Liverpool traveled to Rome for the rematch having beaten AS Roma by 5-2 in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, with a desire to prevent any surprises from happening, while Roma had another steep hill to climb, having already managed to do it against Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco couldn’t count on the services of Kevin Strootman and Diego Perotti, while Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp had already been on the sidelines due to injury for a while.
It seems the formation mistake from Anfield had been realized and amended for the second leg, as the manager opted to start with four players at the back this time. Ahead of Alisson Becker in goal, Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas stood flanked on either side by Alessandro Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Radja Nainggolan and captain Daniele De Rossi formed the midfield, while Patrik Schick and Stephan El Shaarawy supported Edin Džeko up front.
Jürgen Klopp was also without a number of players. For Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the season is over. Adam Lallana is close to returning to action and had traveled with the squad, but still wasn’t in contention, and Joe Gomez picked up a knock at the weekend against Stoke City and stayed at home.
Loris Karius stood between the posts. Virgil van Dijk was joined by Dejan Lovren in the centre-back tandem, with Trent Alexander-Arnold on their right and Andy Robertson on their left. Captain Jordan Henderson anchored the midfield also containing his deputy James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum. The usual terrific trio played up front – Sadio Mane, former Roma winger Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
The First Half – A Roman Nightmare
Roma entered the match understandably strong. Within seconds they were inside Liverpool’s box but the Reds, wearing white on this occasion, were ready for them. The home team played wide, quickly distributing the ball to the flanks. Liverpool on the other hand were cautious, with Salah and Mane staying a bit deeper to assist the fullbacks if needed. They seemed happy to hang back and try to absorb the pressure, waiting for a chance to hit on the counterattack. To prevent any such development, Roma players were ready to play it rough when dealing with Salah and Mane.
However, Nainggolan gave the ball straight to Firmino in the middle of the park after nine minutes and Roma’s worst nightmare became reality. Firmino brought it forward, drew the attention of the defenders and simply passed to his right for Mane who had come into the box. The Senegalese took it and gave Liverpool the lead with a cool finish.
But after 15 minutes, a diagonal cross from deep to the far post by Florenzi was headed across the six-yard box towards Schick. Lovren tried to clear in front of him but his clearance hit Milner and rebounded into the net, and Roma were unexpectedly level again.
Not only was the result level but the flow of play also looked finely balanced. Roma played quickly while Liverpool tried to slow them down, and neither team could impose their own designs to the other. After a while, the visitors dropped back again to defend and hit on the counterattack. They had a huge chance after 25 minutes when Robertson broke down the left and employed Mane on the edge of six yards, but Alisson saved his team for a moment. Only for a moment, though, as the resulting corner got Džeko heading the ball backwards and Wijnaldum taking advantage of the situation from close range to score Liverpool’s second.
Roma now looked shell-shocked and the visitors were suddenly far superior. Nevertheless, they kept trudging on, losing focus from time to time but never losing motivation. They came close in the 35th minute when El Shaarawy took aim from range, the ball scraped off Milner’s foot and hit the post. Džeko worked relentlessly up front, but all those efforts seemed uncoordinated and Liverpool’s defence held on, while their front line kept threatening with pace.
Roma’s defensive responsibility was rather questionable on those occasions as they were always slow to track back.
El Shaarawy tried to get past Alexander-Arnold in the 40th minute and went down just inside the box, but his penalty appeal was waved away by referee Damir Skomina. The last moment of note in the half was a minute before the break when Lovren picked up a yellow card for fouling El Shaarawy, and Pellegrino embarrassed himself with a wild shot from a tight angle.
The Second Half – Strange Events
The restart brought nothing new in terms of quality from either side. However, Roma had another penalty appeal denied in the 49th minute, but this time it was a questionable decision from the linesman to signal that Džeko was offside seconds before the Bosnian striker was brought down inside the box by Karius.
Feeling they can still hurt Liverpool, Roma gave a strong push from that point on and it paid off straight away as only two minutes later El Sharaawy got past Alexander-Arnold and took a shot from a tight angle. Karius parried it and Džeko was the quickest to react and set the score level once more.
