After dismantling Aston Villa at the weekend, Liverpool look primed to reignite their Europa League campaign as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp returns to Germany for the first time since leaving Borussia Dortmund with the Anfield outfit set to square off against FC Augsburg in the first leg of their Round of 32 tie with the Bundesliga side tomorrow.
Despite the devastating display on Sunday, one always has to take into account the quality of the opposition, and with all due to respect to the Villains, they didn’t exactly offer up the sternest test. Football, though, is a game of confidence and after seeing six different names hit the score-sheet, Liverpool will be brimming with it at kick-off. Their hosts, on the other hand, were brushed off quite easily by perennial pacesetters Bayern Munich on Valentines Day which has left them mired in the lower echelons of the table as their stuttering season still refuses to finally kick in to gear.
Finishing fifth last season and qualifying for the Europa League, the Fuggerstädter have struggled domestically, but they’ve continued to punch well above their weight in their maiden European campaign. Qualifying for the knock-out rounds in dramatic fashion, Augsburg manager Markus Weinzierl’s men secured a two goal victory over Partizan Belgrade in their final group game to seal progression — a spectacular victory against a well seasoned side.
Maybe taking out other teams on the continent is one thing, but the Bavarian club know all about Klopp as well with Augsburg securing a slender win against the German tactician at the mythical Westfalenstadion last season.
“We want to make sure we are in a good position going into the second leg. A win would be invaluable,” said Weinzierl in his pre-match press conference. “The boys need to give 100% tomorrow and enjoy the game,” he continued. “We will prepare for Liverpool in the same way as we do any other match. Liverpool have a lot of good players, who are all capable of deciding games. We’re looking forward to seeing who plays tomorrow.”
Elimination from the FA Cup means the Reds are free and clear of matches between the first and second leg, but with an all important League Cup final with Manchester City looming large at the weekend following the return fixture, Klopp will want to have this one as wrapped up as possible before his side make the trip to Wembley. With that being said, the Merseyside giants are likely to go full bore at the WWK Arena with the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho all expected to feature in the starting eleven, though Adam Lallana and Kevin Stewart will both miss out through injury.
“Augsburg are a special team and it will be a tough game, and we know this because they are a tough opponent,” Peter Krawietz, Klopp’s assistant coach, told the club’s official website. “We know them very well. We know the coach, their style of play and we know it is a team which is very hard-working, very compact in defence [and] quick in attacking the opponent with a clear idea,” he explained. “You can take the [previous] results and say ‘it will be easy’ but I can promise it won’t be easy. It’s a big game for them and something like an historical game for them against LFC. This will be a big, big challenge for us.”
The Fuggerstädter are set to be without important midfielder Daniel Baier, but Raul Bobadilla, who is the joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga and potted a consolation goal against Bayern Munich at the weekend, will make sure Krawietz isn’t just being pragmatic. The powerful forward has been a constant menace throughout the season and with Liverpool’s shaky defence you wouldn’t bet against the Paraguay international finding the net.
The Reds have a long way to go before they can even think about winning the Europa League, but UEFA’s second tier competition looks like the best way for them to secure a spot in the Champions League next season. At this point, that’s neither here nor there; having been eliminated at this stage in our last two forays into the Round of 32, were going to have to get through before we even start to consider silverware…