August is an early point in your season to have a make-or-break match, but such is the state of affairs for Liverpool. Still reeling from the turmoil caused by Philippe Coutinho’s transfer request, and in the wake of a disappointing 3-3 stalemate at Watford, Liverpool will now have to travel to Germany to take on Hoffenheim in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier. Failure to advance could have devastating consequences on and off the pitch.
Björn Kuipers from the Netherlands has been named as the official for this Tuesday’s match, and while Liverpool have not lost any of their prior European fixtures while Kuipers was officiating, the Echo notes that those occasions were not exactly the most auspicious for Liverpool’s european forays either. Most recently, Kuipers presided over a 3-1 Liverpool victory against Zenit St. Petersburg and a 1-1 draw with FC Basel, but both matches ended up with the Reds falling out of the Europa League and the Champions League respectively.
In this instance, merely avoiding defeat at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena might be a challenge. Coutinho is unlikely to feature, for myriad reasons, and Adam Lallana continues to be missed since succumbing to injury. More worryingly, Hoffenheim pose a major threat from set pieces, having scored 16 times last season from such situations, equalling Bayern Munich’s mark. Liverpool, as Watford exposed, continue to struggle tremendously when defending corners and free kicks.
If the squad can’t find a way to plug those gaps in the next two days, Liverpool’s 2017-2018 Champions League campaign may be a very brief one.