They can almost taste it, can’t they? Liverpool welcome Hoffenheim to Anfield in the play-off return leg on Wednesday night, holding a 2-1 advantage over their German counterparts, and are a small step away from a first group stage appearance in three years.
But Jurgen Klopp will know his side have to be cautious, particularly with their ever-alarming vulnerability at the back, and the fact that they could count themselves somewhat fortunate to have a first leg lead.
Hoffenheim were the better side for much of the game, and will rue their lack of cutting edge, and a missed penalty by Andrej Kramaric early in the first leg, for being in a precarious position.
Julian Nagelsmann’s team did get back to winning ways at the weekend with a 1-0 win over Werder Bremen in their opening Bundesliga game of the campaign, and will hope that momentum takes them to Anfield in good stead. Plus, they’ll be under very little pressure to deliver, particularly less pressure than they were under last week, and will fancy their chances of testing their hosts’ porous backline.
Liverpool will still be without Philippe Coutinho, who’s still a subject of interest from Barcelona, but will likely welcome Trent Alexander-Arnold back into the side.
The young defender- who missed the weekend victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League – scored a free-kick in the first leg to set his team on their path to the crucial win.
The Reds are in the driving seat for the Wednesday game, but should handle the wheel with care; Hoffenheim are more than capable of causing a crash.
French side OGC Nice host Napoli on Tuesday night, hoping to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit. Lucien Favre’s Nice responded to that opening leg loss in the best possible fashion with a 2-0 win of theirs, over Guingamp in the Ligue 1 over the weekend, while Napoli recorded a 3-1 win at Hellas Verona to begin their Serie A season. The Partenopei are favourites following their first leg triumph, and a goal here is likely to be more than enough for them to seal a spot in the group stage.
Sporting Lisbon travel to Romania to play Steaua Bucharest, in a tie that’s still very much in the balance, following a goalless draw last week at the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Steaua haven’t made the group stages of the Champions League since the 2013-14 campaign, while Jorge Jesus’ Sporting are aiming for back-to-back group stage appearances for the first time since 2008.
Celtic travel to Astana, hoping to dot the i’s and cross the t’s after a 5-0 win in the first leg. Even they can’t throw that one away.
OGC Nice v Napoli (0-2 on aggregate as it stands).
GNK Maribor v Hapoel Be’er Sheva (1-2)
Astana v Celtic (0-5)
HNK Rijeka v Olympiacos (1-2)
Sevilla v Istanbul Basaksehir (2-1)
Slavia Prague v APOEL Nicosia (0-2)
FC Kobenhavn v Qarabag (0-1)
Liverpool v Hoffenheim (2-1)
CSKA Moscow v BSC Young Boys (1-0)
Steaua Bucharest v Sporting CP (0-0)