Liverpool open Europa KO stage with lackluster draw

Juergen Klopp’s return to Germany was a limited success Thursday night, his Liverpool side getting a 0-0 first leg draw in Augsburg to open their knockout stage work in the Europa League.

The result means the tie will be settled next week at Anfield where Augsburg will take some heart from the fact that scoring an away goal could be their ticket to a Round of 16 match. However, the Bundesliga side did not do nearly enough to take a first leg lead and were somewhat fortunate to survive a second half Liverpool assault.

It was a big night for Augsburg, which had never played in Europe before this season, thus was making its debut in a knockout round. They started well, but were too predictable on attack to pose serious problems for the visitors.

For Liverpool, Europe’s second major club tournament offers them a chance to get Champions League football next season, but even with a better performance over the second half the Premier League team could not find a goal.

HEAR US OUT

A quiet first half, one that saw Liverpool taking few chances, was notable not for chances created but for the fact that Augsburg lost its top scorer, Raul Bobadilla, to injury after only 22 minutes. The striker landed awkwardly under a challenge and appeared to damage his right leg. Caiuby, a Brazilian striker, replaced the Argentinian at the head of the home attack.

Alexander Esswein had Augsburg’s best opportunity in first half stoppage time when he was sent in on the right. When he pulled up to settle the ball on his left foot he gave Simon Mignolet time to cut down the shooting angle and stifle the scoring attempt.

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino wasted a possible opening in the eighth minute when his weak shot failed to trouble Marwin Hitz in the home goal, which was rarely bothered before the break.

Liverpool was much livelier after the restart and should have been ahead by the hour. The best opening was wasted by Daniel Sturridge in the 54th minute. James Milner sent a right wing cross directly to the striker, open six yards away, only to see Sturridge fail to make proper contact with the goal at his mercy.

Five minutes later Hitz had to cover the ball on his line after an Alberto Moreno free kick on the right swung into the box and created chaos. Paul Verhaegh wound up slicing his clearance attempt on his own goal but was saved by his keeper’s reaction while on the ground.

Hitz was good again in the 70th minute when a long-range shot from Moreno bounced awkwardly and nearly put the visitors on top.

Sturridge left in the 68th minute for substitute Divock Origi after starting to come into the game. It was a heartening performance from the injury-plagued striker only now starting to get significant minutes after so much time on the sidelines.