Opinion: Big men needed for Liverpool's big week

Liverpool's season comes down to one week with their second leg in the Europa League against Augsburg and their League Cup final clash with Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp will need his key players firing for the Reds to come through victorious

Opinion: Big men needed for Liverpool's big week
(Picture: Getty Images)

As per Liverpool’s season so far, this week has seen the traditional mix of mesmerising and mundane, with their fantastic 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa followed up by a drab 0-0 stalemate away to Augsburg.

Admittedly, the draw was in the first leg of a last-32 Europa League tie, and usually coming away with a draw and the home leg to look forward to would put Liverpool in a strong position to make the next round.

Alas, their brilliant second-leg Anfield displays in Europe have disappeared in recent years, mostly because the Reds have not gone far enough (or even qualified) in Europe to showcase it.

Liverpool's frustrating inconsistency a story of the season

Yet Anfield itself in general has become less of a fortress since Rafael Benitez left the club, with the exception of the brilliant title challenge in the 2013/14 season.

Even recently, Liverpool followed up a superb 1-0 victory away to Stoke City in the opening leg of their League Cup semi-final, before producing a lifeless display in handing Mark Hughes’ side their first win at Anfield since 1959.

Fortunately, Jürgen Klopp’s men managed to show admirable character to put that behind them and prevail in the nerve-wracking penalty shootout, but had Anfield remained a source of strength for Liverpool, it would not have gone that far.

Instead, Liverpool struggle to break teams down at Anfield, and are usually more effective away from home, with more opportunities to counter-attack and greater space to work with.

Therefore, the European tie with Augsburg remains firmly in the balance, more so than what Klopp and Liverpool would have desired.

One positive note for Liverpool would be the return of Daniel Sturridge. While, understandably, he has not been at 100% in his physical exertions, the 26-year-old is a natural goalscorer, as he demonstrated by heading in the opening goal in the Midlands.

At that point, Sturridge starting an away game meant six goals (his only other start under Klopp came in the 6-1 win against Southampton), however he was poor against Augsburg, alongside Liverpool’s performance.

Again consistency will return to him through regular match-time, so all he can concentrate on is remaining fit to play as many games as possible, as when the England international is at his best, the Reds look a completely different team.

Touré playing for his future?

Another positive comes in the form of Kolo Touré. Set to turn 35 in March, the popular Ivorian has enjoyed his best season at Anfield since arriving in the summer of 2013.

Always seen as the back-up, Touré has profited from the various injuries to Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and even young Joe Gomez’s season-ending cruciate ligament damage. However, instead of resembling the bumbling, inconsistent, hazardous defender that has had Liverpool fans hiding behind their sofas when he’s on the ball, Touré has arguably used his extra game-time to become currently Liverpool’s best defender.

Those haunting mistakes have been replaced with a calmness on the ball and a great intelligence in reading the play to compensate for his reduced pace. Touré has always possessed these qualities, hence his fine years in defence for Manchester City and especially Arsenal.

However, they have not been on full display at Liverpool until now.

When combined with his positive, bubbly, contagious personality and experience for the dressing room (he is one of only three players in Liverpool’s current squad to have won the Premier League title, alongside Sturridge and James Milner), there are growing arguments for Toure to be handed another one-year contract at Anfield.

However, only Klopp can judge, and Touré may not have another full season left in him, although he would remain a squad player, a role he is happy and comfortable with.

Plus, with Joel Matip arriving, Gomez returning from injury and the main trio of Lovren, Skrtel and Sakho ahead of him, Touré may not play at all next season, especially if Klopp then signs another centre-back, so it may also be in his best interests to leave in the summer.

When all fit, finding the right centre-half combination for Liverpool will be a crucial decision for Klopp, as it will help determine whether the Reds can enjoy any success this season. Touré’s performances this year have ensured he has to be considered alongside the others, even if his Liverpool career is drawing to a close.

Reds squad need to prove their worth in coming games

It’s not just in the middle of defence where competition is fierce. All over the pitch, players are fighting for their long and short-term futures. In the short-term especially, everyone will be desperate to start at Wembley for the League Cup final against Manchester City.

Liverpool’s injury list is slowly starting to ease, while time between matches is beginning to open up as well, with a whole week between the two legs against Augsburg as the Reds are no longer in the FA Cup.

Consequently, with that extra period of rest, Klopp should not have to worry about picking a similar team for the Europa League tie on Thursday and the cup final on Sunday.

Liverpool do not have to travel with the second leg at Anfield – by comparison Manchester City will need to fly to Kiev for the Champions League on Wednesday.

Moreover, any Premier League concerns should not enter the Liverpool manager’s mind, as perhaps the only target in that competition now is to overhaul Manchester United, but it carries no significance compared to the massive week ahead for the Reds.

The Europa League and League Cup are their last remaining hopes for silverware this season, with one more win needed for a ninth League Cup, while the strain of the Europa League carries an extra reward of Champions League football, making it without question worthwhile given Liverpool’s current predicament in the league.

For both fixtures, they need their best team out on the pitch, or certainly their key men, including Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.

With more minutes together, they will continue to click and represent Liverpool’s most potent attacking line-up in current form, possessing the goals and creativity needed to have a chance to progress in Europe and defeat Manuel Pellegrini’s side to clinch the cup.

Not just any ordinary week for Liverpool then, but one in which their entire season, and perhaps the futures of many Liverpool players, rests on.