Emre Can double fires Liverpool into Champions League group stages

Champions League play-off second leg, Anfield - Liverpool 4 (Can 10 21, Salah 18, Firmino 63) Hoffenheim 2 (Uth 28, Wagner 79) - Liverpool win 6-3 on aggregate

Emre Can’s first-half double helped Liverpool reach the Champions League group stages at the expense of Hoffenheim.
Liverpool won 4-2 on the night to win their play-off tie 6-3 on aggregate, and the Reds will now compete in the competition proper for the first time since 2014-15.
It will be Jurgen Klopp’s first venture into the group stages with Liverpool, and the German’s nerves were settled early on at Anfield as a breathless opening saw the Reds go 3-0 up after 21 minutes, with Mo Salah on target either side of goals from Can.
Mark Uth pulled one back for the German outfit, but Roberto Firmino restored Liverpool’s four-goal aggregate lead before Sandro Wagner scored late on.
The action was exhilarating right form the off, with Liverpool amassing six attempts inside the first 15 minutes. One of those efforts was converted by Can, after great work from Sadio Mane to claim a back-heeled assist. Firmino, who was at his rip-roaring best against his former club, then created a chance for Georginio Wijnadlum in the 18th minute, the Dutchman saw his effort come out off the post, but Salah was on hand to convert to make it two.
Two minutes later and Can has his first career brace, with Firmino again at the heart of it, clipping a glorious cross into the path of the Germany international after a free-flowing move worthy of Europe’s elite competition.
Hoffenheim made an early change to try and get themselves back into it, and it immediately paid off, as Uth came off the bench to score in the 28th minute, adding to his strike in the first leg.
Liverpool did not relent after the break, as Firmino netted the goal that his high-octane showing deserved in the 63rd minute to make sure of Liverpool’s return to Europe’s competition for only the second time in eight years, and proved they can produce some scintillating football even without the in-demand Philippe Coutinho. Wagner’s late header proved to be a mere consolation.
Emre Can celebrates with Roberto Firmino
Emre Can celebrates with Roberto FirminoGetty Images

TALKING POINT

Liverpool thrive in attack without Coutinho. While their defence still looked a little vulnerable at times, Liverpool were at their brilliant best in attack, with their interchangeable front three almost unplayable. Coutinho offers more craft, but Mane, Firmino and Salah provide a different, pacey dimension altogther. The exhilarating triumvirate link up so well they don’t require much guile behind them. Maybe Coutinho isn’t as indispensable as many fans fear?

MAN OF THE MATCH

Roberto Firmino. What a performance from the former Hoffenheim man. His former employer couldn't cope with his movement, his incredible footwork and his pinpoint passing. At the heart of everything for Liverpool, and got a deserved goal late on.

PLAYER RATINGS

Liverpool: Mignolet 5, Alexander-Arnold 7, Matip 6, Lovren 6, Moreno 7, Henderson 7, Can 8, Wijnaldum 7, Mane 8, Salah 8, Firmino 9… Subs: Klavan N/A, Gomez 6, Milner 6.
Hoffenheim: Baumann 7, Nordtveit 5, Vogt 5, HΓΌbner 6, Kaderaber 5, Zuber 6, Geiger 5, Gnabry7, Demirbay 5, Kramaric 5, Wagner 6... Subs: Toljan 6, Uth 7, Szalai 6.
Roberto Firmino ignores Jordan Henderson's hug request
Roberto Firmino ignores Jordan Henderson's hug requestGetty Images

KEY MOMENTS

5’ - CHANCE! Great ball into the feet of Mane, the speedster races clear of the defence, only has Oliver Baumann to beat, but the Hoffenheim stopper sticks out a foot to block.
10’ - GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Hoffenheim (agg 3-1). There is the nerve-settling goal that Liverpool wanted, scored by Emre Can. What a start by the hosts. Mane again the danger, breaking in behind latching onto a perfect pass from Firmino. Drawing the defender in, Mane back-heels into the path of Can, who steers the ball home, on the run, via a deflection.
18’ - GOAL! Liverpool 2-0 Hoffenheim (agg 4-1). Tie over? Liverpool are blowing the visitors away here as Salah converts second. What a start! Firmino again causing problems as he pulls wide, feeds Georginio Wijnaldum on the edge of the box, the Dutchman steers the ball goalwards, it comes out off the post, but Salah is on hand to score.
20’ - GOAL! Liverpool 3-0 Hoffenheim (agg 5-1). Sensational football as Can nets his second to add another. Philippe who? Simply breathtaking. Superb football from Liverpool to create the opening for Can. Mane again carries the attack to the Germans, he feeds Firmino, who clips a glorious cross to the back post, with his weaker left foot, for Can to volley home emphatically.
25’ - CHANCE! There is the football Hoffenheim are capable of. Kramaric superbly threads the ball through for Gnabry, who is clean through, but clips his effort just wide.
28’ - GOAL! Liverpool 3-1 Hoffenheim (agg 5-2). Lifeline for the visitors, and it is that man Uth again! There is that defensive error again. Lovren gives the ball away carelessly, Uth is fed in a wide position, before drilling a fine strike across Mignolet and into the bottom corner. Substitution immediately pays dividends.
63’ - GOAL! Liverpool 4-1 Hoffenheim (agg 6-2). Now that is game over. Dreadful defending, but they all count as Firmino grabs a deserved goal. All too easy for Liverpool. Vogt is sold short by the pass, Henderson nips in, breaks clear, before unselfishly squaring for Firmino to slot home. Anfield can start planning their European travels now.
79’ - GOAL! Liverpool 4-2 Hoffenheim (agg 6-3). Maybe it is not over yet! Fine header from Wagner gives the visitors a glimmer of hope. They will not give up, Hoffenheim. Super cross from Kramaric causes problems, Wagner climbs highest, before steering the ball into the net with his head.
Emre Can double fires Liverpool into Champions League group stages Emre Can double fires Liverpool into Champions League group stages Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 22:34:00 Rating: 5