The 2017-2018 football season has truly kicked off, with Europe’s elite club competition, the Champions League still at its play-offs stage.
There are 20 clubs still trying to negotiate their way into the exciting group stage of the CL, with five matches scheduled for Tuesday and the remaining five on Wednesday, August 16.
However, our featured match is the encounter at the Rhein-Necktar Arena, in Germany, between debutants at this level of the competition, TSG 1899 Hoffenhiem, their youthful manager, Julian Nagelsmann, and the experienced Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side, who are five-time winners of the CL.
Hoffenhiem has come a long way under the managerial guidance of Nagelsmann, who took over reigns of the club one year ago, from the club’s academy, and tonight he faces a baptism of fire against a manager who is very much a mentor and experienced in the game, in Klopp.
Liverpool travelled without some key first team players, amongst them talisman, Philippe Coutinho, who misses out due to an injury, though the saga concerning his possible transfer to Barcelona continues to linger.
Also missing out for the Reds are Daniel Sturridge, which isn’t a surprise, Nathaniel Clyne and long-term absentee, Adam Lallana.
New signings Mohamed Salah, who made his PL debut at the weekend, is expected to make his CL bow for the club, while fellow arrival, Andy Robertson, is also in line for his debut, after making the team for tonight.
Youngster, Alexandra-Arnord, who impressed at the Vicarage Road, could keep his place, despite the return of Mr. versatile, James Milner.
Meanwhile, Hoffenhiem have no injury concerns going into the match tonight.
Speaking ahead of the match tonight, Klopp said; “He [Nagelsmann] is a big, big coaching talent. We don’t know each other very well because we didn’t really have time- when I left Germany, I think he was an U19 coach or something like this.
“But since then, we have written messages and things like this. I’ve really followed his way since then because I like good football and obviously, his team is playing interesting and good football,” the ex-Mainz and Dortmund manager added.
On his own part, the 30-year-old Nagelsmann, who is looking to qualify Hoffenhiem into the group stage of the CL for the first time in their history, was also full of praise for his older opposite number.
“I like that he’s stayed true to his principles,” said Nagelsmann. “His team plays similar football to his Dortmund team and he doesn’t lose sight of his way of doing things. He stands for something.
“I rate him [Klopp] a lot because he’s a completely normal guy and very successful coach. He’s not aloof or anything and has a laugh and joke.
“I love it when people remain completely normal like that,” he added.
For these two brilliant German managers, tonight will be the first time they’d be facing each other, and the prize is a big one- a place in the very lucrative group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool go into this game on the backdrop of a 3-3 draw with Watford at the weekend, and will be concerned about their defensive frailties.
On their part, Hoffenhiem go into this one after making a winning start to the new season, following a 1-0 win against third tier side, Erfurt, in the German Cup.
Liverpool XI [4-3-3]: Mignolet; Alexandra-Arnord; Matip; Lovren; Milner; Wijnaldum; Henderson; Can; Salah; Firmino; Mane.
Hoffenhiem XI [3-4-3]: Baumann; Nordveit; Vogt; Hubner; Kaderabek; Demirbay; Grllitsch; Zuber; Kramaric; Gnabry; Wagner.
This will be the first encounter between Liverpool and Hoffenhiem
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last six matches against German oppositions, and have also lost just six times in 36 matches.
Klopp has faced Hoffenhiem 16 times, with a record of 5 wins, 6 draws and 5 losses.
Hoffenhiem have only lost one of their last 22 matches at home.
Hoffenhiem have kept a clean sheet in 8 of their last 13 home matches.
It’s going to be a difficult match for both side, but despite the visitors’ experience, I may just have to give the home side this one, however, just a narrow win.
Elsewhere, Swiss side, Young Boys, who have never reached the group stage of the champions league, have their work cut out for them as they host Russian team, CSKA Moskva, who themselves have never failed to make it beyond this stage, having done so in the 2004/2005, 2006/2007 and 2015/2016 seasons.
Slavia Praha, who are yet to win a game away in Europe since doing so in 2007, against Ajax in Holland, are up against Apoel, who are looking their appearance at the group stage of the CL, in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Last time these sides met was at the group stage of the Europa League, with Praha winning home and away.
Qarabag host FC Copehagen at the Tofig Bahramov Rupublican stadium in Baku, looking to reach the group stage for the first time in their history. They have met before, in 1998/1999 season, in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup qualifying round, with the Danish side winning 10-0 on aggregate.
Finally, Sporting host Romanian side, Steaua Bucuresti, with their coach, Laszlo Boloni, who was coach when Sporting won their last league title in 2001/2002 season.
Tonight match represents the first time these sides will be meeting in a UEFA competition.