By 90Min
August 15, 2017

Liverpool take on Hoffenheim on Tuesday night in the first leg of their crucial Champions League qualifier.

Failing to make the group stages would be seen as a failure for Jurgen Klopp's side considering securing fourth in the Premier League was the saving grace from last season. 

However, they are faced with no ordinary opponents standing between them and the group stages of Europe's biggest competition. Hoffenheim were the last side in Europe's top five leagues to go unbeaten last season, remained unbeaten at home and scored more goals than anyone in the Bundesliga from set pieces as Julian Nagelsmann's team stormed to a fourth-placed finish.

90min chatted to Achtzehn99's Head International Relations & Scouting Lutz Pfannenstiel - also known as the 'globetrotting goalie' for his exploits playing professionally on six continents - to talk about the Germans' preparations, ex-Hoffenheim star Roberto Firmino and much more...


Hi Lutz! How excited are you ahead of tonight's game?

It is the biggest game in Hoffenheim's history, so you can imagine that the whole club, the whole region and of course everybody close to the team is very excited. 

I’m very excited about the match tonight. For both teams it’s very important, both worked hard last year to play this match, and now both want to do the last step to reach the Champions League

Liverpool are without Philippe Coutinho tonight. How essential do you think he is to their game and how could his absence affect the tie?

Certainly Coutinho is an extraordinary player, but Liverpool has a big squad with so much quality that they sure can cope with his absence. Liverpool's attacking power is definitely their biggest strength.

A lot of talk in the English media recently is about Liverpool's defensive weaknesses - particularly from set pieces. Hoffenheim were very strong from set pieces last season. Is this something you the team are working on ahead of the game? 

Set pieces are always dangerous and it is a good way to create confusion in the back four. But it would be the wrong approach just to focus on that. It is important that we play our own game and not just concentrate on the opponents' weaknesses.


As a goalkeeper, what is your opinion of Liverpool's defensive organisation and weaknesses? Did you see the Watford game? 

Yes, of course I watched that match. As a former keeper I always have an eye on Simon [Mignolet] and Loris [Karius]. It is very normal that in the first league match not everything works perfect. The players need a bit of time to get into the rhythm, but that counts for both sides.

How will facing Liverpool be different to preparing for another Bundesliga game? 

It is the first time we qualified for Europe, so that fact alone makes it special. But to get Liverpool, one of the biggest teams in the world, is the cherry on the top. We are playing every game to win regardless who is on the other side.

Simon Hofmann/GettyImages

Hoffenheim were unbeaten at home last season. How important is this first leg to your ambitions of reaching the group stages? 

I think you can lay the right foundation, but in the end of the day it is a draw with two legs. Both games are equally important. We have a lot of confidence at home and the fact that we were unbeaten last season should underline that.

Roberto Firmino spent four years with Hoffenheim and is a player you were credited with discovering. How do Hoffenheim plan to handle his return tonight? 

We are happy to see Roberto again. We know him well and there is obviously lots of respect for him. But today we have to put all that aside and concentrate on important things and that is to get a good result.

Are you proud to see him doing well at Liverpool, and what do you make of his new role as a 'number 9'? Can he become a player who scores 20 league goals a season? 

Of course it is nice to see a player which we developed playing well for a big club like Liverpool. 

I was sure that he will make the next step. Firmino has so much potential that I am not surprised that Jurgen Klopp tries him in different roles. 

Roberto will never be a target striker like Andy Carroll, but with his ability to score and his fantastic mentality I am sure that he get his fair share of goals in the Premier League.

Jeremy Toljan is a player you are probably sick of talking about being linked away with the club. These games are probably one of the first chances many English fans will get to see him. How good can he become? 

Toljan is young, but already won titles with the national team. He is one of our academy players who broke into the first team. You will see for yourself how good he is. 

DANIEL ROLAND/GettyImages

Finally, amid all the big spending across Europe. How does Hoffenheim compete and continue to find young exciting talent. Is it all your good scouting work? 

We have a young, motivated and good scouting team here in Hoffenheim. Our sports director Alexander Rosen is a genius when it comes to finding young talents and doing intelligent transfers. If you look at Sandro Wagner, Kevin Vogt or Kerem Demirbay then you know what I am talking about. 

The connection between scouting department, sports director and coaching team is close, but one of our main goals is to find the boys in our youth teams and let them make make the next step.

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