There are no easy draws at this stage of the Champions League, and if Liverpool were to look past the side that knocked runaway Spanish leaders Barcelona—currently well on their way to an invincibles season in La Liga—out of the competition, they would be doing so at their own peril.
Roma are a good side with one of the best goalkeepers in the game, a tested and experienced midfield, and a dangerous and physical attack that runs through towering striker Edin Dzeko. Yet they’re also the side that, on paper at least, are the weakest of the final four in the Champions League.
And as impressive as their comeback win—fuelled by a home crowd at the Stadio Olimpico in the second leg, the same as Liverpool will have to face the first week of May—over Barca was, focusing overmuch on that one last glorious result for Roma in Europe is to risk falling prey to recency bias.
Because digging even a deeper than that 3-0 victory tells a rather different story. It tells a story of Roma finishing first in Group C in the autumn ahead of Atletico Madrid and Chelsea—but doing so by way of a draw and a loss against Atletico along with a draw and a win against Chelsea.
They may have finished first, but they did so by beating up on group minnow Qarabağ and getting a bit of luck with Atleti’s results against Chelsea. Overall they won three, drew two, and lost one, scoring just nine goals in their six games. It was a solid runners-up showing with a side of good fortune.
They then drew Shakhtar in the Round of 16 and eked past them on away goals before being demolished by Barcelona in the first leg of the quarter finals. They have managed two genuinely good performances in Europe this season, that victory over Barcelona and a 3-0 group stage defeat of Chelsea.
Both, tellingly, came at home, which is where the second leg of the semi final is now set to be played. This, if anything, is what should worry Liverpool fans most—that they’re about to face a side that can ride the support of their home crowd at the Stadio Olimpico just as Liverpool can at Anfield.
On paper, though, Roma’s run through the Champions League to this point has been less impressive than one would expect from a semi-finalist. And certainly it’s less impressive than Liverpool’s run so far, as the Reds dominated their group by scoring 23 times while conceding six.
Liverpool then took on Porto, higher in both 538 and UEFA’s rankings than Shakhtar, and beat them 5-0 on aggregate. Then, of course, came Manchester City, and as impressive as Roma’s second game against Barcelona was, Liverpool defeated their own runaway league leader opponent 5-1 on aggregate.
On paper, Liverpool have had the stronger Champions League run and have been better in league play, too. On paper, Liverpool have been better in attack and defence this season—with an expected 2.9 expected goals and 0.5 expected goals against with a differential of +2.4 xG according to 538’s rankings.
Roma, in Serie A and the Champions League, have 2.3 expected goals for and 0.6 expected against with a differential of +1.7 xG. Liverpool have, all told, been 0.7 xG better than Roma—and that’s a significant gap. Meanwhile, Roma are barely in fourth domestically, a point clear of Inter and two ahead of Milan.
That recent 3-0 victory against Barcelona makes clear just what Roma can do—and how dangerous they can be at home—and that along with their 3-0 victory over Chelsea in the autumn and two-goal victories on the road in the league over Roma and Napoli show what they can achieve at their best.
But those results are outliers in a season that has been, well, just okay. They’ve had some good fortune in Europe, are barely top four in Serie A, and their record against Italy’s top six this season—Juventus, Napoli, Lazio, Inter, and Milan—is three wins, three losses, and a draw with a -1 goal differential.
They’re a good side, and if Liverpool take them lightly they’ve proven they have what it takes to be the ones who advance to the Champions League final this season. Liverpool, though, are the better side—both on paper and by their results this season—and will rightly be classed favourites.
For the Reds, this is a glorious opportunity. Now they have to seize it.