FC Augsburg 0 – Liverpool 0 Match Report & Analysis

Liverpool have played in against German teams 36 times before tonight’s game and 17 of those matches resulted in a win for the Reds. They had lost just 7 of the 36 games they had played against German opposition. With Augsburg struggling in the league, failing to win since the turn of the year, and Liverpool coming into the match off the back of a 6-0 win over Aston Villa, it was all set-up for the Reds to smash their German opposition, wasn’t it?

Jurgen Klopp knew that a big victory would be enough to allow him to play a weakened team at Anfield in the return fixture next week; a fixture that was pencilled in to take place just four days before the League Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley. The facf that Jurgen Klopp was able to name an unchanged side for the first time since taking over as Liverpool was, in itself, a minor miracle.

Jurgen went strong and pretty much every Liverpool fan would have told him to do exactly that before a ball was kicked. Could they do to Augsburg what they did to Aston Villa? Or would we see the Liverpool we’ve endured for most of this season; one brilliant performance followed by several mediocre ones?

A Classic European Away Performance?

For all that Liverpool fans might have been expecting a whitewash over an Augsburg side that have only won two home games in fifteen times of asking, the first half started in exactly the sort of fashion you might have expected from a more classically minded European away game. There were 45 minutes that were filled with far more attrition than excitement, both teams reluctant to take too many chances.

It was probably the home team that had the bigger chances, with Augsburg giving their all in a game that had been billed as arguably the biggest ever in the club’s history. They never really gave Liverpool’s flair players a chance to settle, harassing and pressing the men in red to stop them from getting into any sort of rhythm.

Togetherness

Togetherness

Liverpool’s first half performance was one that suggested they felt this tie was done and dusted before a ball was kicked. There was an arrogance to the play, hardly looking where the ball was being passed at times and over-hitting their passes at others. It was the sort of performance that you get the feeling Jurgen Klopp hates; full of entitlement and sloppiness against a team that were always going to give more than Liverpool for the first part of the game.

Maybe it was because it was so cold that the referee’s foam spray was freezing as soon as it touched the pitch. Perhaps it was down to the fact that the last two times Daniel Sturridge has been in the starting line-up for Liverpool the Reds have gone on to score six. It’s more than likely that an Augsburg fan would point to his team’s defensive discipline. Whatever the reason, the first half performance wasn’t good enough considering Liverpool ideally wanted to get the tie put to bed after the first 90 minutes.

Green Shoots Of Hope

For all that Liverpool lacked a cutting edge against an evidently inferior, if try-hard, side, there were still some things to be pleased about from the performance. Daniel Sturridge may have missed a sitter, but he also got another 65 minutes under his belt without any obvious sign of strain affecting him. Given this was the first time he’s started back to back performances since October, that’s not the sort of thing to be sniffed at in this day and age.

AGIF / shutterstock.com

AGIF / shutterstock.com

Philippe Coutinho also looked very bright. The Brazilian was drifting into pockets of space, playing no-look balls through to overlapping players and generally just making a nuisance of himself. The little magician might not have had the tricks necessary to unlock a compact and resolute defence, but given it was only his second game after a reasonably long lay-off a tidy performance is good enough for now.

Roberto Firmino also continued his renaissance, interacting well with his Brazilian compatriot and the striker he’s only just getting to know. The three players are developing a nice relationship with each other and that is only likely to improve moving forward. Match Sturridge’s pace with Firmino’s movement and Coutinho’s intelligent range of passing and you’ve got a front three that have the ability to do some serious damage to opposition defences moving forward.

Liverpool’s defence were also able to keep things tight, notching up another clean sheet and ensuring the Reds continued unbeaten in the competition. They’ll face much sterner tests, of course, but a clean sheet is a clean sheet and anyone who turns their nose up at that needs to have a word with themselves.

Frustration Mounts

Yes there were lots of things to be positive about, if you wanted to find the positives. But the reality is that Liverpool continue to take one step forward and two steps back; or if not back then at least ever so slightly to the side. Jurgen Klopp didn’t look overly impressed when the full-time whistle went and who can blame him. Yes Aston Villa are a terrible team, but Liverpool should have done much better against a team that have an even worse home record than the Midlanders over the last month or so.

The problem is that Liverpool’s players just aren’t good enough to produce consistent results. Yes Daniel Sturridge is world class when he’s fit and firing. It’s true that Coutinho is a brilliant midfielder full of intelligence and genuinely exciting play. But generally speaking there are few positions in the team that couldn’t do with being improved if an opportunity presented itself.

Simon Mignolet didn’t have anything to do today so I’m unfortunately unable to call upon anything specific to point out just why he’s a dreadful, dreadful player. But sufficed to say that Liverpool would be in a much better position in the league, at least, if the Belgian was replaced post-haste.

Defensively there are mediocre players lining up against reasonably good ones and ones that could do with some improvements. Nathaniel Clyne is fine, if not exceptional, whilst Mamadou Sakho is excellent when on his game even if that doesn’t occur often enough. Kolo Toure is a wonderful personality but he’s too old to build a defence around, whilst Alberto Moreno is a brainless clown who thinks speed makes up for a lack of decent positional play.

Moreno. Dimwit.

Moreno. Dimwit.

Emre Can has the ability to develop into a brilliant midfielder, but he’s too young right now to expect consistent performances from him and tonight showed as much. His game is lifted by strong performances from those around him, which is fine in essence. But if others don’t play well he’s not yet a player we can turn to and ask him to drag us out of the doldrums. James Milner is the same but at the opposite end of the age spectrum to Can. Two piano carriers without the ability to play the thing.

Jordan Henderson remains one of Liverpool’s best all-round midfielders when he’s on song. The problem is that his injury means that he’s not on song anywhere near enough at the moment. He doesn’t seem comfortable in his own body and his play isn’t what it used to be.

Perhaps it is only the front three in Liverpool’s team that has a claim to being definite starters moving forward and even one third of them can’t be relied upon to stay fit long enough for us to count our chickens. Firmino isn’t setting the world alight week after week, but he’s done enough to suggest there’s plenty of ability in his play to not worry about him too much.

Firmino

Firmino

The 0-0 scoreline was a fair one on the balance of play, but it was a frustrating one for Liverpool’s German manager who must be wondering what he needs to do to get two performances vaguely resembling each other from his team. We didn’t lose, but it didn’t really feel like a win or a draw tonight.

How you look at tonight depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or a glass half-empty type of person. Liverpool are the only English team that are unbeaten in Europe, but at the same time they had sixteen shots on goal and didn’t convert any of them. Do you want to look at tonight as a classic European performance, doing enough away from home to make sure the tie is still alive when Augsburg head to Anfield? Or do you want to look at is an opportunity missed to rest players before the cup final against City?

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