superb night it was Firmino, who had been simply electric for everything Liverpool did going forward. It would have been a travesty had he gone home with his name missing from the scoresheet. And our captain agreed.
Midway through the second-half, Henderson capitalised on some horrific defending by Hoffenheim. His high pressing saw him steal the ball from Hoffenheim captain, Kevin Vogt, and found himself clean through on goal. But instead of shooting, Henderson unselfishly played the ball into the feet of the incoming Brazilian who finished with class, completing his man of the match performance.
It’s how one would want to perform in a job interview or an audition; showcasing your very best attributes in one handy match. Let’s just hope Barcelona weren’t watching.
With that scintillating show Liverpool are back where they belong. It may not be the Liverpool of yesteryear but with each new opportunity comes the chance to write another chapter of this great club’s history. And if that match was anything to go by then many defences across Europe will dread having to tame that strike force.
Jurgen’s Reds may be frustrating to watch at times with the obvious frailties but what cannot be doubted is their undoubted ability to excite.
Fans have sorely missed being in the Champions League but the Champions League has sorely missed Liverpool more.
Hopefully, they can do the competition justice and repeat the glory days. There’s nothing quite like European nights at Anfield. Under the lights.