UCL Playoff Preview: Klopp, Liverpool set for Champions League return

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In his second full season at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has his Liverpool side back in the UEFA Champions League, but only just.

By way of finishing in fourth place in the Premier League last season, Klopp’s side have to qualify for the group stage and standing in its way is one of Germany’s top young managers and his inspiring story, Julian Nagelsman.

The 30-year-old manager guided Hoffenheim, which survived a relegation playoff in 2016, to fourth place a year later and qualification into Europe for the first time in club history.

Here’a a look at this week’s Champions League playoff matchups.


Hoffenheim vs. Liverpool — Tuesday, (2:45 p.m. ET)

Thee ongoing transfer saga surrounding Philippe Coutinho has taken most of the team’s media coverage, but there’s plenty on the line on Tuesday in Hoffenheim.

Jurgen Klopp has to regroup his defense following the wild 3-3 draw against Watford last Saturday, but Jordan Henderson and former Hoffenheim star Roberto Firmino are raring to go.

Even though these two teams haven’t met recently, Liverpool does have some history recently, having won each of its last six ties on German soil.

Nice vs. Napoli — Wednesday, (2:45 p.m. ET)

Nice, featuring the likes of Mario Balotelli, Wesley Sneijder and Dante and coached by veteran manager Lucien Favre, surprised many by taking down Ajax in the third qualifying round. But now the French club face a Champions League regular in Napoli,

It’s a chance for Balotelli to show he’s still got it against former Azzurri teammate Lorenzo Insigne and the Italian side, whom he played against plenty while at Inter Milan and AC Milan.

Napoli is looking to make the group stage for the fourth time and second straight year, while Nice is in Europe for the first time since 1960 after a dream season in Ligue 1 last year.

Rest of CL qualification schedule (All times at 2:45 p.m. unless noted)

Tuesday

Qarabağ vs. FC Copenhagen – 12 p.m.
Apoel vs. Slavia Prague
Sporting CP vs. Steaua București
BSC Young Boys vs. CSKA Moscow

Wednesday

Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. NK Maribor
Olympiakos vs. Rijeka
Istanbul Başakşehir vs. Sevilla
Celtic vs. Astana