No Miracle in Rome

The Reds reach their eighth European Cup Final after a joyous night in The Eternal City

Let it sink in for a few moments more!  Liverpool FC have reached the final of the Champions League!  26th May, Real Madrid will be the opponents in Kiev as we look to win a sixth European Cup.  We did it in typical Liverpool fashion with ridiculous 6-7 aggregate victory over AS Roma who went down fighting but were ultimately flattered by the score line after an epic Champions League Semi-final.

“It was a little bit exciting – more exciting than I actually wanted.”

A beaming Jurgen Klopp said after the joyous celebrations were moved from the pitch to the dressing room.  His comments nicely sum up his reign so far as Liverpool Manager.  He’s vaporised the dour football being played under Rodgers and replaced it with a brand and style that is at times exhausting to watch, who knows what the players must go through.  The players owe a debt to this man now, the scenes at the Stadio Olimpico last night are what any professional wants to experience, he’s brought it to them, now they must go on to deliver against the odds in Kiev.

The fans lapped the occasion up, and Jordan Henderson’s wonderful gesture to persuade the jobswoth stewards to pull down a banner in honour of Sean Cox and bring it to the players to pose with, will live long in the memory.  He is a divisive player and can frustrate at times, but that was momentous gesture; worthy of the captain’s armband of Liverpool FC.

Brave performance by both teams

It was a semi-final which on the surface looks as though it was neck and neck, with barely anything in it to separate the two teams.  However it was nowhere near as tense or close as the score line suggests.  Barring a twenty minute second half spell by Roma, it really was a job well done by Liverpool.  Klopp has been criticised in the past and murmurs surfaced on social media last night about his poor in game management.  You can understand it given the 4-2 defeat suffered on the night, but this criticism does a severe injustice to the German.

The way he had Liverpool set up was actually extraordinarily brave.  His instruction to the front three, was clearly to stick and hold their high line, pinning Roma’s defence a few yards deeper then they’d have liked and always leaving the threat of a blistering counter attack at the back of their minds.

The risk with this though is obvious, the front three basically had to abandon the midfield and not double back to help as much as we’ve previously seen in Klopp’s all inclusive football.  This meant that the full backs were exposed, in particular, Trent Alexander-Arnold.  The nineteen year old was given a thorough test of his metal as he was doubled up on, targeted and bombarded with direct balls all night. One lapse led to a goal, which is what happens at this level, but it would be unfair to lambaste the teenager who was excellent and showed real maturity, particularly in the first half as he instinctively got out of the way of a theatrical dive by El Shaarawy.

The bravery paid off and the two away goals effectively killed the tie.  Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum deserve praise for their efforts in trying to stem the flow of the Roma attacks despite being heavily outnumbered.  Mane too was excellent, scoring his ninth goal in Europe this season, and contributing with great running to relieve the pressure and make precious yards.  The front three will need to be better in Kiev though, at times they seemed rushed and lacked composure, especially in the second half.  You can blame this on tired legs or nerves, but Real are different beast and more finesse will be needed on 26th.

Roma were sensational in the second half.  Trailing 3-7 on aggregate and 1-2 down on the night, they never relented.  Their direct, diagonal balls across the box and tactic of stretching the play are effective ones.  Visibly tiring at the end, they rallied still, and got two goals to bring back their honour after the first leg thumping.  In Patrick Schick they appear to have a real gem of a player with a great first touch and speed across the ground to complement their style.  He is certainly one Liverpool should send the scouts to watch.

It’s easy to be magnanimous in victory, but the way Roma played made the match an occasion and it was certainly great for the neutrals if nothing else.

VAR needed urgently

Roma’s president Jim Pallotta fumed after the game about the need for VAR to be brought in; to be fair, he as a point.  He described the officiating as “an absolute joke” His side were denied a clear penalty for handball by Trent Alexander-Arnold.  But then so too were Liverpool after an almost comical push on Mane was visible to everyone apart from the officials on the pitch.

It’s not right or enjoyable to moan about referees, but this tie was blighted by poor decisions.  Two soft penalties given, clear fouls missed, bemusing offside decisions given almost at will, it really was frustrating.  With such high stakes, is it now time to look seriously at how we can bring VAR in?  It cannot be allowed to eat up five minutes or even three minutes of a flowing game, but even some fail-safe would ease the concern of growing incompetence and hasty refereeing decisions.  At least a second look would help, the game is now so fast that referees need the additional support, it seems futile to battle against it.

Take a bow

It’s easy to forget that three years ago we were in the doldrums, seventh in the league, thrashed by Stoke, Gerrard gone, Suarez gone, Sterling jumping ship etc.  It was all very miserable.  In less than three years, Klopp has taken Liverpool from that misery to two major European finals.  More than that though, he’s reengaged the fans, feeding them with great European nights and a style that leaves other teams looking on enviously behind their two banks of four.

As he had fun with the fans last night, bowing and orchestrating them with a trademark grin, you could sense the connection there.  Unlike the Benitez years, it appears that everyone is behind Klopp and is massively grateful for lifting us back into the light.  It is certainly helping the club to have a vociferous backing from the terraces once more.

Football is now so short term now that two and half years seem like an eternity for a coach.  But it really isn’t.  Klopp is still building.  If he had already tightened a few key areas, then it is not beyond the realms of imagination to see us winning that semi-final by a landslide aggregate score.  What he’s already done though has given him legendary status, if he was to bring home number six, then we really should look no further for a manager for the next ten years.  Players will want to play for us anyway, but as Gerrard said last night, the European Cup changes everything and who wouldn’t want to be a part of those scenes last night?  Danke Jurgen!!

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