Still needing three more goals, Di Francesco decided to go for it. He replaced Pellegrini with Cengiz Under and his formation took the slightly more attacking shape of 4-2-3-1.
A header over the bar by Džeko from a Kolarov cross and a brilliant save by Karius from Cengiz from very close range preceded another valid penalty appeal from the home side. Nainggolan’s cross was headed across the goal by Džeko and Cengiz caught a good volley from close range. His shot would have beaten Karius but for a hand raised slightly above the head by Alexander-Arnold. Skomina remained silent.
Roma constantly attacked with Liverpool now rarely venturing forward. Edin Džeko was at the heart of almost everything in front of the Liverpool goal, while Salah, Mane and Firmino never looked like hurrying forward when given the chance.
The visitors had a good moment in the 69th minute when Salah and Firmino combined nicely and the Brazilian took a shot from a tight angle, only to be denied a goal by his compatriot Alisson with a fine save. De Rossi made way for Maxime Gonalons straight after, and with his first touch Gonalons blasted a shot from a favorable position high into the stands.
Even though Skomina failed to give Roma a penalty twice, he let Florenzi slightly off the hook with just a yellow card for deliberately hewing down Mane with a malicious two-footed tackle from behind.
With 10 minutes remaining, Džeko had a huge opportunity to make things slightly more interesting. A long diagonal pass, misjudged by young Alexander-Arnold, found him free six yards from the goal, albeit at a tight angle. Karius parried his shot and this time Lovren was the one quickest to react, by blasting it away.
Those last ten minutes were highly eventful. Alisson acted a bit irresponsibly for a moment and Salah almost dispossessed him. Mane was replaced by Ragnar Klavan in a tactical substitution which saw Liverpool switch to a very defensive 5-3-2 formation. Robertson and Florenzi had a little spat and Manolas joined in, picking up a booking together with the Liverpool left-back. And then, Roma did make it interesting. A fantastic shot from around 25 yards by Nainggolan hit the inside of the post and ended up in the net, with Karius unable to stop it.
A pair of straight-up substitutions by Klopp followed, probably designed to waste time. Dominic Solanke replaced Firmino, and then Nathaniel Clyne came on for Alexander-Arnold inside the stoppage time. At the very end of it, a penalty was finally given to Roma, though this time it probably shouldn’t have been. An attempt by Cengiz to square the ball inside the box caught the arm of Klavan, but it was in a natural position with the Liverpool defender unable to get it out of the way. Be that as it may, Skomina pointed to the spot and Nainggolan was ruthless.
But there was no time for anything else, and Roma ended up a goal short of another miracle.
After the display in the first leg and the way Liverpool controlled the proceedings in the first half of the second, it’s fair to say they deserved to go through, although Roma certainly have the right to feel hard done by. As Liverpool turn their thoughts towards facing Real Madrid in the final on May 26, Di Francesco’s men can be proud of their achievement in this season’s Champions League.
AS ROMA: Alisson 6.5, Florenzi 6.5, Fazio 6.5, Manolas 7, Kolarov 7, Pellegrini 6 (53′ Cengiz 7.5), Nainggolan 7, De Rossi 6.5 (69′ Gonalons 6), Schick 6.5, El Shaarawy 7 (75′ Antonucci 6), Džeko 8.5.
LIVERPOOL: Karius 7, Alexander-Arnold 5.5 (90+2′ Clyne N/A) , Lovren 7, van Dijk 7.5, Robertson 7, Henderson 6.5, Milner 6.5, Wijnaldum 7, Mane 7.5 (83′ Klavan N/A) Salah 6.5, Firmino 7.5 (87′ Solanke N/A)
GOALS: Mane 9′, Milner (OG) 15′, Wijnaldum 25′, Džeko 52′, Nainggolan 86′, Nainggolan (pen.) 90+3′.
YELLOW CARDS: Lovren 44′, Florenzi 76′, Robertson 84′, Manolas 84′, Solanke 90′.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Damir Skomina (SLO)
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