As the Victorian poet Robert Browning put it, “Every one sooner or late comes round by Rome”. This week Liverpool will “come round by Rome”. On Wednesday, the Reds travel to Stadio Olimpico to complete the task they left unfulfilled at Merseyside last week.
Roma seemed to switch off for the first 75 minutes of the first leg but they have come to life since then. First, they bought themselves some time and also a small window of opportunity by scoring two goals at Anfield. Then, as if making a statement westward, they rested a few key players and still managed to beat Chievo 4-1 at Stadio Olimpico – despite being a man down for the last 35 minutes. Roma fans will certainly take that score on Wednesday as it will ensure Roma’s travel to Kiev for the final. That win against Chievo gives Roma a great chance of making it to Champions League spots for the next year as well. But, Project FiveThirtyEight gives a 6% chance to Roma to progress. But they did beat similar odds to progress beyond Barcelona to this semi-final tie. So, it is not like it has not been done before. And, that too to a team that was better rested and more settled than the visiting Reds.
Liverpool’s week since those first 75 minutes on last Tuesday night could have been better. The Reds leaked two crucial away goals in those last few minutes, and then made sure their chances of finishing in top-four are jeopardised with a goalless draw against the about-to-be relegated Stoke City at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s assistant Zeljko Buvac has chosen the worst time possible to “take some time away”. Mohamed Salah has been distracted by commercial matters and is in a fight with the Egyptian FA. It would be fair to say that Liverpool’s preparations for this second leg could have been better. However, the predictors at FiveThirtyEight do give them a 94% chance of making it through.
- Roma are the only team yet to concede a single goal at home in the Champions League this season (5 games). They have also won each of their last four such games at the Olimpico (incl. two by three clear goals), but have never won five in a row.
- Liverpool are still the only unbeaten side in the Champions League this season (W7 D4). This is Liverpool’s 10th appearance in the semi-final of the European Cup/Champions League – they’ve progressed to the final on seven of the previous nine occasions, losing only in 1964/65 against Internazionale and in 2007/08 against Chelsea.
- Liverpool players are breaking record after record in this season’s Champions League. Liverpool are the first side in Champions League history to see three players score 8+ goals in a single season (Salah 10, Firmino 10, Mané 8). Milner has provided eight assists in the Champions League this season, the joint-most ever in a single campaign in the competition since the new format was introduced in 2003/04, level with Neymar in 16/17.
- The first-leg produced the joint-most goals of any Champions League semi-final game (also seven when Ajax beat Bayern Munich 5-2 in 1995).
Edin Dzeko has scored in each of his last four Champions League games, the longest ever run in the competition for a Roma player. The Bosnian has a combined expected goals and expected assists per 90 minutes of 0.66, i.e. he has a 66% chance of contributing a goal if he plays the full 90 minutes. He can trouble Liverpool’s defense with his physicality and he likes to score against the Reds. One way in which the Reds can keep the Romans quiet is by restricting Dzeko and that will need a good game from the defense.
Virgil van Djik
More than the attack, it will be Liverpool’s defense under the scanner in Rome and it is an outfit led by Virgil van Djik – the most expensive defender in the history. In the Champions League, the Dutch defender has been clearing balls at the rate of 6.8 per game, blocking shots at the rate of 0.5 per game, and intercepting passes at the rate of 2.3 per game. These are not the best numbers in the European competition but they are quite respectable. Aerially, while he had a poor game at home against Roma, he is still the best suited to deal with the threat of Edin Dzeko.
Liverpool exploited Roma’s high line at Anfield so the Giallorossi boss Eusebio Di Francesco might opt for a 4-3-3 this time, bringing in Perotti and possibly El Shaarawy into the game. Kostas Manolas, Cengiz Ünder, Kevin Strootman and Alessandro Florenzi will return to the starting XI after being given the weekend off.
After shuffling his side for the home draw against Stoke City, Jurgen Klopp will field his usual European starting XI on Wednesday. A hamstring injury kept Sadio Mane out at the weekend but Klopp says he will be fine to play in midweek. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joseph Gomez and captain Jordan Henderson all picked up knocks at the weekend but are expected to recover in time to face Rome.
As the stat about Liverpool in Champions League semi-finals suggests, they are very difficult to beat once they reach this stage. They are even more difficult to beat once they have a 3-goal lead from the first leg. And, though this Roma team has beaten both Chelsea and Barcelona by 3-0 margins at Stadio Olimpico, repeating that feat against Salah & Co. is going to be difficult. Wednesday’s game could end in a very entertaining draw allowing Liverpool to progress to the final in Kiev.
AS Roma 2 – 2 Liverpool