Liverpool 5 – Roma 2: Match Review & Analysis

All told, I was quite sanguine about tonight ahead of kick-off. The reality is that nothing was going to be decided this evening, whichever way the final result went. I imagine that Barcelona thought they had things as good as wrapped up when they won 4-1 at the Nou Camp, with their supporters declaring, much as we did ahead of our second-leg at The Etihad, that such a talented team would definitely be able to score an away goal. We all know what happened next for Barca, of course, with Roma making their away goal count and knocking the Catalan giants out at their place. Whilst I was desperately hoping for an away goal before kick-off for that very reason, I genuinely felt that this tie wouldn’t be over when the full-time whistle blew almost irrespective of the final score. That’s not to say that I wasn’t bothered what the score was, of course, just that I didn’t think anything would be one-hundred percent settled until the match at the Stadio Olimpico was over and done with.

One thing that did keep running through my head was the visit of Chelsea in 2013-2014. If you think of that season as a cup competition rather than a league, then Manchester City were the quarter-final opponents and José Mourinho’s men were who went up against in the semis. It felt like we had overcome the massive challenge in front of us and forgotten that we weren’t yet in the final, if you like. The links to tonight’s game felt similar, including the bus welcome perhaps losing its shine because of the number of times it’s happened now. I was also worried that, having once again over come City, the supporters felt we were as good as on our way to Kiev. The important thing was whether or not Jürgen Klopp, his staff and the Liverpool players felt equally as over-confident. Would it be unfortunate that we drew the Italians rather than one of Bayern Munich or Real Madrid for a match in which we’d feel like the underdogs, or had the club learnt from its past? Here are the major taking points from the match.

We should Be Very Happy

Let’s be honest, those two goals from Roma have put a sour taste on a night when we should all be absolutely bouncing. Liverpool were sensational tonight, absolutely destroying a Roma team than haven’t been mugs during this competition prior to tonight. We should all be jumping around the place and celebrating the brilliance of Mohamed Salah and the sensational tactical work of Jürgen Klopp and his backroom team, yet instead we’re all convinced that we’re heading out of the tournament in a week’s time. Yes, the Italians needed to score three goals against Barcelona and keep a clean sheet to get past them in the last round and yes, they did it. With that in mind, it makes complete sense that we’d all be concerned by them needing to do the same thing again next Wednesday night.

Yet let’s not beat around the bush here, we’ve just put five goals past a side that has to be considered to be one of the top four teams in Europe right now, given their place in the Champions League semi-finals. Perhaps the fact that we blitzed them in the first hour or so has caused people to forget that that was supposed to be a difficult match tonight. Before kick-off I saw people saying we’d only win by a goal or two, so to now see some people losing their heads because we won 5-2 instead of 5-0 is a little bit mad. There is absolutely no way that Roma are confident about keeping a clean sheet in the second-leg. That they did it against Barca will give them hope, but the way we took them apart tonight will give them nightmares.

Oxlade-Chamberlain Loss Will Be Massive

I’m quite sure that I wasn’t alone in wondering what Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would bring to this Liverpool team. It’s not that I didn’t think he was a good player for Arsenal, it’s just that I always thought he promised a lot but didn’t always deliver. The extent to which the management of Jürgen Klopp has made me – and many others – look a fool with the manner in which he’s turned the England midfielder into one of our most important players outside of the front three. He has been unbelievable for us recently, with the goal he scored against Manchester City in the quarter-final first-leg putting the icing on the cake. We looked significantly more dangerous at The Hawthorns at the weekend after he came on, driving at the Baggies with pace and asking questions of their defence. I don’t think anybody foresaw a situation in which he would be so influential to this side.

The injury didn’t look good. Klopp said at full-time that it was a nasty one and that if you can say that before the scan has even been done then you can’t be all that hopeful. One of the most obvious ways in which we’ll miss him is that our midfield is now extremely threadbare. The loss of Emre Can to who knows what injury and Adam Lallana, both likely for the rest of the season, means that we were already down to four players for three positions. Now we’re looking at three for three with at least four games to go and, provided we can do the job in Rome, five. Do all of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum have it in them to stay fit for the rest of the season and play in every game? Are there any youth players that the manager can promote to give them some support? Regardless, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s passing, direct style and intelligent movement will be hugely missed.

Firmino Is Incredible

It would be easy to write about Mohamed Salah tonight. He deserves every word that’s going to be written about him, too. The man is an absolute genius and the two goals he scored tonight are proof of that fact. The first was a sublime finish, but it’s the second I loved the most. The goalkeeper knew what he was going to do – everyone in the ground knew what he was going to do – yet he couldn’t do anything about it. For all that he deserves everyone’s praise, the man alongside him in the front three is just as deserving of accolades. If you gave me carte blanche ti choose, Roberto Firmino is the only striker in world football I’d want playing for Liverpool right now. He is every inch the complete striker, with the work rate of a box-to-box midfielder, the tackling of a top-class centre-back and the finishing of a forward most teams dream of. Tonight he was absolutely sensational, causing Roma problems every time he got near the ball.

The problem defenders have with him is that he’s not a straight-forward striker. Edin Dzeko scored tonight but he did so because Dejan Lovren switched off and played him onside and then couldn’t get back quickly enough to intercept the ball into him. In essence, though, his performance was that of a typical striker, with defenders able to hustle him off the ball and cut out the passes into him. Firmino is almost never in the striker’s position, meaning that defenders don’t know whether to go with him or hold their line. His hold up play can bring the likes of Salah and Mané into the game, meaning that defences can be cut to ribbons. Put simply, he is the facilitator that allows the other two to get into the game, whilst also being able to score himself. The Egyptian King might take all of the praise, but the Brazilian Prince is the one pulling the strings.

Let’s Be Sensible Over Lovren

Last week I wrote a piece about the lack of nuance in football analysis, with supporters far too keen to look at performances in a binary fashion. Someone is either amazing or dreadful, with nothing in between any more. Dejan Lovren’s position for the first Roma goal was terrible, his argument with Jordan Henderson after the fact suggesting that there had perhaps been some crossed-wires over where he was supposed to be. Yet the extent to which some Liverpool fans have decided to declare him to be ‘absolutely dreadful’ is genuinely alarming. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he was very poor for the first and I hope that were upgrade on him in the summer. What I would say, though, is that he was excellent for the first hour or so and stopped numerous Roma attacks in the first hour of the match. If you want to attack him then you should at least acknowledge the goals his positioning and tackling probably averted prior to his error.

It’s perfectly acceptable to think that a player isn’t good enough in the long-term and to feel that they were poor in a specific moment yet also acknowledge the things that they do right. Lovren is a front-foot defender. He is often there intercepting passes, blocking the runs of attackers and making important tackles because he plays like that. The downside is that he’ll also sometimes make mistakes like he did tonight and like the one he made against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. It’s why I’ll have no problem if we look to upgrade on him when the transfer window opens, but it’s why I also think the manager genuinely likes him. The notion that we’ll ‘never win anything with him in the side’ is daft beyond belief, if for no other reason than we’ve got one foot in the Champions League final right now. I’m not saying don’t criticise him, I’m saying let’s all be sensible in how we do so.

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