Liverpool moved into the last 16 of the Europa League as James Milner’s early penalty ensured a 1-0 win over Augsburg at Anfield.
Following a goalless stalemate in Germany, Jurgen Klopp named a strong side for Thursday’s second leg – despite the prospect of the League Cup final in three days’ time – and the hosts were set on their way when Milner opened the scoring five minutes in after a bizarre handball from Dominik Kohr.
Aside from a couple of scares at the back, the hosts dominated the remainder of the first half as the attacking trio of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino caused plenty of problems.
An away goal would have kept Augsburg’s maiden European campaign alive, as Klopp once again saw Liverpool struggle to put their opponents to the sword.
Sturridge and Firmino spurned chances while Augsburg’s best opportunity fell to Tobias Werner as Liverpool did things the hard way ahead of their trip to Wembley to face Manchester City.
Caiuby threatened a shaky Liverpool early on, but the home side – who had Lucas Leiva in defence ahead of Kolo Toure – settled any nerves when they took the lead through Milner.
Kohr handled in the area after being barged by team-mate Caiuby, allowing the experienced midfielder to tuck the ball home to Marwin Hitz’s left.
Liverpool continued to fashion chances as the impressive Sturridge laid on opportunities for Coutinho and Firmino, although Simon Mignolet was required to palm Kostas Stafylidis’ shot away.
Firmino and Coutinho both tested Hitz again before Cauiby almost punished Liverpool’s lack of cutting edge when he rolled the ball wide from a tight angle after rounding Mignolet following a loose Lucas pass.
Hitz tipped a Sturridge strike onto the post shortly before half-time and the England international should have settled the tie inside four minutes of the restart.
After Augsburg captain Paul Verhaegh gave the ball away on the right, Coutinho played in Sturridge – who appeared offside – and after cutting inside Ragnar Klavan he could only place the ball past Hitz’s left-hand post.
Klopp’s men continued to dominate possession, Firmino and going close again before the hour mark, as the home side struggled to put the tie to bed.
Divock Origi was introduced for Sturridge midway through the second half – perhaps with Wembley in mind – and the change coincided with late Augsburg pressure.
Mignolet denied Werner one-on-one before he was replaced by Augsburg’s top scorer Raul Bobadilla.
The Paraguay striker failed to make the difference, however, as Liverpool held firm to progress, despite a late scare when Stafylidis curled a free-kick just wide.