Liverpool is making its grand return to the UEFA Champions League, but it faces one of the toughest tests in Hoffenheim on Tuesday for a place in the group stage.
Jurgen Klopp faces Germany’s newest manager darling in Julian Naglesman, the 30-year-old who managed to take a team in a relegation battle and earn them a place in the Champions League playoff round for the first time in club history.
Liverpool will be without Philippe Coutinho, who’s transfer saga continues to dominate headlines, due to a back issue, and Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana also miss out with injury. But Liverpool heads to Germany with a strong squad capable of bringing home a good result ahead of the second leg at Anfield on August 23.
Here’s a look at three keys to victory for Liverpool in the Champions League:
Take advantage of speed
With both players ability to stretch the defense, they’re always a threat for a long ball from Jordan Henderson or Emre Can, but as the team showed against Watford, if they play fast in their mind in small spaces, they can open up space against a strong European opponent.
Play through Firmino
Facing his old club, you can bet that Firmino will be even more motivated to score and earn Liverpool a solid result on the road.
The Brazilian international should get a few touches early in the match and if the long ball to Mane or Salah isn’t on, Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Can should be sure to bring Firmino into the play, which can then open up space in behind for Mane and Salah.
Tighten up defending on set pieces
It’s early in the season, but Liverpool looked rough defending corner kicks and free kicks at times in the draw at Watford.
Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren have plenty of chemistry playing together, so to allow three goals to Watford is unacceptable. On Tuesday, Matip and Lovren will face an even tougher frontline, featuring Sandro Wagner, Kemir Demirbay and Andrej Kramaric.
Add in former Arsenal youth product Havard Nortveit and there will be plenty of imposing figures in the box on set pieces, giving Liverpool plenty of challenges defensively. With goal differential and away goals so important in European ties, keeping Hoffenheim to no more than one goal is of utmost importance to Jurgen Klopp and co.