One drawback from spending so much time following Roma and Serie A is that I’m somewhat ignorant to the ways and means of other leagues. Sure, I have a passing knowledge of the players, coaches and tactics, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty and the narratives that exist in the Premiership, I’m fairly illiterate. Not having an emotional connection to any team in the British Isles, I seldom devote any of my football freetime towards the “world’s greatest league.”
Fortunately, we have our own inhouse experts about all things Liverpool, so we exchanged some quick Q and A’s with our friends at The Liverpool Offside before this momentous occasion. Zach from TLO and I swapped a set of six questions apiece, so look for my responses on their site shortly.
1) Okay, be honest, what was your initial reaction when Liverpool drew Roma in the semi-finals? And has it changed in the buildup to the match?
Honestly? I scared the dog with an emphatic, over-the-top shout when I saw Real Madrid pulled out of the Pingpong Ball of Destiny™. This is in no way meant to insult Roma--who I think have a very good shot at advancing--but merely relief at having to avoid Bayern or Madrid (for now). And while we’re being honest, the feeling is mutual! We wanted each other!
2) Mohamed Salah has obviously been a revelation for Liverpool, but when he has struggled this season, what was the culprit?
Has he struggled? The most amazing thing about Salah is just how consistently he has been scoring for us, particularly in the second half of the season. He has scored in 15 of the 19 matches so far in the second half of the season, and in one of those matches where he failed to score, he added two assists (5-0 at home to Swansea). In the other three games (1-0 loss at Swansea, 2-1 loss to Manchester United, and a 16-minute cameo against Porto in the second leg), there wasn’t much rhyme or reason. Broadly speaking, we don’t perform especially well against low block, defensive sides, but even in those cases he’s been pretty effective this season.
3) Outside of Salah, which player should Roma fear most?
I could go on about Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have both rightfully been showered with plaudits for their pressing and guile in the final third. However, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to former Arsenal player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ox started slowly in (proper) red, but he has really come on strong in the second half of the campaign. He has 5 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League and Champions League, or a goal and assist every 149 minutes. When the front three have been kept quiet, he has been able to break the lines from midfield and create that little bit of space for the front three to do what they do.
4) Since you asked us, let’s turn the question around: how can Roma exploit Liverpool’s weaknesses?
Totally fair. For many seasons, pundits have gleefully pointed out our defensive frailties. That continues to be the narrative, although perhaps not a fair one this season, and especially not in the Champions League, where we have conceded less than any of the remaining teams. As a high-pressing outfit, our defense is particularly adept at stopping teams who try to play out from the back. Occasionally, teams have been able to hurt us by playing long balls, and isolating our young rightbacks (Joe Gomes and Trent Alexander-Arnold) with flick-ons from a target man or long crosses.
5) We’ll parrot your question again, why has Liverpool experienced greater success in Europe than in the Premiership this season?
Opposing fans have long laughed at us, well, for many reasons. But they have had a particularly long and hardy laugh at our claims of being European Royalty. Those opposing fans are no doubt shaking their heads in disbelief as they watch us return once again to a European semifinal, our second in three years. Although most of our past European glories were in the 70’s and 80’s, there is something undeniably special about European Nights at Anfield. Manchester City star Leroy Sane was openly dismissive of Anfield prior to kickoff, but after a half an hour his side was trailing 3-0, en route to a 5-1 aggregate loss. It defies logic, and yet generation after generation of Merseyside’s finest have shown the uncanny ability to make themselves part of the conversation in Europe.
Past magic aside, Kloppo is building something special at Liverpool. We had a rough start to the season, exacerbated, no doubt, by a certain player putting a certain transfer request in to a certain Catalan side one day before the season began. At one point in October we were mired in 9th place in the league. We pressed on, that certain player left so he could watch the Champions League knockouts from the stands, and we brought in Virgil van Dijk, who has greatly helped our defense and balance. Since then, our league and Champions League form has been very, very good.
I think we win 2-0 at Anfield, and Liverpool manage to do what the Argentinian Salah could not, score an away goal in Rome, booking our ticket to the final. Should be a fantastic couple of ties either way.