It’s fair to say that Liverpool produced some excellent football at times during their first leg encounter with Italian side, Roma. But after being 5-0 up and with seemingly one foot in the Champions League final, the Reds soft underbelly was evident again as they conceded two late goals to potentially scupper their chances of reaching the Kiev showpiece in May.
Roma started the stronger side and were controlling the early stages, even hitting the crossbar with a swerving strike from Aleksandar Kolarov, as Liverpool struggled to get a foothold in the game. The tactic of their back four and midfield to constantly hit long-ball after long-ball from all areas of the pitch was not working and the aerial approach from the Reds was being dealt with easily by the visiting defence.
This tactic was also picked up on after the game by Roma captain, Daniele De Rossi. The Italian international criticised the hosts for not showing the courage to go toe-to-toe with them in the middle of the park, instead choosing to completely bypass the midfield and try to get Mane and Salah running the channels.
However, largely against the run of play it was Liverpool who took the lead through a brilliant effort from Mo Salah. The Egyptian, who signed for Liverpool from Roma last year, then doubled the home sides lead just before half-time to send the Reds in at the break with an unlikely 2-goal lead.
The second half then started as the first half ended, with Liverpool on the front foot shooting into the Kop End and in search of more goals against what was increasingly looking like a toothless Giallorossi. By the 70th minute, the hosts found themselves 5-0 up after further goals from Sadio Mane and two from Roberto Firmino. It looked like more goals could follow for the home side and fans were already planning their trips to the Ukraine.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s decision to substitute Mo Salah with 15 minutes to go was a big turning point in the game. Without Liverpool posing the threat of hitting the visitors on the break, Roma were able to get out of their half and start testing a Reds defence that often buckles under pressure.
The first mistake came just six minutes after Salah’s withdrawal, as Dejan Lovren completely misjudged a cross, allowing Edin Dzeko time and space in the area to fire past Karius in the Liverpool goal. Just four minutes later a shot from Radja Nainggolan from the edge of the box was blocked by the hand of James Milner and referee Brych pointed to the spot. Diego Perotti scored the penalty and a nervous tension suddenly engulfed Anfield. Yet despite dominating the closing stages, Roma were unable to find a third goal.
Taking a three-goal lead into a second leg of a tie should be enough for most teams, but remember what Roma did to Barcelona in the previous round. Having lost 4-1 in the Nou Camp, the Giallorossi produced a brilliant performance to win 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico and stage an incredible comeback to go through on the away goals rule.
Couple this with a fragile Liverpool defence and the obvious air of disappointment from fans and player’s after what could have been, and Roma will feel they are in with a chance of reaching the final in Kiev still.
At 5-0, Liverpool won’t have had a better chance of reaching a Champions League final, but decisions from players and manager alike might have blown that opportunity and they will only have themselves to blame.