Liverpool put one foot in the UEFA Champions League group-stages with a 2-1 win at Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in the first leg of the final qualification round at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena. 
 
Jurgen Klopp started the same XI as the one that had drawn 3-3 with Watford on the weekend, but it was a marked improvement from his team this time round. 
 
A breathtaking start to the game saw both teams enjoy chances, but it was Liverpool who had a slight edge, with the combined pace of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane troubling the Germans’ defence. 
 
However, it was the hosts who would squander a golden opportunity to take the lead. Former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry outwitted Dejan Lovren inside the box and as the Croation sent the winger tumbling, match referee Bjorn Kuipers had no hesitation in pointing to the spot in the 11th minute. 
 
Former Leicester City flop Andre Kramaric stepped up but his tame effort down the middle was easily saved by Simon Mignolet, much to the dismay of the home support. 
 
Emboldened by their reprieve, the visitors started to stretch Hoffenheim’s defence more and Salah then missed a sitter after Kevin Vogt’s dreadful mistake had given him a clear run at goal. The Egyptian, who scored on the weekend, sent his effort narrowly wide of Oliver Baumann’s post. 
Hoffenheim’s Bosnian defender Ermin Bicakcic (L) and Liverpool’s Senegalese midfielder Sadio Mane vie for the ball (Photo: AFP)
 
The Reds did eventually find the breakthrough, but not from a regular goalscorer. Young Trent Alexander-Arnold, on his European debut, scored a sensational free-kick from 30 yards 10 minutes before the interval.
 
Hoffenheim tried to mount a response, but Mignolet was enjoying an outstanding outing as he made a superb save from Gnabry and the Sandro Wagner’s rebound could only graze the post. 
 
Lovren, trying to make amends for his gaffe earlier on, came close to doubling Liverpool’s lead as his header off a corner narrowly missed the far post in what was the final action of the first-half. 
 
Post the interval, Liverpool continued to dominate and really should have doubled their lead when Salah teed up Roberto Firmino but the Brazilian could only hit Baumann as Die Kraichgauer continued to live dangerously. 
 
Hoffenheim young manager Julian Nagelsman, highly regarded in Germany, made two changes early on in the second-half, sending on Haavard Nordtveit and Nadiem Amiri but the German side seemed unable to breach Mignolet’s goal. 
 
It was another substitute, James Milner, who would have a significant impact within minutes of his introduction. His cross from the left got a fortuitous deflection off Nordtveit and flew into the top corner in the 74th minute, much to the delight of the travelling Liverpool support. 
Liverpool’s English midfielder James Milner (L) celebrates scoring the second goal (Photo: AFP)
 
Two goals to the good, the Reds were looking pretty and while Hoffenheim did manage to get a goal back via substitute Mark Uth, they travel to Anfield for the return leg next week with the odds stacked firmly in Liverpool’s favour. 
Hoffenheim’s forward Mark Uth(L) celebrates scoring (Photo: AFP)
 
In the other qualifying games on the night, APOEL FC beat Slavia Prague 2-0, CSKA Moscov won  1-0 at BSC Young Boys and Sporting Lisbon were held to a goalless draw by Steau Bucuresti.