Juergen Klopp takes Liverpool back to Germany for Uefa Champions League play-offs
Former Reds boss Brendan Rodgers prepares to guide his Celtic side into the group stages
Juergen Klopp takes his Liverpool side to his native Germany this week to face Hoffenheim as they target a return to the group stage of the Champions League.
It is three years since the Anfield outfit, five times European champions, last graced the group stage of the continent’s elite club competition.
A fourth-place finish in the Premier League last season exposed them to a complicated draw in the play-offs and a pairing with the Bundesliga outfit means a trip to the Rhein Neckar Arena in the first leg on Tuesday.
Klopp has been to his home country with Liverpool before, overseeing victories against Augsburg and old club Borussia Dortmund en route to the Europa League final two seasons ago.
They were also in Germany during pre-season, beating both Hertha Berlin and Bayern Munich.
The Reds, who began their Premier League campaign with a 3-3 draw at Watford on Saturday, are without Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne at the moment but Roberto Firmino is fit. The Brazilian is set to face the club for whom he starred for four years before being sold to Liverpool in 2015.
Hoffenheim, from a village of just over 3,000 souls in south-western Germany, finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season to qualify for Europe for the first time.
The match against Liverpool comes four days before they face Werder Bremen in the first match of their 10th Bundesliga campaign.
“We’ll do everything in our power to get through. Liverpool are a phenomenal side, but I already have an idea how we can snatch a result,” their coach Julian Nagelsmann, just 30, said after the draw.
Hoffenheim have been weakened since last season, losing German international duo Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Suele to Bayern Munich.
Brendan Rodgers was the last manager to lead Liverpool into the Champions League. The Northern Irishman is currently hoping to take Scottish champions Celtic into the group stage for the second season running.
The Glasgow giants have beaten Linfield and Rosenborg to make it to a play-off against Astana of Kazakhstan, who visit Celtic Park for the first leg on Wednesday.
Celtic beat Astana 3-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round last season with Leigh Griffiths scoring twice in the tie and Moussa Dembele’s late penalty in the second leg taking them through.
But Dembele misses this tie with a knee injury and Griffiths has been struggling too, giving Rodgers a headache with Celtic needing a good result before the near 4,000-mile trip to Kazakhstan for the return.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us,” Rodgers told The Scotsman. “The first game is important. At home, the atmosphere has been absolutely incredible in the Champions League games in particular so we’ll need that on Wednesday night.”
Elsewhere, Sevilla are hoping to make it back to the group stage but must overcome Turkish upstarts Istanbul Basaksehir, whose side features the likes of Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor.
The standout fixture could be in Italy, where Napoli face Nice, third in France last season and who beat Ajax in the third qualifying round.
Lucien Favre’s side have lost their first two Ligue 1 matches though, and they also travel without Mario Balotelli or new signing Wesley Sneijder.
“We won’t get them back for the San Paolo. They are not ready,” said Favre.
“Wesley still needs a few days or weeks to fine-tune his preparation. All he did before joining us was work with a fitness coach in Holland.
“Mario is coming back from a hamstring injury. At best he could be on the bench.”