Talking Points: AS Roma 4 Liverpool 2 (6-7 on Agg.)

We’ve done it! Liverpool are finally back in a Champions League final. The Reds suffered defeat in Rome but nevertheless progressed through 7-6 on aggregate to secure a meeting with Real Madrid in Kiev. First-half goals from Sadio Mane and Gini Wijnaldum were enough to send them through and ensure jubilant celebrations at full-time.

Well, we don’t do things the easy way…

Not many teams could go into a Champions League semi-final second-leg with a 5-2 aggregate lead and still be very nervous, but that is just how Liverpool roll, and to be fair, the tournament this season has seen plenty of comebacks and thrills to ensure that J├╝rgen Klopp’s players were right to be on their toes. Mane’s opener gave the visitors the perfect start, which was quickly canceled out by James Milner’s freaky own-goal before Wijnaldum restored the Reds’ lead. At the start of the second-half, the Italian side needed four goals to force extra-time, and in the end, they got three of them as they fell just short, much to the delight of the Liverpool fans. Game management was always going to be key on a night like this, and for the most part, Liverpool managed the game fairly well. Roma didn’t create a multitude of chances, and the goals they did score all had an element of fortune about them. Thankfully the referee blew time just seconds after Roma’s fourth goal, as another minute or so and things would have been far too close for comfort. The 7-6 scoreline probably flattered Roma over two legs, but the Reds are through and that is what matters. If we win in Kiev it will likely be done the way we always do things – the hard way.

Officials a mess but errors even themselves out…

Officials and referees have seemingly played a big part in Liverpool’s season. In the Premier League, the Reds have had decision after decision go against them, with officiating errors in the games against West Brom and Stoke recently, the only reason why the race for top four is not over yet. In the Champions League Klopp’s team have actually benefitted from officiating mistakes – something Man City fans in particular seem eager to point out, but what they fail to realise is that the Reds have had just as many decisions go the other way. Take the second-leg in Rome for example. Overall the linesmen were shocking, and both teams had two incidents go for and against them. Roma could well have had a penalty if Edin Dzeko wasn’t given offside before he was taken out by Loris Karius for what would have been a certain penalty, and they should definitely have had a penalty when Trent Alexander-Arnold stopped a goal-bound shot with his hand. However, Liverpool were denied a clear penalty when Mane was pushed over right at the start of the match, and the penalty that Roma did get eventually was not a handball. So basically, both teams should have had an extra penalty, and overall things evened themselves out, just as they did in the first leg and in both legs against Man City. Who knows though, maybe we will get a final without referee controversy against a Real Madrid team who are never involved in matches with questionable officiating decisions. Right?

The right-hand side protection problem…

Aleksandar Kolarov was clearly Roma’s out-ball and the player they sought to create most of their chances. The winger playing against him was Mo Salah, and thus created an interesting game of cat and mouse. It is hard to tell whether Liverpool’s game plan for that battle was to leave Salah up the pitch in hope that Kolarov would stay back in defence to mark him, because if that was the case it didn’t work as the fullback had no interest in defending, instead looking to get forward and cross balls in at every opportunity. This left Alexander-Arnold exposed and left dealing with one-on-one situations too often. On Liverpool’s left-hand side, Andy Robertson had protection from Milner and Mane who tracked back frequently, but with Salah staying forward Trent was isolated. In the second-half Klopp changed this by putting Salah upfront and Roberto Firmino on the right – the Brazilian having the energy to track back and help Trent which gave the Reds a much sturdier platform. Real Madrid’s left-back Marcelo is also one of their key attacking outlets, thus Klopp must decide how to give Trent help and protection. Does he play Milner on the right of the midfield three, or does Firmino play right wing with Salah upfront? It will be an important decision and one Klopp must get right.

Wijnaldum saves away goal for a truly special occasion…

You just couldn’t write it. Wijnaldum finally scores an away goal for Liverpool, and it turns out to be the winning goal in a Champions League semi-final. What a hero. Gini has scored some very important goals for Klopp’s side in his time at the club, but that could well be the most important. The Dutchman’s goal capped off another impressive display, and he has been one of the Reds’ stand-out performers over the two legs against Roma. The absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has meant Wijnaldum has had to become the link between midfield and attack and provide penetrative runs in support of the forwards – a role which he has played very well. Last night Wijnaldum provided calmness on the ball and helped his side make spells in the match where they could keep the ball and eat away at the clock. Alongside Jordan Henderson and James Milner, the trio will have to be at their best against a world-class Real Madrid midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, and the battle in the middle of the park will be a vital one.

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