Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp heaped praise on teenage full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold after his goal helped propel the Reds to within touching distance of the Champions League group stage with victory over Hoffenheim.
Alexander-Arnold’s sumptuous free-kick on his European debut gave Liverpool a first-half lead, which was doubled in the second period by former Arsenal defender Havard Nordtveit’s own goal as Hoffenheim lost at home for the first time in 15 months.
A late strike from striker Mark Uth stifled celebrations although the Reds are in pole position to reach the tournament’s group stages for the first time since 2014 ahead of next week’s second leg at Anfield.
“Alexander-Arnold is our little hero,” said Klopp. “His overall performance was good. He only plays because he is good. He needs to improve in all parts of the game, that’s clear, but offensively he is nice to watch and defensively good today.”
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet came to Liverpool’s rescue in the 11th minute when he comfortably repelled Leicester flop Andrej Kramaric’s weary penalty. The Reds took full advantage 10 minutes before the break when Alexander-Arnold curled a classy free-kick over the Hoffenheim wall, giving goalkeeper Oliver Baumann no chance.
Liverpool doubled their advantage inside the final 20 minutes as substitute James Milner’s cross took a deflection off Nordtveit and found its way into the top corner.
Hoffenheim rallied and retaliated with a potentially priceless goal with three minutes remaining as Uth chested down a long ball and lashed past Mignolet.