Three Things We Learned From Liverpool’s 2-1 Win Over Hoffenheim

Three Things We Learned From Liverpool’s 2-1 Win Over Hoffenheim
Aug 15, 2017

Champions League Featured Liverpool

Following on from a mediocre display at the weekend, Liverpool’s less than impressive form continued at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Despite taking a win and a couple of crucial away goals back to Anfield, courtesy of an exquisite free-kick from 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold and a James Milner deflected cross, the Reds still looked shaky at points against Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim.

Only a Simon Mignolet penalty save from Andrej Kramarić denied the German side from taking the lead, as Jürgen Klopp’s side failed to fully exert their dominance on their return to European competition.

With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at three things we learned from last nights game heading into next week’s decisive second leg.

Liverpool Need Defensive Reinforcements

Even before this encounter, everyone already knew of Liverpool’s defensive problems and, just like against Watford at the weekend,  they were left exposed for everyone to see once more. Whilst the right side of Alexander-Arnold and Joël Matip looked stable enough, the problems lie firmly on the left side. Dejan Lovren has constantly been at the centre of media and fan criticism and he certainly didn’t help his cause against the Die Kraichgauer attack.

Partnered on the left side of the defence alongside Alberto Moreno, the hosts continued to attack down the right-hand side using the attacking prowess of Pavel Kadeřábek and Serge Gnabry on multiple occasions. Their game plan came to fruition in the 12th minute when the Bayern Munich loanee ran at Lovren and won a penalty after some more calamitous defending from the Croatian. Thankfully for the 28-year-old, his blushes were spared courtesy of a tame penalty from Kramarić.

Nagelsmann and his technical team had clearly done their homework and it showed as time and time again the home side would look to open up the Anfield outfit down their right-hand channel. If it wasn’t for some poor decision making in the final third, Hoffenheim could have easily left after ninety minutes with the tie still firmly in the balance.

Speaking of decision making, the visitors also made some rash, and luckily not punished, mistakes in the dying embers. In stoppage time, instead of taking the ball to the corner flag, Liverpool flooded numbers forward and were lucky not to concede a goal on the counter thanks to a foul from Grujić – which in itself nearly led to a last-minute equaliser.

The need for the club to add Virgil Van Dijk to the squad is as important as it has ever been. His cool, calm and composed influence at the back would significantly help ease Liverpool fans worries when defending a lead late on as, after gifting Watford an injury-time equaliser at the weekend, Hoffenheim missed a gilt-edged chance to nick it at the death with a free header from a free-kick.

Lovren’s rashness was also highlighted at the very start of the game when he ran out of position and ended up mistiming his challenge, leaving the home side with a 2 vs 1 scenario. Both of these issues would be bolstered with the addition of the Dutchman as since the start of the 2015/16 season no other Premier League centre-back has won more aerial duels & tackles combined (327) than the current Southampton defender.

Whether the Saints are ready to allow their star man to move to Merseyside after their breakdown in relations at the start of the summer remains to be seen, but it is essential that Klopp and FSG negotiate a deal to bring another centre-halve to the club.

Liverpool Lack Creativity Without Coutinho And Lallana

Before Liverpool had even kicked a ball in their 2017/18 Premier League campaign they were already up against it. Two of their most influential players in Adam Lallana and Phillipe Coutinho were deemed unavailable due to injury problems, as well as the air of uncertainty hanging over the future of the Brazilian’s future after his transfer request.

Due to the club’s failure to land RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keïta, this meant that five-time European champions were left with only three experienced central midfield players. These names were Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum. Whilst they all have their own qualities, they all lack the killer thing that a player of the ilk of Coutinho possesses: the ability to create something out of nothing and break opposition lines with intricate passes.

Can was the only player out of the midfield three to complete a key pass throughout the whole ninety minutes, whereas Hoffenheim’s midfield trio all made at least one. Furthermore, Liverpool’s ability to dominate in the middle of the park was non-existent, as they were often left chasing their German counterparts shadows. Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum only completed 93 passes between them.

In comparison, Hoffenheim’s midfield of Steven Zuber, Lucas Rupp and Kerim Demirbay completed a massive 145. The difference is staggering and it shows just how much Liverpool struggled in the absence of Coutinho and Lallana.

With their only options on the bench a mix of experience and youth in the shape of James Milner and Marko Grujić, it’s clear that Liverpool need reinforcements. After the failed attempt to lure Keïta to Anfield, Klopp must look for alternatives and with time running out in the transfer market he will have to act fast.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Could Be The Real Deal

At any age, it is a challenge to perform among the European elite, let alone at the tender age of eighteen. But that is exactly what Trent-Alexander Arnold did. He had already been knocking on the door for first team football, but Nathaniel Clyne’s injury before the start of the season has given the youngster the chance to shine. And shine he has!

If there’s one thing you want to do to impress your boss then scoring an exceptional curling free-kick to open the scoring is certainly that. After a period of sustained pressure from the hosts, the England Under-19 international lifted the seemingly heavy weight of expectation off his teammate’s shoulders and they started to adapt back into their usual flowing rhythm.

But it’s not just free-kicks that Alexander-Arnold specialises in. In both games he has started, his corner delivers have been superb and caused plenty of problems for the opposition – something Liverpool have been lacked for a while.

Of course, his main job as a full-back is to defend and he was arguably at fault for the goal that has given Hoffenheim hope of turning the tie around. Mark Uth managed to get in behind and, whilst Alexander-Arnold as rather confusingly calling for offside instead of just defending the immediate danger, the German was able to smash the ball low past Mignolet.

Despite these defensive flaws, club legend Steven Gerrard thinks his willingness to learn could see him reach the very top: Alexander-Arnold’s a great professional, he’s down at the academy all the time, he hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from.” Ironically Alexander-Arnold was the first Liverpool player to score a free-kick in a European game since Gerrard in December 2014.

At just eighteen years old and an actual Scouser, although it might be way too early to tell, Trent Alexander-Arnold could become a fan favourite for many years to come. After dropping points at the weekend, it was crucial for Liverpool to get back to winning ways. Whilst they managed just that, we saw the sparks but once more we also saw the cracks that are evident every time the Reds walk out on to the pitch. Grinding out wins is a pivotal mark of any title winning team and that is exactly what Klopp’s side managed. However, he will know that there is a long, long, long way to go…

 

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