At times it wasn’t pretty, far from it, in fact, and far from the aesthetic feast they have served up much of this season, but Liverpool won’t care a jot; they’re through to the final of the Champions League.
The Reds rode their luck, and needed every inch of the advantage they’d built up at Anfield six nights earlier, as Roma battled in gladiatorial fashion, fighting tooth and nail and bringing themselves within a single goal of a comeback that would have topped their feat in the quarter-finals against Barcelona.
In the end, the Giallorossi ran out of time, with Radja Nainggolan‘s stoppage-time penalty the last meaningful kick of the tie.
Jürgen Klopp’s men dug deep and got the result they needed. The defeat on the night was instantly ruled immaterial by the referee’s final whistle; Liverpool had got what they came for.
Here are the five things we learned as Liverpool secured an aggregate victory over Roma in the Champions League semi-final.
Irresistible force meets immovable object
Heading into this fixture, Roma hadn’t conceded a single goal at the Stadio Olimpico in the Champions League this season, denying such attacking talents as Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi along the way.
Liverpool boasted the competition’s best attack, outscoring everyone, including reigning champions Real Madrid.
This set up an intriguing match-up between the immovable object of the Giallorossi backline and the irresistible force that is the Reds’ magnificent frontline.
The age-old hypothetical was quickly, and resoundingly, resolved when Sadio Mané fired beyond Alisson in just the ninth minute, with Georginio Wijnaldum adding a second before half-time.
It all went to prove that this Liverpool attack will not be denied, that there is no obstacle insurmountable for the pace of Mohamed Salah, the guile of Roberto Firmino and the improvisational gifts of Mané.
Liverpool weaknesses exposed
The scoreline was ultimately tighter than it looked like being for much of the tie, thanks to Roma’s late rally, but it does reflect the fact the Italians exposed chinks in the Reds’ armour that a side as powerful and clinical as, say, final opponents Real Madrid will relish taking aim at.
Although there was little that could be done about Nainggolan’s strikes that ensured a hollow victory on the night for Roma, rattling the ball in off the most from 25 yards followed by a thumping penalty, many of the chances the home side generated were eminently preventable from a Liverpool perspective.
Unfortunate though their second concession was, pinballing in off the unwitting James Milner, it was a result of a lack of composure at the back, with Dejan Lovren’s hurried clearance fired at a troubling trajectory.
A Liverpool backline that has looked assured since the mid-season arrival of Virgil van Dijk and with the improving form of goalkeeper Loris Karius were too easily rattled here, allowing Roma to shoot 24 times, although errant finishing meant they only hit the target six times.
Firmino and his doppelgangers
Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino wasn’t able to add to his tally of ten Champions League goals for the season so far, but it wasn’t for the want of trying, shooting four times and forcing a fine second-half save from compatriot Alisson.
But the Liverpool man’s game has never been about goals alone. This term, the former Hoffenheim attacker, only recently converted by Klopp into a striker from an attacking midfielder, has become the game’s finest facilitator, grafting, harrying and creating, all for the gain of others.
Looks to me like Liverpool are playing:
Milner – Henderson – Wijnaldum
Firmino – Salah – Firmino – Mane – Firmino
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) May 2, 2018
Without Firmino’s industry and inventiveness, Salah would not have broken the 40-goal barrier this season, and the Reds’ No.11 was in typically blustering, all-action fettle against Roma, popping up out wide to pressure full-backs, dropping deep to link and instigate, and on the end of moves he often started; he appeared to be everywhere at once.
Salah is unquestionably the star of the Liverpool show, but Klopp’s side would be a pale imitation of Champions League contenders but for the presence of the brilliant Brazilian and his doppelgangers.
Roma’s own scheming pharaoh
Much of the pre-match focus was on Liverpool’s magnificent Egyptian forward Salah returning to the Studio Olimpico to face his former employers, but it was Roma’s own Egyptian star who shone brightest.
Stephan El Shaarawy’s talent has never been in doubt, dating right back to his emergence as a spikey-haired teenager with AC Milan, but application and consistency have too often been wanting in the 24-year-old attacker’s career.
But he rose to the occasion here, tormenting Liverpool from his station on the left wing, managing to isolate Trent Alexander-Arnold on numerous occasions, as the English full-back was insufficiently supported, and using his pace and directness to carve opportunities for himself and team-mates.
It was his powerful shot which was parried into Edin Džeko’s path for the Bosnian to make it 2-2 on the night, part of a dynamic attacking display that included three shots, two key passes and two successful take-ons.
Klopp building something special
Liverpool may not have been able to call upon the kind of consistency required to mount a serious title challenge this season, but they have proven themselves to be capable of beating anyone when at their best, twice defeating champions Manchester City and now booking their place in the final of European club football’s grandest competition.
This is a side with the power to devastate and obliterate opponents, drilled in Klopp’s methods and capable of wonderfully inspired attacking play.
A Champions League title is more than any Liverpool fan could realistically hoped for this term, especially after losing star man Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January, without a replacement coming in. But Klopp has adapted to every setback and the Reds have been made stronger by every challenge.
One game away from an incredible continental triumph, it’s remarkable to think how much stronger Liverpool could (and should) be next season, when Naby Keïta arrives and Klopp further shapes this high-achieving squad in is image.