Belfast Telegraph

Klopp happy as Pool head to Wembley with spring in step

Liverpool -0 FC Augsberg (Liverpool win 1-0 on aggregate)

By Simon Hughes

When Daniel Sturridge glided through the night air the fear was he might stop and signal that he could not carry on, his brittle muscles succumbing a collective gasp filled the famous stadium.

When captain Jordan Henderson fell clutching his knee, only the sound of a few moaning infants could be heard. When James Milner fired past Marwin Hitz so early on to score the opener, the reality of extra-time not being necessary dawned, and the relief across Anfield was tangible.

Everything just about worked out for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. Progression to the Europa League Round of 16 was secured but not by exerting more energy in playing an increased number of minutes ahead of Sunday's League Cup final with Manchester City. There were no injuries sustained either.

Hitz's performance was surely a career best, denying Liverpool a more comfortable victory.

Liverpool have now kept three clean sheets for the first time since the first three games of the season. Klopp's only change was to replace Kolo Touré with Lucas Leiva at centre-back and by selecting more or less the same side in three successive games, he has been able to breathe much coveted continuity and rhythm into his side's play.

Klopp was happy. He goes to Wembley in an optimistic mood.

"The win was absolutely deserved and I think most people would agree with me," he said enthusiastically. "We should have scored more but that is how football is sometimes. With 1-0, I am completely fine."

He was particularly satisfied that Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho made it through 65 and 80 minutes respectively.

"We need to find new faith and trust in the body of the players," he admitted. "They can only get their best shape through training and matches. We are nearly there."

What Liverpool really did not want was extra-time ahead of a cup final. Having drawn the first leg 0-0, what Klopp wished for was the possibility of that happening being extinguished swiftly.

Liverpool have not scored many early goals at Anfield since he became manager, so when French referee Clément Turpin spotted an indiscretion inside Augsburg's penalty area after only five minutes, Liverpool could relax a little.

Henderson's cross would have been headed away by Brazilian striker Caiuby had it not been for Dominik Kohr, the enthusiastic midfielder who on this occasion proved way too eager to make his presence felt.

In flinging his hand in front of Caiuby, Liverpool were awarded a penalty and from there Milner beat Hitz without any fuss at all.

It frustrated Klopp that Liverpool did not secure progression by half-time. On chances, a 4-1 scoreline would not have been unfair at that stage.

Sturridge fed Coutinho, who fired into Hitz's feet; Coutinho then returned the favour for Sturridge but again Hitz was there, making the save of the night. In between, when Roberto Firmino reacted quickly to send Alberto Moreno's cross darting towards goal, Hitz reacted in a surprised manner but was nevertheless able to stop it going in.

The pattern continued. When Sturridge turned his marker Christoph Janker shortly after the break it appeared Liverpool were finally going to be able to take it easy, yet Sturridge's release was skewed. When Henderson raced on to Firmino's flick, Hitz was there one last time to deny him.

There was the usual charge by the trailing team when a lead is slender. Augsburg brought on striker Raul Bobadilla. That the closest they came to an equaliser was through two shots from left-back Kostas Stafylidis - one a free-kick - showed Liverpool were not under as much pressure as it may have seemed.

LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Clyne, Lucas, Sakho, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Milner, Firmino, Sturridge (Origi, 66 mins), Coutinho (Teixeira, 80 mins). Subs not used: Ward, Toure, Benteke, Smith, Chirivella.

Goal: Milner 5

AUGSBURG: Hitz, Verhaegh, Janker (Parker, 90 mins), Klavan, Stafylidis, Esswein, Altintop, Werner (Bobadilla, 72 mins), Koo (Moravek, 80 mins), Caiuby, Kohr. Subs not used: Manninger, Opare, Max, Rieder.

Match rating: 5/10

Man of the match: Marwin Hitz

Referee: Clement Turpin (France)

Belfast Telegraph


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