Liverpool warmed up for Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final with a nervy but morale-boosting win as they narrowly overcame German side FC Augsburg 1-0, maintaining their interest in Europe this season.
James Milner struck the only goal of their Europa League Round of 32 clash from the penalty spot, but Jurgen Klopp’s men will feel their night should have been much more comfortable as they dominated proceedings at Anfield.
The hosts started the brightest and were awarded an early penalty after Dominik Kohr handled the ball from a Jordan Henderson cross. Following much deliberation, it was Milner who stepped up to calmly slot into the bottom right hand corner in the fifth minute.
After a brief lull in the game, Liverpool sprung into life, carving out three chances in quick succession.
Milner headed over the bar from a Firmino cross before Phillipe Coutinho forced a good save from Marwin Hitz after some neat link-up play with Daniel Sturridge. Nathaniel Clyne was next to go close, his shot from wide right took a deflection as it fizzed wide of the far post.
As the home side’s momentum surged, the atmosphere picked up too. The flair of Sturridge, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino threatened the visitors with each attacking move, which were met with warm applause as the crowd sensed a second goal was near.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance, Augsburg were nearly gifted a way back into the tie as Lucas Leiva’s pass back to Simon Mignolet fell way short of its target and Caiuby was able to latch onto it. He rounded the onrushing Belgian goalkeeper, but the Brazilian was off balance as he failed to squeeze his shot beyond the near post.
Liverpool remained on the front foot into the second half, Sturridge curling the ball wide of both posts with two efforts from inside the box, before Firmino had his shot blocked after more smart interplay from the Reds frontline.
With the weekend Wembley clash with Manchester City in mind, and Liverpool being in full control of the game, Sturridge was replaced by Divock Origi with 25 minutes remaining.
But Augsburg were far from out of the tie at that stage and they threatened Liverpool right up until the fifth minute of added time.
At the other end, Hitz pulled off two vital saves to deny Liverpool a second goal. The Swiss ‘keeper punched away Origi’s deflected cross, which looked to be dropping in at the back post, before palming away Henderson’s close range effort after the ball dropped to him in the box following some classy touches from Firmino.
The bouncing travelling fans remained in fine voice for the duration of the match, but their jauntiness was not rewarded with a killer away goal by the Augsburg players, in their debut European campaign.
A late free-kick from Kostas Stafylidis curled agonisingly wide of the post, but Liverpool managed to hold their nerve and book a place in the last 16 to carry some momentum into Sunday’s final.