Liverpool went into the second leg of the Europa League Round of 32 tie against Augsburg with the aggregate score standing at 0-0. The result in Germany left the Anfield side needing a win to progress: another goalless draw would have sent the game to extra time, and any other draw would have seen the German outfit progress on away goals. Despite a troubling lack of clinical finishing the hosts were able to get a goal; at the other end, a clean sheet was preserved in spite of a late spell of pressure for Augsburg.
Although the narrow margin left nerves shredded towards the end, in general the Liverpool performance can be described as promising. The fledgling partnership of Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge, against whom circumstances have conspired for much of this season, is already beginning to blossom – communication is naturally not what it could be at times, but they showed patches of exquisite fluency in this game. The movement and awareness that all three of them possess makes for a deadly combination: the level of intricacy is exceptional. Their pressing, too, is encouraging to see: two or three chances were carved out purely as a result of good pressure placed on the back line. The only negative point to be raised in regard to their play is the fact that, no matter how nice on the eye it was at times, it did not result in a goal: there were plenty of near misses, but none of them were able to find the back of the net.
The goal Liverpool did get came courtesy of a James Milner penalty. An Augsburg defender was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box just four minutes in, and the ex-City midfielder finished coolly into the bottom corner. The Reds continued to push forwards after taking the lead, and were by far the better side in the first half. Augsburg created nothing for themselves, their only opportunity coming from an under-weighted back-pass from Lucas. Despite their domination, however, Liverpool were unable to extend their lead. This frustration continued into the start of the second half; the attack continued to look dangerous but still could not find a finish, Sturridge coming closest when his shot struck the post.
Into the latter portion of the second half, the balance shifted. It seemed for all the world that Liverpool would be punished for their failure to get a second as the German side piled forward, knowing a goal would send them through. They very nearly got it; a Seferovic free kick went narrowly wide, and a pull-back from the left would surely have resulted in a goal had the ball not been inadvertently diverted out of immediate danger by Esswein. This shakiness late on needs to be addressed if Liverpool wish to progress any further in the Europa League and indeed as a club – a better opponent would surely have punished the late collapse in defensive assuredness.
That being said, there is no point dwelling on the defensive frailties in the short term. In a season where the Europa League and Capital One Cup are all there is realistically left to play for, progression was the primary objective – this has been achieved, and if the aforementioned attacking trio continue their progression together then there is no reason to suggest further progress cannot be made. For the time being, however, the squad’s focus will firmly be on the upcoming trip to Wembley on Sunday to face Manchester City in the final of the League Cup. Hopefully the promise going forward seen against Augsburg will prove to have been a warm-up for the main event: if the players can find a lethal streak, it is very plausible that Liverpool will be able to get their hands on the first piece of silverware under the Jurgen Klopp era.
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