Alexander-Arnold leads Liverpool Champions League charge
Teenager gets Reds rolling with free-kick against European new boys Hoffenheim
Hoffenheim 1 Liverpool 2
Liverpool cleared the first hurdle of their Champions League campaign but it was a nervy performance from the Reds against the big stage debutants, who had never before appeared in a European tournament, let alone the Champions League.
Hoffenheim were the underdogs for the first leg of their play-off tie. But they began the stronger of the two clubs and should have gone a goal up on 11 minutes when Dejan Lovren conceded a penalty for a foul on Serge Gnabry.
But Simon Mignolet saved Andrej Kramaric's dismal attempt at a spot kick and the visitors punished the profligacy of their hosts ten minutes before the interval.
It was another set-piece, this time a free-kick, and Trent Alexander-Arnold's low strike beat Oliver Baumann in the Hoffenheim goal to cap a memorable night for the 18-year-old.
"It's a thing of dreams to make your European debut for your boyhood club and especially to mark it with a goal," said Alexander-Arnold, who had never before scored for the Reds. "I got egged on to take the free-kick. I had the confidence to finally take it."
The goal imbued the rest of the Reds with similar confidence and they perhaps should have increased their lead through either Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino.
Both failed to convert the chances that came their way and it wasn't until substitute Havard Nordtveit deflected James Milner's cross into his own goal on 74 minutes that Liverpool began to breathe more easily.
But the Germans, who went through last season unbeaten at home, scored a crucial late goal three minutes from time when Mark Uth picked up a long pass and took advantage of poor defending from Alexander-Arnold, who failed to spring the offside trap, to fire past Mignolet.
"We're disappointed with the goal we conceded," said Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who knows his team can afford no complacency for the return leg at Anfield next Wednesday. "But overall we have to be pleased with the result and how we played at times… we knew this would be a tough game, Hoffenheim are a very strong team."
Asked why he'd let a teenage rookie take the free-kick, Henderson explained: "Trent is brilliant. He was outstanding last season and he has come back and gone up a level in pre-season. The free-kick is no coincidence he has been doing them every day in training, that is why he is on them."
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp gave a candid assessment of the youngster's Champions League debut, telling reporters: "For an 18-year-old to have the balls to kick a free-kick like that is more interesting and exciting for me than a little mistake he made. It was an intensive game for him. He has still some things to learn. He thought it was offside but it was obviously not offside, unfortunately. Trent is a great player and I have to say I would rather have 2-1 than 1-0."
'Old horse' Klopp warns Liverpool ahead of Hoffenheim test
Liverpool kick off their Champions League campaign tonight in Germany with an awkward play-off tie against Hoffenheim, and Jurgen Klopp has warned his squad against any complacency.
"If we’re only at 95 per cent against Hoffenheim we’ll have big, big problems, and they will knock us out," said Klopp, who knows the club well from his time coaching Borussia Dortmund. "They are a real tough nut to crack. It’s a great team, with a top coach and great development."
The coach in question is Julian Nagelsmann, just 30 years old and considered a rising star in the German game. The Bundesliga's youngest ever head coach – Nagelsmann was just 28 when he was promoted from Hoffenheim's youth team in February 2016- he steered Hoffenheim to fourth in the league last season and the opportunity to compete in a European competition for the first time in the club's history.
Nicknamed 'Baby Mourinho' by some commentators in Germany, Nagelsmann went into coaching after his playing career was curtailed by a serious knee injury and he's proved a master tactician, turning Hoffenheim into a team who went through last season unbeaten at home.
Taking on five-times European champions Liverpool will be the biggest test of his coaching career to date but excitement and not anxiety is his overriding emotion ahead of tonight's first-leg in what is expected to be a full-house in the 30,000 Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
"We are totally looking forward to going into these games," he said. "We have been drawn against a strong opponent. But we will meet this challenge in a confident manner… we worked hard for a whole year to be able to take part in European competition and we are looking forward to the exciting tasks we will be facing."
At Monday night's press conference Klopp referred to himself as "the old horse in the stable" with Nagelsmann "the new horse", but the Liverpool manager will be determined to put the young thoroughbred in his place.
He'll have to do so without Philippe Coutinho, who has been left out of Liverpool's squad after the 25-year-old midfielder submitted a transfer request last week.
The Brazilian is still suffering from the back injury that sidelined him for Saturday's league opener against Watford, and there was the inevitable question about Coutinho at the press conference. "Nothing has changed," said Klopp. "Not one one side or the other side. He’s not available for us at the moment. That’s main issue."
The Sun claims that Klopp has identified Nice star Jean-Michael Seri as Coutinho's replacement having called off the chase for Leipzig's Naby Keita. Midfielder Seri has been linked to Arsenal and Tottenham in recent weeks but the Sun says that Liverpool are ready to offer the French club £36m for the Ivory Coast international.