Goalless Draw in Augsburg Sees Liverpool Under Pressure for Anfield Return

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Goalless Draw in Augsburg Sees Liverpool Under Pressure for Anfield Return
CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

After the 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa came the 0-0 bore draw against FC Augsburg as Liverpool's squad proved their limitations in Europe again. This was their fifth draw, of seven games, in the UEFA Europa League this season.

When Jurgen Klopp said before Thursday's match that the Europa League was the Reds' best route into next season's UEFA Champions League, he was likely basing his opinion on the performances his team is capable of—not what they actually regularly produce.

Speaking after the stalemate, Klopp was clearly frustrated, telling BT Sport he was "not 100 per cent satisfied" and pointing to his side's inconsistency. 

"My problem is that I think, with our quality, we should do better," he said, per Andy Hunter of the Guardian.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

In his post-match press conference, the German said similar: "I want us to play the level we are able to more often."

This is the big problem with this Liverpool team: They cannot be relied upon to produce their best, especially in the big games.

Last season, European games—as well as a last-32 exit to Besiktas in this same competition, an FA Cup semi-final, Steven Gerrard's final Anfield appearance and last game for the club—all proved this failure to perform when it mattered.

This season, wins at Chelsea and Manchester City were followed up by relatively mediocre performances in the Europa League against Rubin Kazan and Bordeaux—although, those two games at least resulted in victories.

After thrashing Southampton 6-1 in the League Cup quarter-finals, Klopp's side produced one of the weakest performances of the season to surrender 2-0 at Newcastle United—and followed that up with a 0-0 draw in Sion.

The 5-4 thriller at Norwich City in January was followed up by going 360 minutes without a goal. Inconsistency is rife in this Liverpool squad.

Usually, a 0-0 draw away from home in Europe isn't a terrible result—although not getting an away goal is always a disappointment—but to fail to break down a side sitting one point above the relegation zone in their own league, missing six first-team players, then losing their star player to injury early on, makes this a poor result.

What's most frustrating though is the missed opportunity; Klopp clearly fielded his strongest XI with the aim of gaining a first-leg lead to take back to Merseyside.

Any sort of lead would have meant a couple of key players could have been spared the home tie at Anfield on Thursday, allowing them to be rested and fresh ahead of the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City, which kicks off just 70 hours after.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

A player such as Jordan Henderson, who is clearly still hampered by his ongoing heel injury, would have been one to benefit from not having to play two big games inside three days.

Daniel Sturridge, who just didn't seem up for it in Augsburg, is another who could have sat out the home tie and been saved for the trip to Wembley. The striker fed on scraps in Bavaria and looked off the pace on his first consecutive start of the season.

The saving grace for Liverpool is they have a free weekend for the first time since the last international break in mid-November before the return leg. Klopp's side have seven days between matches—although the last time they had such preparation they lost 3-0 at Watford.

League Cup final opponents Man City are in FA Cup fifth-round action against Chelsea on Sunday, then have the 3,400-mile round trip to Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Klopp will be thankful his side are at least at Anfield and that the home tie with Augsburg is the earlier kick-off of 6 p.m. GMT. The squad will have Friday to recover before travelling to London on Saturday.

Tiredness shouldn't be an issue in such a game, but perhaps the biggest concern should be over Liverpool's ability to produce two positive results in succession—something Klopp's side has failed to do in recent weeks. Will Jekyll or Hyde be on display at Wembley?

Taking the Augsburg result in isolation, it wasn't terrible, but looking at the bigger picture, it's a disappointing one.

CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

"There were a lot of things we could have done better," bemoaned Klopp post-match, per Gerard Brand of Sky Sports. The manager will be more than aware a performance such as this would not be enough to see his side progress if they get one of the bigger teams in the latter stages.

A Europa League final in May looks a long way off for Liverpool—and not just because there would be another seven games to play if they are to arrive in Basel looking for the Reds' first European trophy since 2005.

Liverpool are too inconsistent to challenge for a top-four finish, and such unpredictable performances make it difficult to see the Europa League providing the route to Europe's elite competition next season.

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