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Augsburg 0, Liverpool 0: Not Quite Good Enough

Liverpool fail to take their chances against a stubborn Augsburg side in the Europa League round of 32 first leg.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Augsburg 0

Liverpool 0

Jürgen Klopp sent out the same XI that demolished a lackluster Aston Villa at the weekend. This move made sense both in terms of the quality of their last performance, the fact that Liverpool's next match is a week away, and that Manchester City await immediately following that, so a good away win might allow the manager to rest key players for the return leg.

Nathaniel Clyne, Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno made up the backline in a sort of amorphous 4-2-3-1, where Emre Can and Jordan Henderson made up the double pivot, and James Milner drifted between the central midfield and right winger positions. Philippe Coutinho took up his favoured inside wide left position, while Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino roamed along the frontline looking for pockets of space.

In a scrappy first half, Firmino got the best early chance, as he pounced on a loose ball and dribbled past the centre-back, but his left-footed shot was a bobbled effort that posed little threat to Marwin Hitz. A loose Sturridge header from five yards was easily saved, and a Coutinho through ball was cut out just as Sturridge was about to pull the trigger. A pair of tame long-range efforts were easily saved by Hitz, and that was pretty much that for the first 45. Augsburg had a massive chance to take the lead in injury time, as Liverpool were caught high up the pitch, leaving Toure alone with the pacy Alexander Esswein. The winger cut inside and fired off a left-footed effort, but Mignolet was equal to the finish and both teams went to half-time scoreless

After a first half that was more yawn than YNWA, the visitors took control immediately after the break, creating big opportunities nearly at will. Henderson was wrongly called for offside after some terrific interplay had released him in to the left in the box. Moreno received the ball in a similar area after a Firmino pass and Coutinho dummy, but the cutback was slashed wide by the unicorn. Minutes later, a perfect one-two between Milner and Firmino sent the former into space on the right-side touchline, and his flat cross found Sturridge unmarked 4 yards from goal. The striker surprisingly fluffed his touch, however, and the chance went begging.

A curled Sturridge effort was saved, before Clyne delivered a hard, flat cross from the touchline, this one blocked for a corner inches before it could be turned home by an onrushing Moreno. The Spaniard sent in a dipping set piece soon after, and two Augsburg defenders nearly turned it into their own net before Hitz controlled it on the line. It was an impressive fifteen minutes by the Reds, but the feeling that their failure to convert would come back to haunt them was hard to shake.

Divock Origi came on for Sturridge after 67 minutes, and Moreno had a long-range swerver pushed wide by the Augsburg goalkeeper.  The Belgian striker then went close as he touched a Milner cross over the bar.

The rhythm of Liverpool's attack was stuttering, and Augsburg fought their way back into the game. A high cross fell to Kostas Stafylidis at the far post, but his side-footed finish hit the substitute Caiuby and rolled wide. Caiuby was involved again ten minutes later, as his knock-down found former Sunderland striker Ji Dong-Won, who sent a shot off Mignolet's near post. The game petered out from there, with neither side able to muster much of a last-minute effort.

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A fairly run-of-the-mill European away performance, where a bit of luck or better finishing could have tipped the result either way. The Reds strong start to the second half notwithstanding, it was a mostly a scrappy affair, with Augsburg happy to sit back and attack down the flanks or on the counter, and Liverpool dominating possession, occasionally showing the kind of inventiveness and movement that is required to break down defensively sound opposition.

Both fullbacks were excellent on the night, getting forward and contributing to the attack with great regularity. This naturally lead to the centre-backs occasionally getting exposed, but the pairing of Sakho and Toure dealt with those situations terrifically well. Jordan Henderson is starting to find his form after looking rusty since his return from injury, while Firmino remains the creative hub of the team, helped by the addition of his compatriot Coutinho. Daniel Sturridge inches his way towards match form, and tonight seemed somewhat removed from his teammates, failing to make runs into space at opportune moments and fluffing his one big chance on the night.

A goalless draw means Liverpool will need to win the upcoming return leg at Anfield or risk taking the match to penalties. This is less than ideal, as an away win would have allowed Klopp to rest some starters ahead of the League Cup final next Sunday. Nonetheless, a full week's rest is now on tap, and one would hope the Reds can put together a more effective performance at Anfield a week from now.

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