So this is what it all comes down to. Liverpool must get the better of Hoffenheim over the course of two matches in order to book their tickets to the group stage and the Champions League proper. Having pipped Arsenal to fourth last year was crucial, but without an aggregate win over the German side, it will all have been for nought.
It means a return to the Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena for Roberto Firmino, who spent five seasons with die Kraichgauer before joining the Reds in a £29m deal two years ago, and yet another return to Germany for Jürgen Klopp, his third since taking the reins at Liverpool, having already conquered Augsburg and his former employer, Borussia Dortmund.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3):
Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Robertson; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Philippe Coutinho’s future is currently all kinds of up in the air, with rumours of a mega bid from Barcelona in the pipeline, and questions about whether his back injury is a back injury or a “back injury.” Either way it’s going to keep him out of the squad on Tuesday, as he was left behind on Merseyside. Adam Lallana remains on the long-term injury list, while Daniel Sturridge and Nathaniel Clyne are, until further notice, also unavailable.
An identical starting XI to the one that played out a frustrating draw with Watford on Saturday would be unsurprising, both given Klopp’s proclivity for sticking with a team, as well as health constraints. A start for Andrew Robertson isn’t out of the question, though, nor would the inclusion of one or more of Divock Origi, Dominick Solanke, Ben Woodburn, or James Milner be a complete shock.
Hoffenheim also began their season on Saturday, snatching a 1-0 win from third division RW Erfurt in the DFB Pokal. They sport a clean bill of healthy to start the campaign, and are led by 30-year old, and possible management savant, Julian Nagelsmann, who dragged the club out of the relegation zone when appointed in the final third of the 2015/16 season, before adding 25 points to their tally and grabbing fourth place the following year.
Nagelsmann managed this feat through a combination of shrewd transfer business and innovative tactics, picking up Sandro Wagner, Kemir Demirbay, and former Leicester man Andrej Kramaric, and integrating them into his 3-1-4-2 formation. The trio contributed a total of 30 goals and 22 assists between them in the league last year and must be considered the main attacking threats to Jürgen Klopp’s defense.
The loss of centre-back Nicklas Süle to Bayern Munich is unlikely to be remedied entirely by the addition of Håvard Nordtveit, and there is a chance the defense that ensured the team went undefeated for 17 matches to start the season last year, and that haven’t been beaten at home in 15 months, is less sturdy than it was before the transfer window opened, but in all likelihood, Nagelsmann will have his side well-organised and set to expose the Reds with pacy and direct counter attacks.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST tomorrow on BT Sport 2 in the UK and Fox Sports 1 in the US. Elsewhere, beIN Sports 1 in Australia, TSN4 in Canada, Sky Sport 1in Germany, SONY TEN 2 in India, Supersport 5 Africa in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, and Astro Supersport 3 in Malaysia are carrying the match. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.