Crucial qualifier pits a German Porsche against an English Jaguar – although one built by a German
LOTHAR MATTHAUS is SunSport’s European football expert.
Today the Germany legend assesses the task Liverpool face in the Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim.
HERE in Germany we are all talking about this game, for obvious reasons.
Hoffenheim were the surprise package of the Bundesliga last season, while Liverpool have a German coach and players, with Roberto Firmino coming back to the club he left as well.
At this moment you have to say Liverpool are in a better position. I saw how they played in Munich the other week and the quality of the players.
Hoffenheim are missing two key players from last season after they sold Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern. They will miss them and that might make the difference over the two games.
Sule held the defence together while Rudy was the brains of the team, so important and such a confident captain.
But Hoffenheim have a lot of young and talented players and even without Rudy and Sule they have a good team.
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This is a German Porsche against an English Jaguar, although one built by a German. It will be a great advertisement for football.
Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann has made a huge impression. He is the youngest coach in the history of the Bundesliga at the age of 30, and has done a fantastic job in the past 18 months.
When he took over the club, Hoffenheim were 17th out of 18 and seven points from safety.
He kept them up and last season finished fourth.
I like him very much because he is an authentic coach, talented and intelligent. He doesn’t play for a draw or to nick a result.
He wants to play attractive attacking football and to press from the start.
Of course Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will know about that, although he has never coached against Nagelsmann.
Even so, he will, I am sure, tell his players they won’t have any easy ball possession and that they will be attacked from the start.
Hot off the press
IT’S strange Hoffenheim have such a good home record — we’re not talking about their stadium being a big arena like Dortmund or Munich.
But the team clearly feel confident there. When they played Munich last season, they made Bayern look as bad as I have ever seen them.
For the first 45 minutes, they did not give Bayern any chance to recover — not a second to rest.
They were just relentless, attacking and pressing so that Bayern couldn’t get out of their own half.
It was one of the strongest displays of pressing I have ever seen.
What I like about them is that they play uncomplicated football. The coach makes the game easy for them and does not ask for anything special.
But they have a lot of high-speed players, young and talented footballers who are the future of Germany.
Of course, Liverpool are a pressing team as well and it will be a high-speed game.
Hoffenheim play like no other team I’ve seen and they have the self-belief to do it against good teams, as well as teams they should be beating.
Liverpool have to be prepared for that first spell and the high intensity of it. They will have to get through a very tough first 20 minutes.
Striker Sandro Wagner is very strong, a true No 9, who really made his mark playing with Germany in the Confederations Cup.
He is good in the air and has proved he can score goals. He had offers from both West Ham and Stoke this summer — but he wanted to stay.
I think Hoffenheim can win the first game but I expect Liverpool to use Anfield to make sure they go through in a high-scoring tie. We will see goals, I’m sure of that.
? Hoffenheim v Liverpool: Best bets ?
?DIAMOND: Hoffenheim to score from a set piece, 2/1 (add to your bet slip) – “Hoffenheim are the set-piece kings of the Bundesliga”
➡NEXT BEST: Liverpool to draw with Hoffenheim, 12/5 (add to your bet slip) – “This is no gimme for Liverpool”
?LONG SHOT: Serge Gnabry to score first, 13/2 (add to your bet slip)