Klopp beaming as relentless Reds return to big time
Liverpool 4 Hoffenheim 2
"That's football," screamed Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool scored the third of their goals in knocking out Hoffenheim to reach the group stages of the Champions League.
There was some outstanding attacking football from his team who will score goals, lots of them, although they will also concede a few along the way. It is set for a white-knuckle European adventure.
Klopp's exclamation was in response to a jibe from the Hoffenheim midfielder Kerem Demirbay who had, foolishly, declared before this second leg that his side "definitely play the better football".
It certainly stoked up the Liverpool manager, although he will have privately muttered "that's not defending" at his team during this display.
How they cry out for a commanding centre-half. But as attractive as Hoffenheim's attacking play was, as ropy as Liverpool's defending, Demirbay's claim was not valid.
Liverpool deservedly progressed and maintained a proud record against German opposition: 15 matches now in Europe without defeat. The Premier League also has five teams in the group stages of this competition for the first time with Liverpool there for only the second time in eight years.
For Hoffenheim it was an attempt at gegenpressing with a defensive line so high that it was almost in Liverpool's half. High and suicidal, in fact.
Liverpool's rapid front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah licked their lips and got stuck in.
Even before Liverpool went ahead, in the 10th minute, Mane should have scored as he was superbly picked out by Firmino and then used his pace to take him clear for a clipped shot which was blocked by goalkeeper Oliver Baumann with an outstretched leg.
The same Liverpool players then combined with, this time, Mane checking, from Firmino's pass, and finding the overlapping Emre Can with a back-heel. The midfielder shaped to arc his shot around Baumann, but it deflected off Havard Nordtveit to wrong-foot the goalkeeper and nestle in the net.
Nordtveit, the former West Ham midfielder, was part of a Hoffenheim defence that appeared hapless and it was quickly unpicked again as Firmino, down the left, simply pulled the ball back to Georginio Wijnaldum who carefully side-footed a shot that cannoned back off a post. Salah was the quickest to react and he sent the rebound past Baumann.
Hoffenheim posed an attacking threat, through the pacy former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry, but that meant little as they were shredded again.
Once more it involved Mane and Firmino with the latter down the left again to stand up an inviting chipped cross that was met by Can, who gleefully volleyed home.
Hoffenheim had to do something and their young coach Julian Nagelsmann withdrew Nordtveit, who had a tie to forget having scored an own goal in the first leg, and brought on Mark Uth, who had scored their goal in that game, and changed his team's shape.
In fact, he had to give them some shape. They also needed a goal - four in all - and should have had one with Andrej Kramaric picking out Gnabry's run behind Trent Alexander-Arnold, only for the Bayern Munich loanee to lift the ball across goal and wide.
If that should have served as a warning for Liverpool it did not. Hoffenheim broke forward again, with Sandro Wagner involved as he pushed the ball out to Uth, whose accurate low shot back across goalkeeper Simon Mignolet found the net.
Liverpool continued to attack and came close when Salah crossed low for Firmino, who attempted to guide his side-footed shot beyond Baumann who, again, saved with his legs.
Soon after and Can - who had not scored two goals in a game before - had the chance to complete his hat-trick as the ball ran to him from Mane, but he curled his low shot narrowly wide. Back came Hoffenheim with Uth forcing a Mignolet save.
Despite Liverpool's emphatic advantage it felt like the next goal would be crucial and Wijnaldum appeared set to provide it as he collected Salah's pass to bear down on the goal and attempt to lift the ball over Baumann. It grazed the goalkeeper's shoulder and flew over before Wijnaldum broke again to feed Mane, who sprinted forward to fire a powerful near-post shot that Baumann pushed away.
Moments later, Baumann pulled off another alert save, at his other post, to deny Wijnaldum once more before he was finally beaten. It owed much to Jordan Henderson's desire to win the ball, and Hoffenheim captain Kevin Vogt's lack of determination, as the midfielder barrelled through to win a tackle and run clear. He squared for Firmino and he simply tapped it home.
Any doubt ended, although Hoffenheim continued to attack with Demirbay driving the ball low from the edge of the area and Mignolet turning it away.
A goal came, though, and again Liverpool's defending was poor with Dejan Lovren outnumbered as he attempted to reach Kramaric's cross and Wagner guiding his header past Mignolet.
Still, Liverpool were through. They had played some fine football. But they also need to defend better. (© Daily Telegraph, London)