Jurgen Klopp’s homecoming did not go exactly to plan as his Liverpool side were held to a goalless draw against Augsburg in Germany in their Europa League last-32 first leg tie.
Much was made of the former Borussia Dortmund and Mainz manager’s first trip back to his homeland but for all the fanfare it failed to live up to expectation.
The result makes next week’s return leg a tricky test for the Reds, especially with the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City following three days after.
With his background Klopp knew all he needed to about Augsburg but even he could not have accounted for Daniel Sturridge fluffing their best chance from six yards out early in the second half.
He named the same side which put six past Villa on Sunday, the first time he had done so in the 30 matches he has had in charge so far.
But that side boasted just four career European goals for the Reds between them – going into the game Augsburg’s top scorer Raul Bobadilla had scored six in the competition this season, but the big striker lasted only 23 minutes before being forced off through injury.
It contributed to a scrappy first half in which the visitors gained a foothold by the mid-point but could easily have been behind by the interval had Alexander Esswein not been denied by Simon Mignolet. That came after Augsburg had countered from a Liverpool attack which broke down on the edge of home team’s penalty area on the stroke of half-time.
Liverpool never really threatened at the other end with Roberto Firmino, Sturridge and Jordan Henderson’s weak efforts all failing to test goalkeeper Marwin Hitz.
Sturridge – incredibly making only his third European appearance in just over three years at the club – looked tentative at times, lacked vision at others, but to see him starting consecutive games for the first time since March last year was another positive in his post-injury recovery.
But no matter how long he has spent on the sidelines since April a striker of his quality should have dispatched with ease a cross from James Milner, who had played a clever one-two with Firmino, but the England international barely connected.
Augsburg are just one point above the Bundesliga’s relegation zone and their limitations – and intent – were quite apparent but Liverpool struggled to break them down.
Philippe Coutinho flicked an effort wide and Paul Verhaegh almost put through his own net from a Liverpool free-kick and had to be rescued by Hitz right on the goalline before, with 67 minutes gone, Divock Origi replaced Sturridge.
Alberto Moreno and Henderson both tried to break the deadlock from distance before Liverpool had a lucky escape when Caiuby failed to get a proper touch in the six-yard area with only Mignolet to beat.
Home substitute Ji Dong-won struck the post five minutes from time to give Liverpool another scare and a warning the home leg will be anything other than straightforward.