Champions League: AS Roma set to face the music at boisterous Anfield as Liverpool bank on home advantage
Roma must ensure that Liverpool don't get any easy chances to score. The kind of goal-scoring prowess Liverpool's attackers posses, match might be well be over in short span if they are given the freedom to express themselves.
Both Liverpool and AS Roma are placed third in their respective league tables. Liverpool have played 35 matches and earned a total of 71 points, while Roma's tally is 67 points from 34 matches. Both teams have beaten two of Europe's best sides – Manchester City and Barcelona – en route Champions League last four. Objectively, there is very little to separate both teams ahead of their first leg semi-final clash on Tuesday, but the fact that Liverpool are playing at Anfield gives them the edge against Eusebio Di Francesco's Roma.
Liverpool's front three comprising of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have a combined total of 83 goals in all competitions this season. While Mane and Firmino played their parts by being consistent, it is the goal-scoring abilities of 'Egyptian Messi' Salah that is hogging all the limelight. Scorer of mind-boggling 41 goals this season, there's no doubt that Salah's form was the major factor in Liverpool's resurgence.
But here, it's about Champions League and playing at Anfield. Liverpool's passionate fans revel in such nights, taking the match's atmosphere to its zenith. This is where there could be a difference between both the teams. Even if Roma manage to subdue Salah and other attackers, it will be a herculean task to silent the Anfield faithful. The fans, as they have shown in so many of home matches over decades, can put life into the home team even when things are not going their way.
For sure, Roma will make things difficult for Liverpool when they take on Jurgen Klopp's men. Under Di Francesco, Roma have improved leaps and bounds, and have become a multi-dimensional team. Di Francesco is the kind of manager who is not afraid to tweak his formations even in important matches. It really speaks volumes about their growth considering they lost Salah to Liverpool and Francesco Totti to retirement last year.
Against Barcelona in the quarter-final, Roma made a tactical change to challenge Lionel Messi and Co using physicality as the weapon. "My decision to change the system was linked to the fact that with some teams, with the characteristics of certain players, a three-man defence can give you a little bit of extra physicality. You get a little bit of extra strength – some of that just in the heads of the players themselves. Sometimes, especially in Europe, you need a little bit more physicality," Di Francesco was quoted by saying The Guardian.
The plot clearly worked for him as Roma scripted a historic comeback to beat Barcelona 3-0(4-4 on aggregate) and progress to the semi-finals on away goals. Even if tactics don't work against Liverpool, Roma have players in their ranks who can turn the game around.
After leaving Premier League side Manchester City, Edin Dzeko did not go into oblivion. In fact, he made himself an indispensable part of Roma, scoring 39 goals last season. This season, he hasn't been at his prolific best but his performance against Chelsea in the group stages and Barcelona over the two quarter-final legs showed why he's still being rated so highly. Dzeko's influence in the Champions League has been massive. He scored a terrific volley in the 3-3 draw against Chelsea in October. He was also on the scoresheet in the last-16 game against Shakhtar Donetsk and also made impact against Barcelona by netting the first goal in the second-leg.
Apart from Dzeko, Roma also boast of quality players like Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, Cengiz Under and their in-form Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Among the bunch, the most impressive players have been Under and Alisson. Twenty-year-old Under came to Roma in the summer from Istanbul club Basaksehir, with the task of replacing Salah in the team. The youngster took his time to settle down, but since the start of this year, Under has been phenomenal for the Italian club. Meanwhile, Alisson, has quickly established himself as one of Europe's best goalkeepers. Time and again this season, he escaped Roma by pulling off crucial saves. No wonder, he's Brazil No 1 ahead of Manchester City's Ederson.
Liverpool boss Klopp will look not make drastic changes to his team against Roma. There won't be changes in the front three – Salah, Mane, Firmino and the back four comprising of Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner will also start in the midfield, but it will be interesting to see who would Klopp prefer between Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. Loris Karius will have the goal-keeping responsibility.
Liverpool employ a fluent 4-3-3 formation with their three attackers offering pace and trickery. Liverpool would be hoping that their opponents also play with a 4-3-3 formation – which Roma often does in league matches – so that they could exploit the space in the midfield. If Di Francesco decides to make the midfield compact, then Liverpool might find it difficult.
Roma must ensure that Liverpool don't get any easy chances to score. By looking at the kind of goal-scoring prowess Liverpool attackers posses, the match might well be over in short span if they are given the freedom to express themselves. Roma should find a way to frustrate the home team and then look to make an impact through counter-attack. Set-pieces is one area where Liverpool look vulnerable and Roma should make take advantage of that not only in Anfield but also in Rome. So many things have improved under Klopp but Liverpool's set-piece defending has not been up to the mark. Even if Roma fail to avoid a defeat, they should be looking to leave Anfield with an away goal.
All said and done, playing Liverpool at Anfield will be daunting for Roma. They are not only up against the heavy metal, gegenpressing style of Liverpool but also have to face the music from passionate Kop End. If they could keep the tie alive and take it to the second-leg, that would be job well done by Roma.
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