Roma 4 – Liverpool 2 (6 – 7 On Aggregate): Match Review & Analysis

I’m not someone who gets affected by nerves, particularly. Having been an actor for more than a decade, I’m used to the butterflies in the stomach and the necessity to simply cope with it and crack on. Last week, as the build-up to the first-leg kicked in and people were on Twitter talking about how nervous they were, I was just soaking it all up. To an extent, that’s because I knew nothing would be decided seven days ago. Had it finished 5-0 instead of 5-2, I’d still have felt that we’d have needed to be at our best this evening. The two goals obviously added a little bit more flavour to proceedings. As much as I might have been relatively nerve free last week, the same wasn’t true as kick-off to the second-leg grew closer. I worked all day, keeping myself distracted but looking at social media regularly to see what reports were coming out of Rome. As soon as I turned on BT Sport and saw Gary Lineker, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard discussing the match, my stomach dropped.

I struggled to eat my dinner, couldn’t focus and was absolutely desperate for the match to start. I’ve no idea how people who’ve been feeling nervous for days have been able to cope! Even to reach the semi-final was an incredible achievement, but the dread of losing after such a formidable first-leg performance can play tricks with your brain. Offer any team on the planet a three goal advantage heading into a game and they’ll snap it up. We’d earned our right to be able to go to the Stadio Olimpico and take the game to Roma, to try to score goals and see which way the cookie crumbled. If the players had nerves then they didn’t show it. The stadium was noisy, but it took just nine minutes for Sadio Mané to score and silence the crowd. Sixteen minutes later and Gini Wijnaldum had eased pretty much all of my nerves, although in the end it was a lot more tense than it should’ve been. What, then, are the major talking points from a night on which Liverpool took themselves through to an eighth European Cup final?

We’re Off To Kiev

Let’s start with the most important thing of all: Liverpool are off to Kiev for the final of the Champions League. Make no mistake, that is a truly astonishing achievement and one that no one, absolutely no one predicted at the start of the season. It’s also worth noting that we did so in truly blistering style. We’ve sent records tumbling all over the place, not least when it comes to scoring goals. When Gini Wijnaldum’s header hit the back of the net, it meant that we had notched up forty-six goals. That was a record-breaking number of goals for a team to score in a single European campaign. It’s more than Everton have scored in the Premier League. It’s a number of goals that mean the entire experience has been little short of a stunningly entertaining whirlwind.

Before the match, everyone was talking about the fact that Roma hadn’t conceded a goal at home in the Champions League this season. As true as that was, they hadn’t come up against Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. Even Barcelona looked like a shadow of themselves when they went to Rome, failing to lay a glove on the hosts despite having chances. The Reds looked like they could score at will at times during this match, but for a few poor decisions in the final third. Our journey isn’t yet over, therefore. We carry on to Kiev, where we’ll face Real Madrid. A side that have won the competition for two years running and know how to get games over the line. It will be a challenge, but this Liverpool team is one that loves challenges. Roma hadn’t conceded at home in the Champions League. They have now.

We Need To Improve Our Options

It’s not a night for negativity, but the one thing that this Champions League campaign has helped us to realise is that Jürgen Klopp needs more top-class options at his disposal if we’re to challenge on several fronts next season. The first-choice eleven is top-class, with Roberto Firmino’s new contract this week a just reward for an absolutely superb season that is a prime example of that. Yet when the manager looked at his bench tonight, he wasn’t exactly blessed with options. It’s important to point out that we’re missing Emre Can, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana through injury, but even so you’d be hard pushed to say that all three of them are game-changing names. I think Danny Ings has deserved more credit for his performances than he’s received lately, but he’s not someone that you’d want to turn to in a European Cup final and ask to change the game in your favour.

If we had every single player fit and firing, we’d still look thin on the ground in certain areas. The manager knows it, of course, but it’s vital that we add to our firepower in the summer. We need to be able to rest one of our front three without it feeling like our level has dropped off a cliff, as it currently does. We also seem to be one of the only teams that can have five defenders on the pitch and somehow look weaker for it. News that the manager is keen to extend the contracts of Ragnar Klavan and Alberto Moreno won’t please everyone, especially after we seemed to crumbled at the back after the Estonian came on tonight. It’s a campaign that has been filled with highs and might just hit the highest of them all before it’s over, but if there’s one sobering aspect to the whole thing then it’s surely the lack of depth to an otherwise talented squad.

This One Is The Younger Generation’s

This isn’t a night for sober reflection or concern, of course. It’s a night for partying, for celebrating, for dreaming. No one will be doing that more than the younger generation, who were too young to truly appreciate the magic of our trip to Istanbul thirteen years ago. They’ve heard the stories, they’ve watched the videos of Eider Guðjohnsen’s incredible miss in the dying embers of the semi-final second-leg at Anfield, but they’ve not really had much to celebrate of their own since then. In fact, all they’ve really known is a club in turmoil. It wasn’t long after we won Old Big Ears for the fifth time that the club was sold to Hicks and Gillett and the beginning of one of the worst periods in the club’s history began.

We all get to celebrate this, obviously. Every single Liverpool supporter will be raising a glass to the Reds tonight, with a wry smile on their face as they realise we’ll be playing in the final of the Champions League. Yet the younger generation will be partying that little bit harder, fully aware of the fact that they’re witnessing something we haven’t seen for more than a decade. I was twenty-three when we beat AC Milan, so there’s an argument that I’ve had my massive match. Those a decade younger than me will be around that age now, ready to go absolutely wild if we manage to beat Real Madrid. I’ll be going fairly wild myself, like, and I imagine you will be too. As we should be. As we all should be. The Reds have done us proud, but now those younger than us have stories of their own to tell, journeys of their own to make. We’re going to Kiev.

Are The Stars Aligning?

I love stories about fate seeming to suggest that the competition is going to go one way. Back in 2005, it was as though a series of previous coincidences had all lined up on our behalf. In 1978 the Pope died, Wales won the Grand Slam and we were European Cup champions. Three years later and Prince Charles got married and we were European Cup Champions. In 2005, the Pope died, Wales won the Grand Slam and Prince Charles got married, so the trophy only had one team’s name written on it, didn’t it? Admittedly the coincidences this year aren’t quite as all-consuming as thirteen years ago, although the fact that the last time the semi-finals featured a team from England, Spain, Germany and Italy was in 1981, when Liverpool beat Real Madrid in the final is good enough for me!

Make no mistake, Real Madrid will be a formidable opponent. They not only know how to win finals, as they’ve shown over the last two years, but they’re also incredibly fortunate when it comes to refereeing decisions. Given the “penalties” Liverpool have conceded over the two legs against the Italians, that’s not something that is likely to change any time soon. Yet their result and performance against Bayern Munich suggests that they’re not the all-consuming team they once were. You can absolutely see how they’ll be able to cause us problems, but you can equally see how this Liverpool attack will be able to take the game to them. I’m quite sure that Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will be licking their lips at the chance of having a go at the Spanish team’s defence. If we carve as many opportunities as the Germans did, we’ll score goals. Will it be enough to win it? We’ll find out on the 26th of May. We’re going to Kiev. Allez, Allez, Allez!!

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