Single word yields best result

Football News: Champions League Preview: AS Roma (2) vs (5) Liverpool FC

Champions League Preview: AS Roma (2) vs (5) Liverpool FC
Image from: theanfieldwrap.com

Introduction

So despite Eusebio Di Francisco's best efforts to confuse me (not Jurgen Klopp, definitely me...) I somehow predicted his tactics in the first leg! The 3-5-2 was an unequivocal bust though. Cengiz Ünder was lost as a striker and got hooked at half time for Patrik Schick; the man I thought would've started.

So I'll take another stab at it here and say that in the second leg, Roma will revert to their tried and tested 4-3-3. They had far more success in the final 15 minutes after Diego Perotti came on for Juan Jesus.

You really do wonder when opposition managers will realise that a back 3 does not work against Liverpool. It isolates the wider centre backs against Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, who both should've had hattricks in the first leg. They just love being in 1-on-1 situations. It could've been more than just 5-2 at Anfield.

I do think Di Francesco will learn from it though. It might well mean that Alessandro Florenzi is dropped for Bruno Peres, as he is marginally better defensively and has more pace to get up and down the pitch in a more generic full back role.

If Roma switch to a front 3, I expect it will be the trio that caused Liverpool problems at Anfield if they are fit; Edin Dzeko, with Perotti and a Schick either side of him. If any of them are not fit, we may see Ünder again in a preferred wider role this time. The Roma midfield will likely remain unchanged though.

Unlike the first leg, Liverpool will be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain which is a blow. Having said that, Georginio Wijnaldum came off the bench and put in one of the best games he's had this season. His running was strong and his link up play was very tidy.

With only 3 senior midfielders available, the Liverpool midfield has gone from being unpredictable, to pretty much picking itself if Klopp sticks with 3 men in there. He could turn to his other preferred system though; 4-4-2.

That system has actually been behind two of the best performances from Liverpool this season, in my opinion. The obvious one is the 7-0 victory over Spartak Moscow. The less obvious one is the 4-1 victory over West Ham United.

This system could be utilised in two different ways; either Danny Ings could replace a midfielder and join Roberto Firmino up front, or Nathaniel Clyne could replace a midfielder with Trent Alexander-Arnold pushing up to right midfield, and Salah playing up front.

I do expect Klopp to stick with a 4-3-3, but at least he has plenty of options.

Key Battles

There are three absolute standouts here. The first one is obviously Dzeko vs Lovren. Virgil van Dijk left his partner alone to deal with Dzeko last time, when he should have been dropping off to cover if Lovren missed or lost a header.

You have to assume that Virgil won't change overnight. He has never anticipated danger that well throughout his entire career, so Lovren really needs to avoid another basic error, as his partner simply won't be there to cover him. That has proven to be a mountainous task for Lovren though, historically.

A potential grudge match will be Jordan Henderson vs Radja Nainggolan. At Anfield, Henderson embarrassed him. He was first to every 50/50, bullied him off the ball multiple times, and even left Nainggolan in a heap on a couple of occasions.

I knew there would be a few scrappy moments, but I didn't expect Nainggolan to be second best for the best part of 80 minutes! He won't take that lying down either, so expect a response from the man Roma fans call, "Il Ninja".

The last and possibly the most important battle will be between Salah and whoever is tasked with trying to stop him. Roma can't afford to park the bus and smother him with multiple man markers like Manchester United and Stoke City did recently.

Roma need goals; at least 3 of them. This likely means that Liverpool's front 3 will again, find lots of space on the counter. Whoever is tasked with facing up Salah in an expansive system, quite simply has to have the game of their life.

Injuries

Liverpool:
Joel Matip (out)
Emre Can (out)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (out)
Joe Gomez (out)
Adam Lallana (major doubt)
Sadio Mane (slight doubt)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (slight doubt)

Roma:
Rick Karsdorp (out)
Gregoire Defrel (out)
Diego Perotti (major doubt)
Strootman (slight doubt)

Midfield worries for Liverpool could give Roma a boost, as they are not far from full strength going into the 2nd leg. Lallana has travelled but it is doubtful he will play, emergency permitting.

Prediction

In the last round, FC Barcelona rocked up to Rome with a pompous attitude. 3 goal 1st leg defecits are rarely ever overturned in the Champions League. The level of the opposition makes it near impossible. But Barcelona treated it like a training session, and acted as though they thought Roma had no right to give them a game.

Complacency can be a truly toxic trait to have. Roma may not have much genuine quality, but they more than make up for it for passion and desire. They dragged themselves out of the ashes to even get to this semi-final so they sure as hell won't go down without a fight.

Liverpool have to learn from Barcelona's mistake. Klopp has to send his men out into the Stadio Olimpico with the mentality that it is 0-0. For the life of me, I can't comprehend how competitive athletes don't want to win every game, anyway!

I have faith in Klopp to do it though. He set his side up to hold on to a 3 goal lead last round against a Manchester City side carrying far more offensive threat than Roma, and a similar performance will be required again.

I can see the first half being cagey. It may even be goalless at half time with Liverpool afraid to give Roma space, and Roma afraid to let Liverpool silence the crowd with a sucker punch.

In the second half though, Roma will have to go for it. Unfortunately for them, they are leggy in midfield when they're expected to take a game to the opposition. Don't be fooled by their home record in the Champions League.

Whilst they haven't conceded a goal at home in Europe, they haven't really been tested. Chelsea and Atletico Madrid went there to get a 0-0 draw, and Barcelona tried to treat it like a training session.

If you look to Roma in Serie A, you'll see that they have lost 6 games at home out of 18 games, compared to just 1 away defeat in 17 games. Their most recent home loss was just a few weeks ago as Fiorentina ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.

Whatever the stats may say, football isn't won by a clash of Casio Calculators (other calculators are available). Teams can come from 3 goals down to win. So the history is irrelevant and Liverpool need to show up at 100%.

Likewise, Roma having not conceded a goal at home in Europe, does not tell the full story. The only teams who have been there and tried to score are Qarabag and Shaktar Donetsk! Liverpool have more away goals than anyone else in the competition as well, scoring in every away game. So someone's run has to end.

Liverpool can score in this game, and I believe they will score, too. A 1-2 scoreline in Liverpool's favour would be my bet, with most if not all of the goals coming in the second half.

Half the job is done from a Liverpool perspective, whilst Roma need Moses to show up and part the Red Sea. Maintain their professionalism, and Liverpool should be in Kiev on the 26th of May.

Written by Adam Jones May 02 2018 08:25:27