Liverpool welcome AS Roma to Anfield this week, as they look to boost their chances of reaching a first Champions League final in over a decade.
The Italians, however, will be buoyed by their fantastic comeback win against Barcelona in the last round, and will head to Anfield full of confidence that they can earn a positive result to take back to the Olimpico.
In both legs, there are a number of areas that will be key in deciding which of the popular attacking outfits books a place in next month’s final in Kiev.
Mo Salah vs. Alisson Becker
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object. Mo Salah, recently crowned PFA Player of the Year, has amassed an incredible 41 goals this season, and will be desperate to add to that tally against the club that sold him for £37m last summer. With eight goals in ten Champions League matches, he will be expected to score at least once over the course of the two legs.
In Salah’s way, however, is Roma’s star goalkeeper (and reported Liverpool target) Alisson. The Brazilian international has established himself as one of the best keepers in Europe this season. Alisson has kept 15 Serie A clean sheets this season and, ominously for next week’s second leg, Roma are yet to concede at home in Europe this season.
Virgil van Dijk vs. Edin Dzeko
At the other end, the physical battle between Van Dijk and Dzeko will be a fascinating one. The Dutch defender, a £75m signing from Southampton in January, has transformed Liverpool’s defence and he played a huge role in limiting Manchester City to just one goal over the two quarter final legs.
Dzeko, meanwhile, while hes hasn’t quite scaled the goalscoring heights of last season, he remains a huge presence up front for Roma. With 20 goals in all competitions this year, the Bosnian remains a handful – a big, physical centre forward that will ensure that Van Dijk has his work cut out for the 180 minutes.
Roberto Firmino vs. Kostas Manolas
While Dzeko v Van Dijk will be a physical battle in the box, the tussle between Firmino and Manolas could happen anywhere. The Liverpool forward is far from a traditional number nine and isn’t afraid to drop back and help the midfield when needed. With 25 goals this season, however, he has the ability to exhaust defenders into submission before finding the net.
In his way will be Roma defender Kostas Manolas, the Greek defender whose late goal against Barca booked the Serie A side’s place in the last four. The 26-year-old is strong in the air but his tackling ability isn’t a hugely strong suit – and that is where Firmino could spot a weakness.
Jordan Henderson vs. Radja Nainggolan
The midfield battle at Anfield will be an interesting one, as whoever gets the foothold in the centre could find themselves in control throughout. Jordan Henderson is likely to be at the base of Liverpool’s midfield three again, with the captain looking to shield the defence and prevent Roma attacks going through the middle. His concentration and composure will be vital if Liverpool are to succeed on Tuesday.
Nainggolan, meanwhile, has already expressed his displeasure at facing Liverpool’s “warriors” this week, insisting that they were the one side he didn’t want in the draw. Regardless if that is true or not, Nainggolan’s creativity and discipline will need to be on top form this week to prevent the warriors from walking all over him and his side. The Henderson vs. Nainggolan battle could be a microcosm of the whole tie.
Jurgen Klopp vs. Eusebio Di Francesco
Klopp has reached four semi-finals in his three seasons at Liverpool, winning two of the previous three. His tactics in the two legs against Man City were lauded and he now has Liverpool playing fully in his image, pressing all over the pitch and playing with attacking freedom. Liverpool are slight favourites to progress but Klopp will still have a plan to counter the strong Roma threat.
Di Francesco, meanwhile, is exceeding all expectations in his first season at the Olimpico. The former Roma player replaced Luciano Spalletti last summer and has already taken the club where his predecessor could not. He masterminded a stunning comeback against Barcelona and all eyes are on him now as he looks to orchestrate Liverpool’s downfall.