Jurgen Klopp is settling in, Lucas has moved to a new role and there is potential in attack, explains Paul Wilkes...
1. Klopp’s ideology
If you think about the second step before the first step, then you will always fall down
It’s nearly five months since the German coach arrived on Merseyside and progress has been fairly slow, although there are now more signs of Jurgen Klopp’s methods beginning to take shape. With seven days' rest from the first leg, the team have had longer to understand the finer details and instructions of their manager.
The organisation in the defensive third is starting to show, even if personal errors are yet to be fully eradicated. Klopp opted for momentum over rotation with the League Cup final just three days away, with Lucas replacing Kolo Toure the only change from last week’s game in Augsburg. “If you think about the second step before the first step, then you will always fall down,” said Klopp.
His formation is changing between matches, but the principles remain. The defence is gradually getting calmer, while the double-pivot of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson is providing security and aggression in equal measure. On this occasion, Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 system which gave them plenty of fluidity in attacking areas.
Liverpool were able to ease the pressure slightly with an early goal, as James Milner converted from the spot inside five minutes. Henderson’s cross was handled by Dominik Kohr in the penalty area, although it wasn’t clear on first view and proved to be a good spot by referee Clement Turpin.
The home team had many opportunities throughout the match and the result should have been much more convincing, although Klopp can take great pleasure from three consecutive clean sheets.
“For 70 minutes we couldn’t see their [Augsburg’s] plan, it was a defensive plan, then at the end they had their long balls to the strikers,” stated Klopp after the match.
2. Lucas quietly impressing
The natural holding-midfielder was initially an important player for Klopp, but he has found himself out of the line-up in recent weeks. In matches with both West Ham and Stoke, Lucas dropped into the back four due to injuries to Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren, when many expected Can to move into the role.
Lucas played this role really well and I’m really pleased for him. It’s not easy for him when he doesn’t play, he is a different person
This was just the second time that Lucas had started in the position, but it probably won’t be the last, especially in Europe. In the 13th minute, he stepped out of the defence and intercepted the ball before making a superb cross-field pass to Daniel Sturridge, who had pulled into a wide position.
His distribution was good throughout, while also showing how strong and resilient he is in the tackle. The Brazilian earnt himself a round of applause from the home supporters when he left the physically imposing Caiuby on the deck early in the second half. The Augsburg forward had caused the occasional concern for Kop supporters.
Lucas’ backpass with 10 minutes to go until half-time was the only real moment the destroyer could be faulted on in the match, although some of the blame could be apportioned to Simon Mignolet who could have been quicker off his line.
“We had to play more football from the last line,” claimed Klopp, as he explained that Augsburg’s deep defensive line and the opportunity to rest Toure prompted his decision to utilise Lucas as a centre-back.
“He played this role really well and I’m really pleased for him. It’s not easy for Lucas when he doesn’t play, he is a different person. He is OK, but it’s not easy for him to enjoy life when he’s not playing.”
3. Liverpool’s attacking options
It's been a difficult time being injured, but it's part of football. I'm looking forward to the future, of course, with Liverpool
For the third successive game Klopp was able to field Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho at the same time. The three forwards showed that they have the ability to take Liverpool back to previous heights providing they can stay injury-free.
"It's been a difficult time being injured, but it's part of football," said Sturridge before the game. "I'm looking forward to the future, of course, with Liverpool." The striker’s commitment to the cause will be a welcome relief to the Anfield faithful, as he illustrated the class he possesses.
"He's a really good football player," admitted Klopp in his pre-match press conference, although in truth he could have been talking about any of Liverpool’s attacking trident. They may not have scored on this outing, but the trio had moments of pure brilliance and warmed up well for Wembley.
The cohesion and level might not be the same as that of their former team-mate Luis Suarez and his Barcelona comrades, but there are extremely positive signs for the long-term.
In the 21st minute, Coutinho intercepted the ball before playing a one-two with Sturridge, which ended with the Brazilian toe poking the ball at the Augsburg goalkeeper Marwin Hitz.
Then, in a four-minute period around the hour mark, Coutinho and Sturridge narrowly missed after negotiating their way into goalscoring positions. “They are very important for us, but they need to be in shape and they can get that by training and playing matches,” confessed Klopp.
Both Coutinho and Sturridge were removed from the encounter early, the former limping slightly as he walked through the media zone afterwards. “Philippe had one or two situations where he felt this, but when I asked him, he signalled that he was OK. We need to find faith or trust in the body of the players.”
They weren’t the only ones not to take their opportunities, as Henderson should have put the game beyond doubt when his shot was hit straight at Hitz with 13 minutes remaining. With just 60 seconds of normal time left on the clock, Kostas Stafylidis almost scored from a free-kick for Augsburg, but in the end Liverpool held on to progress into the last 16 of the Europa League.