As the Capital One Cup final nears, Liverpool have got one more game before they make their trip to Wembley, and it’s something of a final itself. Tied at 0-0 following a fairly drab first leg in Germany, the Reds must complete the job at home to progress to the Europa League Last 16.
If last Thursday’s first leg was the biggest match in the Bavarian club’s history, this week’s game might just leapfrog that achievement, as they head to L4 with a real chance of upsetting the odds, especially if Jürgen Klopp prioritises the upcoming final against Manchester City when selecting his team.
Whilst Liverpool were the better side in the first leg, and should have won the game, Markus Weinzierl’s men certainly did enough to let Klopp know he’s got a job on his hands if he wants to make the next round. Alexander Esswein forced one of Simon Mignolet’s more crucial saves this season after bamboozling the Liverpool defence just short of half time. Former Sunderland man Ji Don Won didn’t have his late strike saved by Mignolet, but watched on in agony as it struck the outside of the post.
Up at the other end, a lack of incisive attacking cost the visitors. Roberto Firmino had a good chance in the first half when his tenacity won him a chance high up the pitch, but the Brazilian couldn’t sort his feet out and had a weak shot saved. Daniel Sturridge, too, wasted an excellent opportunity, slicing wide from a James Milner cross. Still, the travelling fans certainly saw enough to give them hope that their side will get the job done back on English shores.
Augsburg do come into the game on a high, having claimed a crucial win in the Bundesliga at the weekend. Ja-Cheol Koo’s excellent finish was enough to win a tight game against Hannover 96, in which the visitors were on the back foot for long periods, but managed to come away with all three points. That lifted them to 13th in the Bundesliga, giving them a four point cushion over Werder Bremen in 16th place.
It was a rare weekend off for Liverpool, whose FA Cup exit at the hands of West Ham a couple of weeks ago has afforded Klopp’s men a welcome seven day break between the two Augsburg fixtures. Still, whilst the likes of Mamadou Sakho have certainly taken the chance to relax and take some time away from the training pitch, Liverpool can’t take much heart from previous times this season when they’ve had a prolonged rest in-between fixtures. The last time the Reds had a week’s break ahead of a game, they went down 3-0 to Watford at Vicarage Road. Other disappointing results have followed after breaks between games, although most of the others have been down to international breaks, include the 3-1 loss to Manchester United and 0-3 defeat at the hands of West Ham. Augsburg will be hoping that the pattern continues on Thursday night.
Liverpool were at this stage before, last year, but carried a lead into the second leg against Besiktas having won 1-0 at Anfield. The return leg in Turkey was a forgettable one though, the Reds crashing out on penalties after a 1-0 loss in the very stadium they had won the Champions League in 10 years prior. Dejan Lovren added another mistake to his ever-growing list that night, blazing over the penalty that knocked his side out. There are still some huge teams left in this tournament and it’s surely one Klopp will want to prioritise, can they go the whole way? BettingPro.com advises that they should at least advance from this tie and advance further in the tournament.
Back to Thursday’s affair though, and Klopp does have a few selection headaches. The usual suspects, Jordan Rossiter, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez remain out, whilst Martin Skrtel is still sidelined. Adam Lallana could return from a calf problem, but Joe Allen and Kevin Stewart are unavailable after recent injuries.
Whether or not the German boss picks his strongest team is up for debate, with some arguing that the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino should be rested for Sunday’s final. However, they’ll probably require that trio to get past a stubborn Augsburg defence, and the match could be an excellent opportunity to build some confidence ahead of the City game.
There might be something to be taken from Klopp’s defensive selection, as Lovren and Kolo Toure compete for a place alongside the aforementioned Sakho, providing he isn’t still roaming the streets of Paris on his motorcycle. In midfield, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can are likely to continue as a pair, with Milner playing slightly further forward to add another outlet in attack.
The best bit of team news for Liverpool doesn’t even come from their own camp, as Augsburg confirmed that striker Raul Bobadilla would miss the second leg, having been forced off with a hamstring problem last Thursday. Daniel Baier is still out, so they’ll miss his services ahead of the defence, whilst you’d expect Ja-Cheol Koo to get a start following his weekend exploits.
You’d expect Liverpool to look to take control of the game early on, as one or two early goals could really knock the momentum that Augsburg have going into this one. However, they’re full in the belief that they need to win the game, and if Augsburg score the first, then the Reds suddenly have to come back with two and it becomes very awkward against a sturdy defence. Still, you’d expect the hosts to have enough to get through, putting themselves in a jubilant mood ahead of Sunday afternoon.