Imagine ordering a 3 course meal in your 2nd favourite restaurant, your starter is excellent, the main course is exciting and tastes great however the dessert which is the best part of the meal is sloppy and doesn’t quite cut it. The waiter spills your coffee on you towards the end of your dessert and by the end of the meal you praying for him to hurry up and bring the bill over so you can get home as quick as possible. That’s how Liverpool’s performance against Augsburg can be described. They showed some excellent build up play in the final third and the pressing which is central to Jürgen Klopps game plan was much improved but they lacked the ruthlessness in front of goal, failing to put the game to bed and left the Anfield crowd desperate to get home with a win.
Liverpool in possession
Liverpool played some excellent football throughout the game and in particular around the final third. They played a variation of 4-3-3 and were allowed to build up easily with Sakho and Lucas being able to play into either Henderson or Can, who rotated the pivot role thorough the game to keep the Augsburg midfielders guessing.
The most interesting aspect of Liverpool’s play was their rotation of positions, especially with Firmino and Sturridge playing as a front two. Klopp had given both players the freedom to move into wide areas or drop into the space between the lines to get on the ball, this gave Liverpool options to overload both wide and central areas. Whenever Firmino or Sturridge moved wide or dropped deeper, one of Can or Milner was already moving into the No9 role, this constantly gave Liverpool a vertical pass and occupied the 2 Augsburg central defenders. Henderson often stayed as the deepest midfielder when Liverpool had the ball, forming a defensive triangle with Lucas and Sakho, giving them the defensive balance they need especially as both full backs joined in on attacking play regular basis.
The relationship between the Liverpool players in wide areas was the other aspect of Liverpool’s play that was effective during the game. It is often said that Liverpool don’t play with width, that isn’t the case, they just don’t typically cross the ball a lot from wide areas as is the traditional English viewpoint of wide play. They had a lot of success with the rotation of position and players in wide areas allowing them to play neat combinations to create opportunities to shoot. Philippe Coutinho played both on the inside and outside of the Augsburg fullback, whenever he moved inside Moreno was bombing forwards on the overlap or Sturridge/Firmino move to the wide area, constantly giving the side width on the left. It was slightly different on the right side with Nathaniel Clyne dictating the movements, if he was near the touchline one of either Milner/Sturridge or Firmino would move towards the touch line with one of the others moving inside to create a 3v2 on either the fullback and winger or fullback and centre back.
The 2nd half remained much the same until the last 20 minutes when Liverpool began to lose control of the game and the nerves set in for the Anfield faithful.
The lack of clinical finishing was the only thing holding Liverpool back from topping off a good attacking performance. It took what looked to be a harsh penalty for Liverpool to score the winning goal and with the clubs 2nd most expensive striker sitting on the bench and only 7 goal scored in the last 8 European game, this must be a huge worry for Klopp. The 2nd half remained much the same until the last 20 minutes when Liverpool began to lose control of the game and the nerves set in for the Anfield faithful.
Liverpool out of possession
The reds adopted an extremely high press and Klopp was constantly demanding more from his players when looking to regain the ball as quickly as possible from the opposition. They set up with a diamond midfield and cleverly dictated how Augsburg look to play out from the back. Sturridge and Firmino allowed the ball to go into one of the central defenders from the goalkeeper and then pressed them extremely aggressive, this forced Augsburg to then playing longer balls up the pitch where Liverpool had both a midfield numerical overload and also a 2v1 against the striker and consequently Liverpool regained possession to then build up their attacks. The high press also forced Augsburg into rushed and sloppy passes which gave Liverpool possession in the final third with Coutinho being the main recipient due to his clever positioning and Liverpool having bodies around the ball.
When out of position it was often Jordan Henderson or James Milner who sprinted from midfield to press the ball with Emre Can then moving to the holding midfielder role. This was an interesting ploy from Klopp but makes sense due to the physical capacity and energy of Milner and Henderson compared to the slightly less mobile Can. The only concern I could see was when the initially press didn’t work and Augsburg could bypass the Liverpool press and played some nice combination play and calling Mignolet into action with shots from around the area and crosses.
The Bavarian’s were missing 9 players who could’ve started the game and the coach Markus Weinzierl himself said that the team coach on the way to the game “was full of any players I could get that could walk”. They set up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation and unfortunately their system and style of play contributed to Liverpool’s supremacy for the first 70 minutes.
When out of possession they adopted a medium press and used the halfway line as their trigger to press the Liverpool players. However with Liverpool having the numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch there was space between the Augsburg midfield for Liverpool to utilise. The striker Caiuby tried on occasions to press the Liverpool centre backs in particular Sakho whose distribution at times has made him the football version of Marmite for Liverpool fans. However Caiuby was often left isolated by his teammates when he went to hunt the ball down allowing Liverpool to retain possession quite easily.
When in possession Augsburg tried to play out from the back of during the game and played into Liverpool’s hand with their high pressing forcing Augsburg to turnover over position near their own goal on numerous occasions. Despite clearly being the worst of the two teams, they still caused Liverpool problems with Mignolet being called into action on 3 occasions and the Germans having 12 attempts in total. The last 20 minutes they pushed for a the goal that would take them through and the rumblings that went around Anfield when the fourth official raised the board for 5 minute of added time showed the nervousness Liverpool felt in the latter stages of the game.
In my opinion they would’ve been better looking to isolate the make shift centre back Lucas with Caiubys height and physical advantages by playing the ball quickly to his feet to hold up and bring others into the game or for Lucas to inevitably foul him as he does everyone else around the 18 yard box. Alternatively Caiuby could’ve spun on the outside of Lucas when Augsburg won possession and put his pace to the test and also gain territory higher up the pitch should Lucas clear the ball under pressure.
Poor finishing could’ve cost Liverpool and would have been heart-breaking for them especially after they had played so well for 70 minutes.
Jürgen Klopp summarised with “I’m not frustrated, football is like this. You have to create chances and we have the quality to score goals, everybody could see this.“ He added: “In another game, we will score goals for sure.”
I am not 100% convinced that this is the case as Liverpool’s lack of goals has been a weak point throughout the season. Against teams that are more clinical on the counter attack or from set pieces Liverpool may have lost this game. Despite this they can take heart from their improved pressing and also quality around the final third to create chances. They now have a Wembley final to look forward to against Manchester City which will hopefully be an exciting game.
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