The big day is upon us! Liverpool and Roma playing in a Champions League semifinal. It’s almost impossible to overhype this home and away fixture, but it’s easy to overanalyze, and pundits, including on TLO have been more than happy to look at this game from every conceivable angle, including from an opposing fan’s perspective! Over the weekend, we dared to look behind the curtain to see what Bren, at fellow SBN site Chiesa Di Totti, had to say about the upcoming fixture.
The Liverpool Offside: Welcome to TLO Towers, Bren! It’s usually tidier than this, but we’ve been on a bit of a bender since seeing off Manchester City.
Anyway, Roma are back in the European Cup/Champions League semifinals for the first time since 1984 (please no bribery this time, we have enough bad luck with refs as is, second leg against City notwithstanding). That year, of course, is when our two beloved sides met in the final. So first, what’s the general feeling like over there? We’ve been buzzing for weeks over here. And if you could please speak up so I can hear you over the drone of “ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ!”
Chiesa Di Totti: The general feeling, at least after the comeback against Barcelona, which we dubbed the Manolas Miracle, was one of astonishment. Being cast into a group with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid few people gave Roma any chance of advancing to the knockout stage, let alone winning that group, so there is a bit of a feeling that Roma are playing with house money at this point. However, as we mentioned during the initial draw back in August, that group was so difficult, in part, because of Roma’s presence, and with impressive wins over Chelsea, surviving the Ukraine winter against Donetsk and outplaying Barcelona over two legs, Roma has proven that they don’t shrink on the grand stage. So while none of us really expected this, their run through the group stages, the round of 16, the quarterfinals, and now this has imbued Roma fans with a sense of belief.
TLO: From an outsider’s point of view, it looks like our seasons are closely paralleling each other’s: we’re both a distant 3rd place in our respective leagues, but have been a real threat in Europe. Moreover, a great deal of hay has been made over Roma’s impeccable home record in the Champions League: 4 wins, 1 draw, +8 GD, 0 goals conceded. But domestically, the Stadio Olimipico has been far less of a fortress: 10 wins, 1 draw, and 7 losses, +8 GD. What makes Roma so dangerous in the Champions League, especially at home?
CDT: Well, if you can figure out the disparity between Roma’s domestic and European success, we might as well switch jobs--it’s been maddening. To an extent, I think it speaks to my first point--all the doubt and the subsequent success has sort of snowballed into a feeling of destiny. We could also consider that the club has been so starved for success (no trophies for ten years) that the mere presence of Champions League football, particularly at each successive stage, is like blood in the water to the Cura Sud. Ultimately, I’m afraid there isn’t much of a rational explanation beyond perhaps sample size, but Roma has a nasty habit of playing to the level of their competition domestically, but Eusebio Di Francesco has done such a masterful job getting his players “up” for these matches. There is also the little matter of Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Alisson; they’re all quite good.
TLO: Speaking of quite good players, I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the man, the myth, the legend, Mohamed Salah. First of all, did any Roma fans expect Salah to make this kind of impact in England? More importantly, how did you go about replacing him? (Asking for when Barca inevitably come calling to replace the ageing Argentinian Salah).
CDT: I knew that question was coming! While he wasn’t quite as prolific for us, he did score 29 league goals over the past two seasons, so he was definitely among the best players in Serie A, but he’s kicked it up a notch since moving to Liverpool, practically doubling his production. I would suspect that a portion of that is due to the tactical differences between the two leagues, and perhaps some better finishing for you guys (he missed quite a few chances during his days with Roma), but we can’t sell Salah short--his trajectory over the past few years pointed towards elite status, but I’m not sure any Roma fan envisioned Salah entering the Messi-Neymar-Ronaldo discussion. In terms of his replacement at Roma, it was rough going for several months, and we didn’t really realize what an impact he had on Edin Dzeko until it was too late, but Monchi seems to have unearthed another gem in Cengiz Ünder, who has been a revelation for Roma since getting a full time gig in February.
TLO: As much as I’d love to talk all things Salah for hours, we have to move on! If you were Liverpool, how would you set up to best exploit Roma’s weaknesses?
CDT: Hmm, I’m not sure I feel comfortable answering this! Roma struggle against compact defenses because they essentially have no midfield play maker, so the creative onus usually falls on Diego Perotti and Aleksandar Kolarov, so if you can control Roma’s left flank, they really struggle. Having said that, Roma doesn’t suffer from creating chances but their finishing has been woeful.
TLO: And on the flip side, who should we be most worried about containing?
CDT: Honestly, I expect this to be a taught, low scoring match, and in that vein I’d say Dzeko should be your biggest concern. He’s the reigning capocannoniere and has pulled Roma’s ass from the fire several times this season. Outside of him, Ünder and Stephan El Shaarawy have enough athleticism to give any defenders fits. Oh, and you’re also going up against arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet; Alisson has a way of doing the incredible.
TLO: I swear we’ve heard nothing about Alisson this season. Nope. Nothing. Anyway, Predictions?
CDT: I just have this feeling it’s going to be an incredibly close set of fixtures, one that might come down to the 85th minute or so back at the Olimpico. I think Roma’s run continues and they eek out a one goal victory on aggregate.
Again, a big thanks to Bren and the folk at Chiesa Di Totti. To checkout the reverse fixture, wherein I answer their questions, you can check it out here: A Look At Liverpool-Roma with The Liverpool Offside.