BILLY BUNTER

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Lethal attack can ensure good result for Liverpool

Champions League playoff first leg
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Tuesday


Liverpool's liking for big matches should stand them in good stead when they meet Hoffenheim in a Champions League playoff tie that could well set the tone for their season.

It's been a difficult summer for Jurgen Klopp and exiting the Champions League before the group stage would only increase the gloom around the red half of Merseyside, but Liverpool should be up to progressing past the tricky Germans.

The draw could have been easier but that is even more the case for Hoffenheim and Klopp's men can spoil the Rhein-Neckar-Arena party with a positive result to take back to Anfield next week.

Liverpool highlighted their strengths and weaknesses in their Premier League opener against Watford on Saturday in a 3-3 draw where some of the football going forward was slick and some of the defending was slapstick.

However, Liverpool did not lose to a fellow top-six side in the Premier League last season - indeed Bournemouth were the only top-half side to beat them - and the Reds are usually more focused in matches against elite opposition.

In 14 games against their fellow top-eight rivals only once, in a 4-3 win at Arsenal, did Liverpool concede more than once as they kept clean sheets against Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Southampton.

Cutting out the foolish errors is a job for Klopp to solve, although if they can keep it respectable defensively there have more than enough going forward to hurt Hoffenheim.

The front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and former Hoffenheim hotshot Roberto Firmino are already off the mark for the season and it's worth backing the visitors on the Asian handicap with stakes returned if it is a draw.

Hoffenheim, playing in their first ever European match, are difficult to weigh-up on the biggest night in their history. It may inspire them or they could just as equally become nervous.

What is absolutely certain is that talented 30-year-old boss Julian Nagelsmann is seen as a man destined for better things having led Hoffenheim away from relegation trouble in his first campaign before guiding the relative minnows to fourth spot in the Bundesliga.

However, those performances did not go unnoticed and Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Sule, arguably Hoffenheim's best two players, headed to Bayern Munich in the summer.

Serge Gnabry has arrived on loan from the opposite direction but the most expensive arrival was West Ham reject Havard Nordtveit and the lack of direct replacement for midfield anchor Rudy could easily leave Hoffenheim's back three exposed.

Sandro Wagner is a willing, hard-working runner up front and Andrej Kramaric has recovered well from his Leicester nightmare, but if the tie turns into a basketball-style attack versus attack then Liverpool should come through in a high-scoring duel.

Recommendation
Liverpool +0 Asian handicap

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Match in Focus

19:30 TODAY BT3

B Munich v Wolfsburg

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Bayern last failed to score at home in the league 28 months ago
Expert verdict
New boss Martin Schmidt stopped the rot on Tuesday when he oversaw Wolfsburg's 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen. The Wolves were improved – in the first half at least – although this is an altogether sterner test. Bayern supposedly had a difficult task on Tuesday at Schalke but breezed to a 3-0 success and they can rack up something similar here.