Liverpool took another giant step towards the Champions League final in Kiev with a resounding 5-2 victory over Roma at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Liverpool’s utter dominance during the middle period of the match was even more incredible as the Italian side actually started well, exerting control during the first twenty minutes and coming very close to scoring through Aleksandar Kolarov.
However, once Liverpool worked out Roma’s system and started creating chances for the misfiring Sadio Mané there was no stopping the Reds.
The energy and pace of Jürgen Klopp’s side proved far too much for Roma to handle, and Liverpool overwhelmed Roma’s unfortunate back three, with the tactics that were so successful against Barcelona proving completely counter-productive at Anfield.
Nevertheless, it still took two genius strikes from the world’s in-form player, Mohamed Salah, to create the first-half lead that Liverpool deserved, with Mané guilty of wasting numerous opportunities while Dejan Lovren also hit the crossbar with a header from a corner.
If Roma felt they could regroup at the start of the second half, they were badly mistaken. Liverpool continued to pour forward, with Mané finally finding the net and Roberto Firmino joining in all the fun with a brace.
Even though the match had yet to reach seventy minutes, Liverpool had raced out into a scarcely believable five goal lead and were looking likely to add more and book their tickets to Kiev by the end of the night.
Unfortunately, the astonishing scoreline was perhaps a little too much for even the Liverpool players to comprehend, and the team’s intensity dropped. Lovren had been brilliant all night but lost focus, as he unfortunately tends to do in a number of games, and the Croatian was again punished for his loss of concentration.
After misjudging a long ball from Roma and consequently allowing Edin Džeko to score an away goal, the momentum changed completely, and suddenly it was Roma who were roaming forward, seeking to make the scoreline more respectable and possibly inspire another improbable comeback in Rome for the second leg.
A harsh penalty awarded against James Milner meant Roma were able to ultimately cut Liverpool’s aggregate lead down from five to three, a deficit the Italian side know they can recover, although the odds remain stacked against them.
They were unfortunate to lose 4-1 to Barcelona in the first leg of their quarter-final, and punished the Spanish giant’s complacency in the second leg in front of a roaring Stadio Olimpico.
Klopp will not allow Liverpool to follow Barcelona’s example.
Moreover, Liverpool’s manager has plenty of incentive for his players after they conceded two goals in the last ten minutes for the second match in a row.
Liverpool only have themselves to blame for these recent lapses, which have made the following week far less relaxing then it could have been. Top four could have been virtually guaranteed, allowing Klopp to make wholesale changes for Saturday’s encounter with Stoke City at Anfield in the Premier League, and the Reds would have taken a five goal lead to Rome for the semi-final second leg.
Reds on the march
Now there is a bit more work to be done, but it would not be Liverpool if there was no drama and anxiety!
Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and any Liverpool fan would have snapped your hand off last summer if you told them that the Reds would need four points in their final three games to secure another season of Champions League football, whilst also looking likely to make the final of the current year’s competition.
Liverpool have continued to improve and progress under Klopp season after season, but this season in particular they have now reached a level bordering on the standard of the very best sides in Europe.
Without the fourth-place finish from last season, Liverpool’s achievements this season may have been completely different.
Pipping Arsenal to the top four and securing a place back at Europe’s top table for only the second time in eight years meant Klopp’s aim of turning Liverpool fans from doubters to believers continued at pace, whilst increasing the club’s revenues and helping attract bigger names to the club – players vital to Klopp’s plans, such as Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool’s history and Klopp’s pull were undeniably huge factors, but given the level of interest from Premier League clubs in the Dutch defender, van Dijk would have probably moved elsewhere if the Reds could only offer Europa League football once again.
There is nothing wrong with the Europa League, but it is not the Champions League, where the elite reside and where Liverpool needed to be if they wanted their current status to befit the club’s history and reputation.
Liverpool have not enjoyed successive top four finishes since 2009, but are on course to end this drought under Klopp whilst enjoying another truly unforgettable European campaign.
Back where they belong
Liverpool belong in the Champions League, and the club has this unerring ability to create night after night of special European moments. Liverpool fans for most of the last decade have been unable to experience those rollercoaster emotions that only arrive during a big European night.
Not only do they have three more fantastic matches to add to the club’s long collection of great European victories (both legs against Manchester City and the first leg against Roma), but Liverpool have even put on a show against less illustrious opponents in the earlier stages of the competition, such as against Maribor and Porto.
The Reds are the top scorers in the Champions League by a distance, and have even outscored a number of Premier League teams with their European goals alone.
Klopp’s attacking style completely contrasts with the defensive pragmatism of Rafael Benítez, Liverpool’s last great Champions League manager, but threatens to transcend Liverpool to a new period of European glory.
However, the bread and butter of the top four has to be maintained for season after season, not just for the odd year, if the club are to continue to ascend to the top of club football, both at home and abroad.