Almost there. Close enough to smell it. The big-name No.6 our club has been longing for. But first, there was a small matter of seeing off AS Roma’s attempt of repeating the miracle they produced in the quarterfinals when they came back from a 4-1 first leg defeat to pay Barcelona back for their arrogantly pathetic approach to the rematch in Rome with a 3-0 win.
However, this time it wasn’t some Barcelona who stood in their way. Oh no. It was a mighty Liverpool team, one whose quality heralds the return of the golden days no matter what happens in the final of the 2017/18 Champions League. A mighty Liverpool that beat them 5-2 in the first leg at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp was unable to count on a number of players due to various injuries. Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Emre Can, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, all these players were unavailable for the selection. So this was the team chosen to beat off Roma’s attempt of revenge:
Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco, bereft of the services of Diego Perotti and Kevin Strootman, while Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp remain out as long-term absentees. It seems Di Francesco learned from his mistake at Anfield as he chose to go with a back four this time.
The First Half
It was quite understandable to see the home team charge forward immediately and they got into Liverpool’s box within ten seconds, but the defence was ready for such a surge. They looked quite fired up to give the Reds something to think about, but Radja Nainggolan undid everything good after nine minutes by giving the ball away to Firmino in the middle of the pitch. Bobby carried it forward, attracting attention from the Roma defence, before handing it down to Sadio Mane completely free inside the box. Mane kept his cool and the Reds were up.
Two minutes later, Edin Džeko got past Trent Alexander-Arnold and squared the ball, it was cleared as far as Nainggolan who took a shot from range over the bar. A feeble shot by Mohamed Salah at the other end was easily dealt with by Alisson Becker.
But the score was leveled in the 15th minute in a most bizarre way. A long diagonal cross from deep by Florenzi was headed across by El Shaarawy towards Schick inside six yards. Dejan Lovren got to it first and tried to clear, but he hit James Milner instead and it bounced back – straight into the net. His critics will be happy to say ‘Lovren again’ but in truth there was nothing he could have done better. It was just one of those moments.
As for the flow of the game and the creation of chances, everything seemed to be going Liverpool’s way. It seemed a bit lifeless, and that’s exactly what the Reds would have liked. But throughout the game, things just kept happening suddenly. The 25th minute was passing when Andy Robertson charged down the left flank and squared it for Mane on the edge of six yards, and Alisson saved Mane’s shot by deflecting it out for a corner. As the corner was swung in, Džeko, otherwise by far the best Roma player on the evening, sent a header backwards and unintentionally assisted Georginio Wijnaldum who scored his first competitive away goal for Liverpool.
At that moment Roma fell apart for a while and Liverpool brought the game under their control. But to be fair, Di Francesco’s men never looked like giving up. They would occasionally lose focus and make things too easy for the Reds, especially in midfield, but they were still motivated and persistent. Džeko was a handful all the time, constantly fighting and giving Liverpool defenders something to think about.
They were extremely unlucky in the 35th minute when an El Shaarawy shot scraped Milner’s foot and hit the post.
However, all these individual efforts looked uncoordinated at that point. Liverpool managed to hold on and waited for an opportunity to threaten on a counterattack. When the Reds went forward, Roma players didn’t seem too interested in tracking back and it’s a shame that Salah & co. didn’t take advantage of that.
With 40 minutes gone, El Shaarawy tried to get around Alexander-Arnold and went down, looking for a penalty, but referee Damir Skomina waved it away. He did however give a foul on the Roma winger four minutes later, wide on the left, right on the edge of the box, and was quick to book Lovren for it. Lorenzo Pellegrini’s free-kick was embarrassing as it went nowhere near the target.
The Second Half
Four minutes after the break, Roma had another appeal for a penalty denied, and this time it had far more substance to it. Džeko (who else) was ruled offside a second before he fell down inside the box after a contact from Karius. The frozen image however revealed that the linesman made a mistake as Džeko was finely aligned with the last line of Liverpool’s defence.
Nevertheless, the home side were encouraged by that moment as it gave them a feeling they could still get back into the tie. Two minutes later, they were level again.
El Shaarawy got around Alexander-Arnold and took a shot from a tight angle. Karius only managed to parry it and Džeko was the first to react.
At this moment Di Francesco decided to turn it up even more and he replaced Pellegrini with Cengiz Under in the 53rd minute. Then they went for it.
Džeko headed over the bar from a cross by Kolarov and Karius stopped Cengiz scoring from close range with a superb reflex save, and then they had another penalty appeal not given. Naiggolan’s ball into the box was headed across by Džeko and Cengiz caught a good strong volley from inside the six yards, hitting the hand of Alexander-Arnold that was raised slightly above his head.
Liverpool ventured a rare counterattack in the 69th minute through Salah and Firmino, but Firmino’s shot from a tight angle was saved by Alisson.
Then De Rossi made way for Maxime Gonalons, and the new player on the pitch wasted a good opportunity with an inaccurate shot from a good position just two minutes later.
With 15 minutes remaining, Di Francesco threw his last card in by replacing El Shaarawy with Mirko Antonucci.
Just one minute later, Florenzi was extremely lucky to get away with a yellow card for a malicious two-footed tackle from behind on Mane, while the Liverpool winger was extremely lucky to get away without an injury.
The last 10 minutes of the contest were extremely eventful.
In the 80th minute, Alexander-Arnold, who had a rather poor game given his usual standards, gave Džeko a fantastic opportunity to get his team ahead, but a save by Karius and a clearance by Lovren spared the youngster some blushes. There was some excitement at the other end a minute later as Alisson got pressed hard and almost dispossessed by Salah outside his box, but he somehow managed to deal with it without consequences. Then, Mane made way for Ragnar Klavan in Klopp’s first substitution of the game, and Liverpool played its remainder in a very defensive 5-3-2 shape.
With 86 minutes gone, Nainggolan ended a good team move by Roma with a fantastic shot from around 20 yards. It hit the inside of the post and went in, with Karius unable to do anything about it.
Roma naturally kept attacking after that but they were beginning to look rather tired. Klopp wore down some time by introducing Dominic Solanke for Roberto Firmino in the 87th minute, and then again in injury time by sending in Nathaniel Clyne for Alexander-Arnold.
Referee Skomina may have missed to give Roma a penalty when they had a case on two occasions earlier in the game, but then, right at the stroke of the third (and last) minute of injury time, he gave one that seemed far too harsh. Cengiz tried to square the ball, and hit Klavan on the arm in a natural position from which the Estonian defender couldn’t move it in time to avoid it. The Slovenian referee pointed to the spot and Nainggolan scored his second on the night with a powerful blast from the spot. But there was no time for anything more than that.
Roma may feel they’ve been hard done by in this game, but given the overall performances of the two teams over two legs, there’s no disputing the fact that Liverpool are where they belong – in the final of the Champions League.
Next up – Chelsea. A point for the Reds at Stamford Bridge would be enough to guarantee top-four placement, and the team could slowly prepare to take on Real Madrid on May 26th in Kiev. Yes, in Kiev.
We walk on.