Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim’s bright young thing of a coach, proclaimed he was not in awe of Anfield but his team were overawed by the attacking prowess of Liverpool.
Overrun and overpowered too as Jürgen Klopp’s side advanced into the Champions League group stage with an emphatic defeat of Hoffenheim. The likes of Barcelona will not be competitors only in the transfer market this season.
A mesmerising display from Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and the Hoffenheim old boy Roberto Firmino in particular helped to give Liverpool a commanding early lead against the European debutants. Emre Can profited twice with Salah and the outstanding Firmino also on the scoresheet. Hoffenheim fought back valiantly through Mark Uth and Sandro Wagner but a Liverpool victory was never in doubt. Klopp’s team seized the opportunity to shape their season for the better.
For only the second time since they acquired Liverpool in 2010 Fenway Sports Group presides over a club in the Champions League group stages. The extra revenue will be welcomed, naturally, but the price of qualification had no monetary value at Anfield.
After an arduous season to reach the play-offs a return to the European elite marks a significant step forward for Liverpool under Klopp. His wild reaction to the final whistle was as much a release as a celebration.
Positive pressure, Klopp called it, and his team thrived on it. The second leg served up another breathless encounter but unlike in Germany last week the opening exchanges flowed one way. Liverpool’s way.
After 21 minutes of attacking excellence they had put the tie beyond Hoffenheim, scoring three times to leave the visitors needing four goals to advance and ensuring the Premier League would have five teams in the Champions League group stages. By the 24th Nagelsmann had no alternative but to tear up his game-plan and go for broke, sacrificing the hapless Havard Nordtveit and introducing another striker with Liverpool running riot. Their front three of Mané, Firmino and Salah were irrepressible and destroyed their opponents at will.
Liverpool were on the front foot from the first whistle and had created several openings before establishing an early, crucial lead.
In fairness to Alberto Moreno, who was roundly criticised for his first leg display, he repaid Klopp’s show of faith in keeping the same starting line-up by helping set a relentless tempo. It was a foul on the rampaging left-back that offered Trent Alexander-Arnold the chance to reprise his free-kick expertise from Liverpool’s opening attack. This time the teenager struck the wall but his effort deflected onto Salah who headed over from close range.
Firmino then served notice of his outstanding awareness, not that his former club required a reminder, with a superb diagonal pass to release Mané in behind Nordtveit. The in-form Senegal international looked certain to score only for Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann to save with an outstretched left leg.
At the other end Serge Gnabry sliced a glorious opportunity wide from Pavel Kaderabek’s low cross but a correct offside flag spared his individual blushes. Collectively, however, Hoffenheim’s humiliation was only beginning.
Having escaped once, the Bundesliga side were carved open again when Firmino repeated his pass behind the former West Ham United defender into Mané. This time Kevin Vogt caught up and closed the direct route to goal, prompting Mané to back-heel into the path of the over-lapping Emre Can. The Germany international’s shot was heading across goal before a deflection off a covering defender left Baumann wrong-footed and beaten.
Firmino was unplayable and helped to double the home side’s advantage on the night when, dancing in from the left, he picked out Georginio Wijnaldum with a low cross that the midfielder side‑footed against a post. Salah, unmarked and onside, was on hand to convert the rebound from close range.
The third arrived within two minutes and will live long in the memory as an outstanding team goal. Firmino, yet again, was at its heart. The Brazil international was involved at the start of the move when he laid off Moreno’s pass into Wijnaldum inside his own half. Wijnaldum’s first‑time ball released Mane down the left who, spotting Firmino’s remarkable run, delivered another back-heel into the path of his overlapping team-mate. Firmino chipped an inch-perfect cross to the back post for Can to volley home from close range. A stunning move.
His hopes and defence in tatters, Nagelsmann had to act and introduced Mark Uth for the frequently exposed Nordtveit. In fairness to Hoffenheim they responded well and it was a sign of their improvement that Klopp had become exasperated before Uth, scorer of his team’s consolation in the first leg, struck again.
Serge Gnabry produced a awful finish when played through by Andrej Kramaric, clipping the ball over Simon Mignolet but also yards wide of the far post. It was left to Uth to show his teammates how to finish. Sandro Wagner released his fellow forward clear on the right and Uth beat Mignolet with a precise shot into the far corner.
Anfield was not in danger of witnessing another remarkable European comeback, however. Liverpool maintained control and the ability to hurt Hoffenheim whenever their front three took possession.
Wijnaldum, released by Salah, fired over from only six yards out and Mané tested Baumann with a blistering shot from the angle before Firmino was presented with the goal he merited.
Jordan Henderson made the fourth by hunting down an under-cooked pass by Kerem Demirbay and beating Vogt in the tackle. The Liverpool captain raced through on goal but selflessly squared for Firmino to finish beyond Baumann, before Wagner reduced the deficit with a towering header from Kramaric’s cross.
This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.