Liverpool vice-captain James Milner proved to be the match winner tonight for Liverpool as they overcame a stubborn Augsburg in the last thirty two of the Europa League.
Liverpool performed superbly in the first half, and come forty five minutes the team should have been home and clear. But the Liverpool of old in front of goal was there for all to see.
Jürgen Klopp started Lucas Leiva in defence along side Mamadou Sakho tonight while he rested Kolo Touré seemingly in preparation for the Capital One Cup final on Sunday against Manchester City. As for the rest of the team there was no real surprises. Fans expected a strong team and a strong team is what we got. I for one was a bit surprised to see Jordan Henderson start his second game this week for the Reds. For Augsburg, their fans got a surprise when the Europa League’s top scorer and Augsburg fan favourite Raul Bobadilla was named on the Augsburg substitutes bench. Bobadilla injured his hamstring in last week’s meeting and his addition to the squad was a real boost for everyone at Augsburg.
Liverpool started the brighter of the two teams, and it took them all of five minutes to score the first goal of the tie when Augsburg defender Dominik Kohr was judged to have handled the ball in the box and James Milner slotted the ball in to the back of the net from the resulting penalty. Augsburg fans will feel.hard done by with the penalty decision while Liverpool fans expected the floodgates to open but Augsburg dug in their heels and defended like a German team do. Goalkeeper Marwin Hitz and defender Kostas Stafylidis were impressive throughout for the German team.
The attacking trio of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Phillipe Coutinho were at times breathtaking to watch tonight with Coutinho especially impressing. At such a tender age Coutinho is the player that makes the whole Liverpool tick. Himself and Firmino showed an understanding that makes Liverpool fans drool at the thoughts of them playing together for the rest of season. When the two of them were close to each other on the pitch they took the piss of the Augsburg players at times with their one two passes and their want to run in to space. Their moment left the Augsburg defence dizzy at times. As good as Liverpool’s own attacking trident was, Augsburg’s goalkeeper had the game of his life and was up to everything Liverpool threw at him. He produced save after save after save. His confidence between the sticks gave his defence the confidence to push up and try and hit Liverpool on the break.
My only criticism of Liverpool tonight was the set pieces. I don’t think any of Liverpool’s corners made it past the first man tonight. Even when they tried to change it up by playing it short, it still did not work. This is not a new problem for Liverpool though, this is a problem they have had all season long and no matter who takes the corners, whether it be James Milner or Phillipe Coutinho the result was the same. The ball is played in to the box and the first defender clears it which automatically put Liverpool under pressure. My only other criticism is the defending of set pieces. Every time a high ball went in to box Anfield held it’s breath. Thankfully Simon Mignolet was on the ball tonight and I even found myself saying well done Mignolet.
Liverpool now march on to the last sixteen of the Europa League. First up through is a trip to Wembley for the Reds as they play Manchester City in this season Capital One Cup final. For Augsburg they face Bayern Mönchengladbach. They currently sit thirteenth in the league and will now hope to put a run together that will see them back in to contention for Europe next season.