17 February 2016

Liverpool at FC Augsburg 02.18.16

3:05pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 6-0 Villa (a); 1-2 West Ham aet (a)2-2 Sunderland (h)
Augsburg: 1-3 Bayern (h); 1-2 Ingolstadt (a); 0-0 Eintracht Frankfurt (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 0-0 Sion (a); 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Augsburg: 3-1 Partizan (a); 2-3 Athletic Bilbao (h); 4-1 AZ (h); 0-1 AZ (a); 1-3 Partizan (h); 1-3 Athletic (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Lallana 2, Benteke, Can, Ibe, Milner 1
Augsburg: Bobadilla 6; Trochowski 2; Altintop, Hong, Ji, Verhaegh 1

Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP)

Borbalán's actually done a Liverpool match before: the 0-1 loss at Anahi Makhachkala in this competition in 2012.

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Toure Sakho Moreno
Henderson Can
Milner Firmino Coutinho

Unless certain players aren't fit enough (looking at you, Daniel, Jordan, and Kolo), I can't see Liverpool's XI being much different than Sunday's.

There are perpetually concerns about players' fitness, especially the aforementioned certain players. But Liverpool have had four days since the win over Villa, and will have a full week before the home leg of this fixture. There haven't been any rumors of problems since Sunday, at least other than Kevin Stewart's ankle injury, and he's not in the Europa League squad anyway. Lucas will return to the squad, while Lallana, Lovren, Skrtel, and Allen are still absent.

Maybe Sturridge is protected and either Origi or Benteke start up front, although I'd argue that if Sturridge is going to play at all, he should do so from the start, where he's much more effective than as a substitute. Maybe Henderson's ongoing heel problem means that he needs a match off, and Lucas comes into midfield. Maybe Caulker, or even Lucas, replaces Toure. Maybe Ibe comes in for Milner, or maybe Firmino starts as the central striker in a 4-3-3.

All of those changes are possibilities, although I suspect they're less likely than the alternatives. But otherwise, same as before. It's clearly Liverpool's strongest XI at the moment, Liverpool's fixture list is finally easing, and this competition has become even more important than it seemed back in December thanks to continued failings in the league. There won't be any more XIs like those at Sion or at Bordeaux.

Liverpool need this competition.

Meanwhile, Augsburg are currently 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga, winless in their last four since returning from Germany's month-long winter break. They're one point outside the relegation playoffs and eight points from the top half of the table.

14th seems just about right after a quick look at their statistics. Only four sides have scored fewer league goals, only five sides have conceded more league goals. Augsburg allow the most shots per-game in the Bundesliga, although a large portion come from outside the box – and, incidentally, Liverpool really like shooting from outside the box. And at the other end of the pitch, only two Bundesliga sides take a higher percentage of their shots from outside the box: Ingolstadt (12th) and Hannover (18th).

Augsburg want to do what a lot of sides have done to Liverpool. And have succeeded by doing to Liverpool. Soak up Liverpool's pressure, close down quickly and congest space in midfield and in their defensive half, force sides to take their shots from less dangerous positions, and then counter-attack. Only Stuttgart have taken more shots from counter-attacking situations in the Bundesliga. At least Augsburg don't often score from set plays – only four league goals – but Liverpool can concede from set plays against anyone. Augsburg do, however, win penalties; only Bayern has scored more from the spot.

I probably shouldn't embarrass us both by attempting to predict Augsburg's XI, so let's just assume it'll be similar to the side which lost 1-3 to Bayern Munich on Sunday. A compact 4-2-3-1: Hitz; Verhaegh, Hong, Klavan, Max; Kohr, Koo; Esswein, Trochowski, Caiuby; Bobadilla. January signing Goiweleeuw, who started in midfield on Sunday, is cup-tied; center-back Jeong-Ho Hong is questionable after picking up a muscle injury in that match.

Special mention need be made of Raul Bobadilla, who is the joint-top scorer in the Europa League this season. He's got as many goals as Liverpool have in total. While Augsburg struggle to score in the league, they scored in every Europa League match, hitting four once and three once, averaging two goals per game. Liverpool scored two goals in just one of their six Europa League games. Bobadilla also previously faced Liverpool – albeit a much different Liverpool – in this competition in 2012-13, scoring at Anfield and setting up a goal in Switzerland. He's exactly the type of player who can punish a single defensive lapse, no matter the run of play. Liverpool remain far too fond of making defensive lapses.

Liverpool lost at this stage of the competition in each of their last two appearances: Zenit in 2012-13 and Besiktas in 2014-15. Augsburg is seemingly weaker than both of those opponents, with the added bonus that Liverpool's manager knows the side well, but that hasn't stopped Liverpool before.

That the first leg is away from home also appears to be a bonus. Liverpool have often been better away from home this season – Watford, Newcastle, etc. notwithstanding – and any result away in European competition is a good thing, especially considering the importance of away goals. While a 0-0 draw still hands Liverpool an advantage going into the second leg, an away goal would give Liverpool a massive edge at Anfield.

So go get them goals.

No comments :