Thursday 12 December 2019

Ponderous Liverpool leave Klopp frustrated as flood turns to drought in Germany

Augsburg 0 Liverpool 0

Markus Feulner is challenged by Alberto Moreno (UEFA via Getty Images)
Markus Feulner is challenged by Alberto Moreno (UEFA via Getty Images)

Chris Bascombe

If Liverpool are to realise Jurgen Klopp's ambition of winning the Europa League in his first season, the scale of improvement over the next three months will be rapid.

A goalless draw in Augsburg is a firm foundation on which to make progress, but after the flood at Villa Park came a drought in Germany.

This was a tame game, Liverpool lacking the conviction to break down a side who were evidently delighted to celebrate their most 'historic' of fixtures by maintaining a sound defence to retain their hopes for the second leg.

Beforehand, Klopp might have fancied the kind of result that would make the Anfield fixture a formality, especially as it will precede the League Cup final by three days.

Francisco da Silva Caiuby is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne (UEFA via Getty Images)
Francisco da Silva Caiuby is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne (UEFA via Getty Images)

The hints of that came in Klopp's pre-match comments - the promise of Champions League qualification by conquering Europe this season; the need for consistency in team selection and rhythm in team performance; and the recognition Liverpool have a week off between the first and second leg.

There was no danger of the German coach resting legs for his homecoming.

So it was Klopp said 'same team' for the first time in his reign - his 31st game in charge. That represented some kind of footballing nirvana given the selection problems he has faced since taking over.

Most pertinently, it meant Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho continued their partnership, attempting to prove the annihilation against Aston Villa was as much due to their brilliance as the opponent's ineptitude.

Nathaniel Clyne competes with Dominik Kohr (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Nathaniel Clyne competes with Dominik Kohr (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Evidently Augsburg were a different proposition, although their generosity ought to have gifted Liverpool an eighth-minute lead.

Centre-half Christoph Jenker looked uncomfortable under pressure and passed directly to Roberto Firmino on the edge of his own penalty area. The Brazilian had the option of picking out Sturridge with an easy ball, but instead shot tamely at keeper Marwin Hitz.

This hinted at an evening where Liverpool's attacking trio would again be free to run havoc, but sloppiness and sluggishness in possession undermined such hopes.

Too often Sturridge and Firmino's movement created openings that demanded a penetrating pass, only for midfielders to select the safer option as Augsburg retreated and opted to play counter-attack.

The more Liverpool pondered on the ball, the more the hosts' approach looked like it could succeed.

Liverpool's own back four, lest we forget, is as susceptible as any under pressure and Augsburg appeared to realise swiftly there is no greater anxiety for the Merseysiders than when Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho are exchanging passes.

Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The Liverpool centre-halves' cause seemed be helped when bulldozing striker Raul Bobadilla had to be replaced with injury after 23 minutes, but the more mobile replacement Caiuby caused different problems.

Despite having a measure of control, Liverpool should have been behind at the interval when Alexander Esswein had only Simon Mignolet to beat. The Belgian saved what proved an unconvincing strike. The warning was there and Klopp could only be demanding more courage on the ball during his half-time speech.

There was initially more pace to Liverpool's passing after the break and Sturridge should have opened the scoring on 53 minutes after one of few slick moves of the game.

Milner's right wing cross picked out the striker but he failed to connect when trying to ease the ball into the corner. It was a more encouraging sign for Klopp, however, as Liverpool's attack was beginning to function.

Sturridge was replaced for Divock Origi on 68 minutes as Klopp continues to ease his prize asset back to full fitness.

The frustration for the Liverpool manager was the numerous occasions openings were squandered, players failing to see or execute the right pass when Augsburg looked most vulnerable.

Alberto Moreno almost struck a freakish goal from distance on 71 minutes, a bobbling ball forcing an unorthodox save from Hitz, but the German side would have been content to see such desperate attempts.

Instead, Augsburg threatened as much with their counter-attacks, and when substitute Ji Dong-Won struck the post with three minutes left, it was Liverpool thankful to return to Merseyside with a draw. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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