Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has insisted he will not be viewing Thursday’s Europa League clash with Augsburg as an unwelcome distraction despite the game coming less than 72 hours before the League Cup final.
Klopp has the chance to lift a first piece of silverware as Anfield boss when the Reds face Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday, but he is keen for European progress as well.
The last-32 tie against the Germans remains finely poised after last week’s first leg in Bavaria ended goalless, so Liverpool need to be especially wary not to concede an away goal.
A strong Liverpool side took to the field in the first leg and Klopp hinted later that a similar line-up would run out for the return.
“A strong a team in second leg? Yes. I think so, maybe it’s a different team, but we should not think too much about the final,” said the former Borussia Dortmund coach.
“We should be concentrated Thursday, and Sunday will take care of itself.”
Their opponents travel to north-west England missing a host of players due to injury, including midfielder Markus Feulner, who has a broken cheekbone, playmaker Daniel Baier (ankle) and burly striker Raul Bobadilla.
Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Lucas is confident that the clean sheet kept in the first leg tees them up nicely for the return.
“When you don’t concede away from home, it’s good,” he told Liverpoolfc.com.
“We have to approach it with confidence and hopefully get through to the next round because we want to challenge for this tournament.”
Elsewhere, the pressure remains on Louis van Gaal as Manchester United attempt to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit when they welcome Danish champions Midtjylland to Old Trafford.
Van Gaal saw his side win 3-0 win at Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup on Monday but the Dutchman’s situation could become untenable if they are knocked out of Europe.
Goalkeeper David de Gea remains a fitness concern after suffering a knee injury in the warm-up before the first leg while captain Wayne Rooney is one of a number of players already ruled out, but the away goal scored last week could yet prove crucial for United.
“Now we have to beat Midtjylland, but it will not be easy, because they are well organised. We saw that during the first leg,” Van Gaal said.
England’s third Europa League representatives are Tottenham Hotspur, who host Serie A side Fiorentina seeking revenge for their exit to La Viola at the same stage of last season’s competition.
Spurs, who were knocked out of the FA Cup at the weekend, could be forgiven for wanting to focus all their energy on their challenge for the Premier League title.
Nevertheless, they have the upper hand in their tie going back to White Hart Lane after a 1-1 draw in Florence last week and manager Mauricio Pochettino is likely to send out a strong team.
– Spanish armada –
There are some outstanding ties elsewhere, not least in Naples, where Italian title-chasers Napoli will attempt to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Villarreal.
The Spanish visitors are enjoying an excellent campaign and have not so much as conceded a goal in their last five matches.
“We are a difficult team to beat and that gives us confidence,” midfielder Tomas Pina told Marca.
“Our results back us up and we are all looking forward to this game. We got a good result last week and of course we really want to go further in this competition.”
There could be as many as four Spanish sides in Friday’s draw for the last 16 with Valencia, holders Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao all defending first-leg leads against Rapid Vienna, Molde and Marseille respectively.
Among the more finely poised ties is Schalke’s meeting with Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine at the Veltins Arena after they drew 0-0 last week.
However, the Bundesliga side’s fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund have a 2-0 lead to defend as they go to Portugal to face FC Porto.
Dortmund, whose midfielder Sven Bender this week extended his contract through to 2021, will be without Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos due to injury.
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