Kieran Davies looks ahead to a colosseum atmosphere on Merseyside as the Reds continue to tear into Europe.
Much maligned by rival fans for their lack of trophies over recent times, Liverpool fans haven’t had too much to sing about over the last decade or so. In reality, even the most ardent fan wouldn’t have dreamt that they were going to win the Champions League this season. Even more so after seeing their side draw their opening two fixtures. Now here we are, semi-final time. At this stage, anyone can win it. It is down to who wants it more on the day. One thing the English club have in their favour is their form. Having lost Coutinho to Barcelona in January, everyone thought this would leave quite the hole in Klopp’s attack. At times, it is easy to overlook that they even relied upon him at all. The front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah have torn the Premier League and Europe apart this season and are arguably the most lethal front three in European football currently. The signing of Virgil Van Dijk seems to have added stability to quite a shambolic defensive line and the Anfield outfit need not fear anybody given how high confidence must be at the moment.
Then there is a certain little magician from Egypt. Salah is having a season of breaking records and scoring goals. Fresh from his ‘PFA Player of the Year’ award from his peers, he has targets in his sights for the remainder of the season. Having a player in form like Salah psychologically can give you the edge over your opponents before a ball is even kicked. The space his runs create for other players due to his hot streak of form must make playing alongside him a joy for Mane, Firmino and the rest of the side. Salah seems to fit in to the style of Klopp’s side perfectly and is grounded enough to realise that his team-mates are as much to thank for his season he is having. Everything he touches at the moment seems to turn into goals and football must seem easy for the ‘Egyptian King’. A Champions League final is the reward for the teams competing and Liverpool fans would love nothing more than to add to their five European cups with a sixth in Kiev. Anfield will be a cauldron for the Roma players and roles will be reversed as they will feel like the gladiators walking into the colosseum of spectators baying for blood.
Many are saying that Roma are being underestimated but I don’t think Jurgen Klopp or any other manager of any of Europe’s top clubs would so naive as to do such a thing. The reality is of the three available options, Roma was the easiest draw. From Roma’s perspective, so were Liverpool. That is of no detriment to either of those sides but based on recent form in the competition, Bayern and Madrid are bigger fish. That doesn’t mean that neither Roma or Liverpool could beat these sides, this is all paper statistics. There is no such thing as any easy game at this stage of such a prestigious competition but saying that, anybody can beat anyone. De Rossi’s Roma are no mugs, they smashed Barcelona in their last game after all. They have plenty of quality throughout their team but can they cope with wave after wave of Liverpool attack? Klopp’s team will be considered favourites for the tie at Anfield and this will be the toughest test for the Italians. The Roman army’s success was in part attributed to their tortoise (testudo) shield formation. Di Francesco may need to employ these tactics if they have any hope of keeping a clean sheet in the first leg.
People talk about European pedigree and history which is often rebuffed by fans who emphasise the present and the ‘now’. These things do matter though. Experience is key and while the players are not the same, the club will be imparting their knowledge upon the current crop and their manager has been there before also. Roma themselves have quite the European history having lost in the final previously to their English rivals. Having fell foul to the tactics of Bruce ‘Crazy Legs’ Grobbelaar in a penalty shootout, Roma will feel there is an aged score to settle there. Liverpool played the perfect first leg when they hosted Man City, can they do the same against Roma? The atmosphere created by the fans really can act like a twelfth man to the home team and no doubt the streets around Anfield will be awash with colour (and less stones) to let the Italians know they are in for a real battle. Visigoths, Hannibal and Ottoman Turks have plagued Rome throughout history………..will Mohammed Salah be added to this list by Tuesday night?