Talking Points: Liverpool 5 AS Roma 2 

Another extraordinary night at Anfield saw Liverpool defeat Roma in their Champions League semi-final first-leg, thanks to a brilliant attacking display. Braces of goals and assists for both Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino alongside Sadio Mane’s strike saw the Reds storm into a 5-0 lead, but late goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti will give the Italians some hope for the return fixture.

Attacking trident prove ability on grandest of stages…

I mean, there wasn’t really any doubt that Mane, Salah and Firmino have been the best front three in Europe this season, but just in case anyone still needed some convincing, there you go. It certainly wasn’t a good start by Liverpool, who allowed the visitors to settle and grow in confidence for the first 20 minutes or so. But all it took was Mane’s missed chance and suddenly the floodgates opened. For the next 50 minutes, the Liverpool press was at its best and gave Roma no time on the ball whatsoever, which in turn gave Jürgen Klopp’s team countless opportunities to play both lofted and grounded balls in behind the Italians’ high line. Salah, Mane and Firmino took full advantage, all getting on the scoresheet and adding further weight to their already impressive goal tallies this season. The service the attack got from the fullbacks must also be credited – Trent Alexander Arnold’s flick which led to the third goal particularly pleasing. The Egyptian King is destroying all records in front of him, while Bobby has now equalled the record for games taken to reach 10 Champions League goals (11). Even Mane, who it seemed nothing would go right for in the first-half, proved yet again that no matter how out of form he may seem, he will always contribute with end product. It is just a pleasure to watch this Liverpool team attack.

Wijnaldum epitomises midfield control…

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early injury, which could well be season-ending, forced Gini Wijnaldum to enter the field of play much earlier than expected. But when you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense that the Dutchman put in the best performance of his Liverpool career so far against Roma. The big games at Anfield are what turn Wijnaldum into prime Ruud Gullit, and boy did he play like it. Winning tackles, ball retention, energy, all of these and more were characteristics displayed superbly by Wijnaldum, and in fact, James Milner and Jordan Henderson as well. Milner’s corner which Firmino headed home meant the Englishman now holds the record for the most assists in a Champions League campaign, and it was another excellent and professional display by the man who some England fans may well be wishing hadn’t retired from international duty. Henderson too played very well, and clearly came out on top in his individual battle with Radja Nainggolan. Ox’s injury, however, puts a huge amount of pressure on the midfield trio to remain fit for the rest of the season, and they cannot allow the high standards we saw against Roma to drop.

Frustration as Reds give Roma way back into tie…

Even 5-1 and it’s pretty much game over for Roma, but it’s 5-2, and now things are a lot more interesting – sadly for Liverpool fans. The difference between going 5-0 up here and when the Reds did it against Porto, was that the goals were a lot more spread out during the latter, leaving Klopp’s side without the decision to stick or twist at 5-0 up. Against Roma, the fifth goal came much earlier and left the side with another 22 minutes plus added time of the match remaining. That’s a long time to sit and defend for, but far too quickly things descended into full-on panic mode when Dejan Lovren’s mistimed jump allowed Dzeko in to score. The penalty was very controversial – Milner’s arms were very close to his body and he didn’t move them towards the ball, but Liverpool’s third goal was possibly offside so things arguably even themselves out. Klopp tactics will likely be questioned – the second time in two matches that Salah being subbed off has been followed by his side conceding two late goals. The consistency of Lovren and Liverpool’s game management were also factors, with the midfield and fullbacks pushing far too high up for a team that should be settling for a 5-0 lead.

Major team selection dilemmas for Klopp against Stoke…

Things are getting a bit dicey now. It feels like an eternity ago that Liverpool only had Nathaniel Clyne as their only absentee, with the return nowadays of someone from injury seemingly rapidly proceeded by someone heading to the treatment table. While the Reds are well covered in defence, as stated above the midfield is now extremely bare due to Ox’s injury and the drop in quality from the front three to Danny Ings and Dom Solanke is scary. Top four is still not secured, hence despite the Stoke game falling in between the semi-final legs, it still holds great importance. It’s an encounter Klopp’s side must win, but how many of his best XI the German rotates and rests will be very interesting. Klopp will take hope from the fact his players have three full days before and after the Stoke game to recover and prepare, but can the likes of Alberto Moreno and Joe Gomez be trusted after their poor displays against the Baggies? It surely must call for one of Ben Woodburn or Curtis Jones to start in midfield, but do Salah or Firmino get a rest? Whatever Klopp decides, I’m glad it’s him picking the team not me.

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