Hoffenheim 1 Uth 87’
Liverpool 2 Alexander-Arnold 35’, Milner 74’
This could’ve gone very, very badly.
And after dropping points at Watford on Saturday and our rolling shit-circus of a transfer window, no one could blame you for thinking the worse heading into this game.
Champions League playoffs are frightening things. 180 minutes to get it right. And thanks to the Away Goals rule, you can get it right and still fail. And the stakes are exceptionally high.
So, all things being equal, I’m just going to take today for what it is.
Very little of what we saw from Liverpool today was a surprise. Defensive frailties. A pernicious vulnerability to set pieces. A forward line that hasn’t quite gelled yet. The setup was certainly there for disaster.
It definitely looked to be heading in that direction after the first ten minutes when Liverpool conceded a— pretty dubious, in my humble opinion— penalty. This could’ve been the moment when the Reds’ Champions League dreams start to unravel.
But Simon Mignolet occasionally does this thing where he transforms into a superhero and comes up big. Here, he saved the penalty and kept the score level. The wind, so to speak, was in our sails.
The rest of Liverpool’s first half wasn’t... great. But it wasn’t the unmitigated disaster it might’ve been. We stayed in it, keeping pace with a Hoffenheim side that still had a scent of blood in the water.
But Hoffenheim— and everyone else— didn’t count on Trent Alexander-Arnold.
TAA was one of three players lined up behind the ball for a free kick not far outside the box. One could be forgiven for thinking he was a red herring; no way he’d take the shot over a more senior member of the squad. But he did take it, and it darted into the corner of the net to give Liverpool the lead shortly before halftime.
There wasn’t a whole lot to talk about with the second half. Alberto Moreno appeared to start pissing away the goodwill he only recently won back. Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah haven’t clicked yet. This team is, in many ways, building the plane in midair. (To say nothing of the vital component they may soon have to do without.)
At any rate, thank goodness for James Milner. Late in the second half, he received the ball on the left flank while prosecuting a quick counterattack and set in something between a shot and a cross. It remained out of reach for the goalkeeper but managed to curl in time to stay inside the far post and bulge the side of the net. 2-0 and a solid Away Goals advantage heading into the second half.
Of course, this team can’t do anything easy. The notoriously fragile set piece defending reared its ugly head again, allowing Mark Uth to pull one back in the 87th minute.
Liverpool managed to hang on to take a lead into the second leg next week, but for a few minutes, it was dicey.
I’d like to think we’ll get the job done at home. But this team has a knack for finding new and creative ways to let us all down. It’s going to be a long week.