With the League Cup final at the weekend providing a sizable distraction from the action, Liverpool host FC Augsburg in the second leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie at Anfield tomorrow and it all hangs in the balance after a scoreless first leg in Germany.
The Bundesliga side not only kept their visitors at bay, but they created chances of their own with former Sunderland man Ji Dong-won coming closest to breaking the deadlock only to see his shot from range in the closing stages ping agonizingly off the post. While the Reds remain favourites to progress to the next round, their often fragile defense and the specter of having to overcome an away goal hangs heavy and you get the feeling that the nerves will start to ratchet up unless they can get on the scoreboard early.
Their chances of doing that have been given a boost in recent weeks with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, who joined Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for his pre-match interview and pledged his future to the Reds yesterday, almost certain to be in the starting eleven.
“We have to look at who can play on Thursday then we have two other days to think about the Manchester City game,” said the German, knowing full well that fielding a weakened team isn’t an option. “Especially for players who didn’t play for a long time – like Phil [Coutinho] and Daniel – it’s very important to play them for rhythm,” explained Klopp. “You saw they are back but it’s not at the consistent highest level. That’s absolutely normal,” he continued, hinting at their missed chances in the first leg. They could take a rest and we wait for the highest level or work for it; I prefer working for it and that’s what we try to do.”
The Anfield outfit will be without the likes of defender Dejan Lovren after he fell ill earlier in the week as well as midfield duo Joe Allen and Adam Lallana, but the it’s the Bavarians who will be really feeling the injury pinch with Augsburg boss Markus Weinzierl planning to be without star striker Raul Bobdilla with a muscle tear picked up in the opening stages of the first leg set to keep him out of the return match on Merseyside.
The Paraguay international may have joined midfield linchpin Daniel Baier, who is also a doubt for the trip to Anfield, on the sidelines, but the Fuggerstädter were able to pick up all three points against Hannover 96 on Sunday with former South Korea captain Koo Ja-Cheol scoring the only goal.
“It’s difficult to say,” said the veteran midfielder when asked if they have a shot of knocking the Reds out of Europe. “We did really well at home, and we’ll try to do the same in Liverpool. It’s a huge game for us, and we’ll give everything,” he continued. “We’ll have to see whether that is enough.”
The Reds, for their part, are unbeaten in continental action this season, but Klopp doesn’t have the best record against Augsburg with only two wins in ten meetings against the Bavarian side during his spells in charge of both Borussia Dortmund and FSV Mainz — a stark reminder that this could all go terribly wrong.