Debutants Hoffenheim out to exploit flaws of Jürgen Klopp′s Liverpool | Champions League | DW | 14.08.2017
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Champions League

Debutants Hoffenheim out to exploit flaws of Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool

Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, one of Europe's most decorated sides, travel to his native Germany to face Champions League debutants Hoffenheim on Tuesday. But the historical chasm between the two will count for little.

In 2005, as Liverpool were becoming champions of Europe for the fifth time in Istanbul following one of football's most momentous comebacks against AC Milan, Hoffenheim had just finished another unremarkable season in Germany's regional leagues.

Fast forward 12 years and the sides meet as equals on the biggest of stages as Hoffenheim's rapid rise, aided substantially by local boy made good Dietmar Hopp of SAP software, reaches its highest point to date.

Both sides finished fourth in their respective leagues last season but know that all their hard work could be undone if they lose the two-legged tie, not to mention the financial hit that playing in the Europa League instead would entail. Both kicked off their seasons last weekend, Hoffenheim squeezing past FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt in the German Cup and Liverpool conceding late against Watford to claim only a 3-3 draw from their opening Premier League fixture.

The English side showed their Achilles' heel again in that match, conceding twice from set pieces. That's unlikely to have come as much of a shock to Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is renowned for his attention to detail and even when the draw was announced at the start of August he'd started to formulate a plan.

"We'll do everything in our power to get through," he said. "Liverpool are a phenomenal side, but I already have an idea how we can snatch a result."

Klopp wary of match-up

For Klopp, who has now been in England for close to two years, their defensive issues are overplayed.

"They didn’t create too much with it, but scored two goals," he said of the Watford match. "The first one, in our specific situation everyone will say it was clear because it was a set-piece, but it was a good cross and a good run. One of [our players] didn’t close the gap so he could not run. We have to work on it, no doubt. We have to work on it, but that’s my life, our life, in football."

Despite that, the 50-year-old is more than aware of the challenge Hoffenheim will pose.

"If we’re only at 95 percent against Hoffenheim we’ll have big, big problems, and they will knock us out," he told German broadcaster DAZN in a pre-season interview. "They are a real tough nut to crack. It’s a great team, with a top coach and great development." 

Anfield's allure

Hoffenheim striker Andrej Kramaric, who played at Anfield during a brief spell at Leicester City, expects his side to rise to the occasion.

"Everyone knows Anfield, everyone knows You'll never walk alone," he told the club's website. "It will be a great atmosphere in the stadium. I like these games. All the senses are sharpened and you are ready. My teammates and I will not be intimidated by the atmosphere there."

Tuesday's game will be the third time Klopp has returned to his homeland since he took the reigns at Anfield. He has previously overseen victories against Augsburg and Dortmund en route to the Europa League final two seasons ago.

Fußball DFB Pokal Borussia Dortmund vs 1899 Hoffenheim (Getty Images/Bongarts/L. Baron)

Roberto Firmino returns to Hoffenheim for the first time since moving to Liverpool in 2015

Liverpool have traveled without Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who officially has a back problem but has also handed in a transfer request. Coutinho's compatriot Roberto Firmino will return to the club where he made his name between 2011 and 2015.

Hoffenheim have no such problems, with a full squad available to Nagelsmann, who recently picked up Germany's coach of the year award. However, they will of course be without Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy, who both left for Bayern in the off season in a bid to win trophies. Victory over their illustrious opponents may make Hoffenheim's next generation think twice before following suit. 

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