Liverpool defence solid in Europa League draw at Augsburg
In the first leg of their Round of 32 Europa League tie on Thursday, which ended 0-0, Liverpool gave a curiously muted performance against an industrious but limited Augsburg, who'd already lost their main attacking threat in the opening 20 minutes. That didn't stop the German side from almost causing a huge shock and scoring with five minutes to go, hitting the post instead.Perhaps there was too much pre-match talk about how Liverpool could clinch the tie in this opening leg, thus being able to rest key players for an Anfield return days before their Capital One Cup final with Manchester City.
A complacent and sloppy first half display was at least improved upon in the second and a scoreless draw away from home is a decent, if unspectacular result. But still, it felt like an opportunity wasted.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Simon Mignolet, 7 -- Dealt calmly with everything he had to, including an important save seconds before half-time. Aerially sound for once, though he was rarely under very much pressure in that respect.
DF Nathanial Clyne, 6 -- Solid at the back as usual, his overall performance reflected his side. He was unwilling to really commit to attack first half, but was a little more adventurous in the second. Normally reliable when he stays back for Liverpool's corners, he almost put his club in trouble by dawdling on the hour mark. Looked tired near the end and a failure to make an aerial challenge almost proved pivotal as Augsburg hit the post from the knockdown.
DF Kolo Toure, 7 -- Solid defending, not the fittest these days but the brain does most of the work now. The Germans weren't very threatening, but whenever they did look like making a decisive break, the Ivorian was ready. Only disappointment was a failure to connect with a cross at the other end which could have given his side a vital away goal.
DF Mamadou Sakho, 7 -- Also solid, especially when he occasionally had to deal with an absentee left-back. He'd been in erratic form since returning from injury, but now beginning to do better.
DF Alberto Moreno, 6 -- Marked absent for Augsburg's best chance near the end of the first half. The best of his work is still done going forward and he hit a good shot which almost snuck in with 20 minutes remaining. Bizarre header back to Mignolet could have caused major problems but fortunately there was no harm done.
MF James Milner, 6 -- Worked hard after an erratic start. Created the best chance for Liverpool, with Daniel Sturridge slicing his excellent cross wide when he should have at least hit the target. There were other good crosses with no final reward. He was hurt with 10 minutes remaining and was substituted as a precaution.
MF Emre Can, 6 -- Poor first half, seemingly confused by being given a defensive role against a side which barely merited such caution. Lost his cool on a couple of occasions, unwise in a European setting where referees can be card-happy. Improved in the second half, however.
MF Jordan Henderson, 5 -- Not a great night for the captain, in fact he barely seemed to have any influence on the game at all. One looping effort straight from a corner was the one memorable contribution from a player who is usually all-action and nearly always involved.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Inconsistent performance. Like his team he had a better second half especially when he came inside a bit more after seemingly being glued to the left touchline in the first. His evening was typified by a superb dummy which allowed the ball to reach Moreno, but the Spaniard's pass back was annoyingly stabbed well wide by the Brazilian.
MF Roberto Firmino, 6 -- Did not stop running all night, but had less influence on this game than in the 6-0 defeat of Aston Villa. Whereas in that match he drifted with menace and great effect, on Thursday night he just seemed to drift and also gave the ball away sometimes with slack passing. One good pass to Milner nearly helped set up Sturridge, however.
FW Daniel Sturridge, 5 -- A performance which reminded everyone how much football he's missed. Touch and fitness were all poor. It's understandable he did not want to get involved in some of Augsburg's more physical tackling, but he often played like a passenger and his substitution was not a shock. Missed one chance he would normally have snapped up easily, summing up his whole evening.
FW Divock Origi, 5 -- Brought on in the 68th minute to run a little harder at Augsburg's defence than Sturridge, he almost got on the end of one Milner cross, but was otherwise anonymous.
MF Jordon Ibe, NR -- Came on to make sure Milner did not exacerbate his injury. He did little with the 10 minutes he was given and frankly did not really look like he wanted to.
Steven Kelly writes about Liverpool for ESPN FC and has a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.