Liverpool reached the Champions League final for the first time in 11 years after a 7-6 aggregate win against Roma on Wednesday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side rarely do things the easy way, and despite looking like they were crusing into the final after opening up a three-goal aggregate lead, two late Roma goals began to invoke memories of that famous comeback victory over Barcelona in the last round.
Liverpool were able to hold on, however, and here are some things we learned from the Reds’ dramatic 4-2 defeat in the semi-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico:
1. Liverpool “fought for their dreams”
Inspired by dreams of restoring Liverpool to their former glory, Jurgen Klopp joined the Reds three years ago to experience unforgettable nights like this. By leading Liverpool to their eighth European Cup final, Klopp confirmed his reputation as a revolutionary with a unique skill for galvanising moribund teams.
Asked earlier this week what it would mean to set up a heavyweight showdown with holders Real Madrid in the final, Liverpool boss Klopp spoke eloquently about drawing on a youthful love of the game. “It is a childhood dream to make it to the Champions League final. We are here to fight for our dreams,” he said.
While respectful of that glorious past, Klopp is focused on making history of his own. Now the Reds are one win away from joining the immortals.
2. Wijnaldum rises to the occasion
Georginio Wijnaldum claimed he had no problem resting in the build-up to Liverpool’s biggest match for a decade, but the ice-cool Dutch midfielder’s crucial contribution left Roma facing sleepless nights for weeks to come.
Wijnaldum was called up to replace Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who was ruled out with a serious knee injury sustained in the semi-final first leg, and he rose to the challenge with a composed display capped by Liverpool’s vital second goal.
With the match level at 1-1 and Roma eyeing a stunning fightback, Edin Dzeko inadvertently directed the ball back to Wijnaldum, who headed past Alisson before sprinting off to celebrate with the club’s head of fitness Andreas Kornmayer. No wonder Wijnaldum was so happy — it was his second goal of the season and his first since October.
It was the former Newcastle star’s first away goal in three years with his two English clubs. He was also the first Dutch scorer in a Champions League semi-final since 2013, when Arjen Robben netted for Bayern Munich.
3. Lightning doesn’t strike twice
Roma had staged one of the Champions League’s greatest fightbacks when they beat Barcelona 3-0 in the quarter-final second leg in the Stadio Olimpico to overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit.
Bidding to reach the European Cup final for the first time since their penalty shoot-out defeat against Liverpool in 1984, the Serie A side needed an early goal to emulate their Barca heroics. Desperate to fire up his players, Di Francesco had called for them to deliver “a copy and paste” of that astonishing performance.
But Di Francesco had been exposed as tactically naive with his decision to go for all-out attack in the first leg and it was no different this time as Roma were in tatters before half-time.
Roma were the only team not to concede a goal at home in the Champions League this season, yet within nine minutes Liverpool had torn through the hosts’ poorly organised defence. Throwing bodies forward far too soon, Roma were caught cold by Sadio Mane before more woeful defending allowed Wijnaldum to head Liverpool’s second. Despite a superb second-half response, that deficit was too much to overcome.
4. Liverpool’s concentration levels are still a worry
Liverpool conceded six goals over the course of the two legs against Roma, four of which came in the 80th minute or later. Twice, the Reds had done the hard work necessary to see them through, and twice they conceded sloppy goals to make it harder for themselves.
Defensive lapses in concentration have fortunately become less prevalent at Anfield since the back five of Loris Karius, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Andy Robertson has become more settled, and perhaps it could be played down to the level of control that they had hitherto been exerting on the match, but it’s something that Klopp needs to be mindful of before the final.
5. Expect goals in the final, but not much defending
Point four brings us neatly on to point five. Liverpool are not a team that leads from the defence, and don’t expect that to change in the final. Klopp’s side have scored 46 goals this season – a competition record – and after putting seven past Roma (across two legs) and five each past Manchester City and Porto in the last two rounds, don’t expect them to change their setup against a Real Madrid side that has not looked overly strong at the back in this campaign.
Real, for their part, will be thinking the same. They will have watched events at the Olimpico with great interest – and they will have seen enough from Liverpool in the last week to frighten and encourage them in equal measure.
© Agence France-Presse (with additional edits from Simon O’Keeffe)