The atmosphere at the Olimpico didn’t disappoint from the get-go. The Liverpool clan on BT Sport did their best to play it down, but the Champions League anthem was immediately drowned out by a capacity crowd.
From the first minute, Roma had play pushed up into the opposition half with a lofted ball to El Shaarawy, who dinked it into the middle for Dzeko. The move came to nothing but the crowd were ready to pop. A couple of minutes later, Roma were again targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold - the right-back a fitness doubt before the game - and trying to get joy through El Shaarawy and Kolarov working the left flank. The resulting corner led to nothing but set the tone for Roma’s attack. Liverpool’s strikers were forced to sit deep and do battle with Roma’s midfield initially, but they would soon go on to have a bigger stake in the game when they needed to.
Florenzi flashed a shot wide from the middle of the pitch in the sixth minute of the game before disaster struck at the other end for Roma.
9th Minute: Roma 0-1 Liverpool (Sadio Mane)
The pre-match talk from Roma was focused on the need to play an error-free game but unfortunately the man who did most of that talking was himself the culprit for this goal. Nainggolan’s misplaced square pass left Roma’s backline exposed to Liverpool’s pace and Sadio Mane didn’t disappoint with his finish.
Roma were in a rush, with a mountain to climb needing four goals. But the Giallorossi wouldn’t wait long before getting the first of those four needed at the time.
15th Minute: Roma 1-1 Liverpool (James Milner O.G.)
Florenzi found El Shaarawy with a long cross field pass into the box that the Little Pharoah nodded back across goal. It didn’t find a Roma player, but Liverpool were in such a hurry to clear it that they managed to smack the clearance against James Milner before the ball flew back the other way past Karius.
The hope would only last ten minutes before another setback came.
Gini Wijnaldum scores an away goa at the biggest stage possible. (3-7 agg). pic.twitter.com/PGU0yV9D4N— Mootaz Chehade (@MHChehade) May 2, 2018
In the 25th minute, Robertson burned Florenzi for pace, rushing to the byline and knocking it back for Mane with only Alisson’s outstretched foot preventing the Senegalese striker scoring again. From the ensuing corner, Roma failed to clear after Dzeko got a questionable shove in the back from Van Dijk that led to Edin inadvertendly heading the ball in the wrong direction. Winajldum capitalised from Dzeko’s flick on to head the ball into the net, and Roma were facing near-impossible odds.
The first half hour of this game was not anymore promising than the first half hour at Anfield. Roma just could not find a team plan to cope with Liverpool’s pace on the ball. No matter how they tried to organise themselves, it looked like panic stations for the Roma player nearest to the ball when Liverpool were in possession. The Liverpool threat never extinguished throughout the half, which settled on some end to end stuff.
At one point Schick was through on goal but ruled out by a phantom offside call but this wasn’t the crescendo of steadily rising belief from the crowd in the Barcelona game; it was more of a frustrated back and forth between hope and ... frankly just watching a superior Liverpool attack remind Roma they might score at anytime. Roma, in the first half, seemed afraid to press Liverpool and afraid of another mistake.
That was no more evident than Pellegrini completely skying a free-kick to nowhere.
The second 45 started off as an affair between offside traps, before Edin Dzeko was wrongly called offside in the 49th minute and fouled by Karius in the box. If it hadn’t been for the offside call, the referee would have had a big call to make and this wouldn’t be the only time Roma were denied a penalty on the night.
Two minutes later, Dzeko wouldn’t let the disappointment get to him as he clawed another goal back for Roma.
52nd Minute: Roma 2-2 Liverpool (Edin Dzeko)
Liverpool simply hadn’t done their homework on El Shaarawy, letting SES cut inside on his right and his entire body language telegraphed that he was going for his favoured curling shot across goal. He was helped by Karius who weakly pushed the shot into Dzeko’s path on the rebound, who took a moment to set himself before lifting the ball back across goal and into the net. EdF reacted by taking off Pellegrini for Under.
Roma also looked like they were getting a few more collective bodies back faster anytime Liverpool had the ball in their half, and the Reds began to look tired and leggy before Roma joined them in a spell where the game started to dull with slow play in midfield. De Rossi was left with time and space in the middle of the pitch to find a lofted ball through to Under running on goal. The Turkish forward couldn’t get full contact on it but brought out a Karius save on the line. Mane saw a chance flash wide a couple of minutes later at the other end, but he was offside anyway.
In the 63rd minute, Roma were denied a stonewall penalty that would have changed the complexion of the tie. Milner rushed out to try and press De Rossi who dinked the ball immediately wide for Roma to work the ball into the box. Pandemonium broke out inside Liverpool’s area with a deflected cross being nodded on by Dzeko, before being cleared into Shick and bouncing back into El Shaarawy’s path. What happened next seriously saved Liverpool’s bacon in this tie.
Trent Alexander-Arnold should have been sent off for handling the ball and saving a certain goal but no call came.
Minutes later, Liverpool worked the ball up their right side of the pitch for Firmino to get in a shot on goal that Alisson saved with his foot. Meanwhile, EdF brought on everyone’s favourite Frenchman, Maxime Gonalons, to replace De Rossi and put fresh impetus into attacking through the middle. Gonalons flashed a shot wide on the edge of the box but the final phase of the game was set. Liverpool were deep and intent on exploting any chances on the counter while Roma knew time was running out to find the trio of goals they needed to prolong the match. EdF played his final joker by bringing on Primavera starlet Antonucci on as a straight like-for-like replacement for SES on the left wing. SES was Roma’s most threatening man on the night and gave absolutely all he had to give till his tank was running on empty.
Dzeko brought out an impressive save from Karius with his left foot shot before, at the other end, Alisson would get himself into an unnecessary duel with Salah to clear the ball but the Brazilian eventually took care of business.
Roma’s semi-final looked like it was drawing upon some familiar themes against an opposition sitting back: some decent to great buildup play but the final touch anywhere from 18 yards inside was missing. Schick found himself in the middle of the pitch with two men on him and outwitted them all, but the flicks and touches from Roma didn’t look like they were amounting to much and it was left to some brute force from Radja to redeem himself moments later.
86th Minute: Roma 3-2 Liverpool (Radja Nainggolan)
We talked this week about how Radja’s insanely hard goals from last season were just were not going in this season, and he reversed that spell here. The Belgian dynamo wound up his foot to whip in Kolarov’s layoff into the farside corner from well outside the box, and he finally broke his Champions League scoring duck. Then, like London buses, Nainggolan would only have to wait a few more moments into extra-time for another European goal from the spot.
90+4 Minutes: Roma 4-2 Liverpool (Radja Nainggolan)
The buildup to this penalty was a soft handball call, once Under flicked it onto the hand of Liverpool’s defender in the box. There was really no reaction time for the Liverpool man to even think about deliberately handling the ball. And the make-up call from the referee for the earlier non-call on Alexander-Arnold came way too late for Roma to do much about it, after Radja lifted his side to a 4-2 scoreline on the night.
While this tie ended with Liverpool just one goal ahead of Roma, and Roma inflicting Liverpool’s first Champions League defeat of this 2017-18 season, there was never enough time or enough of an edge for Roma to ramp up the pressure on their opponents tonight at the Olimpico.
There will be many ways to look at this result after it’s said and done: Did Di Francesco’s insistence on sticking to his own style of football in the first leg leave the team exposed, with too much to do on the return leg in Rome? Was the side’s mental collapse for a large spell in the first leg, conceeding three quick goals in the second half at Anfield, the fatal blow? Did too many contentious calls falling against Roma in the second leg ultimately prove decisive?
Roma’s mistakes in tonight’s game were also costly. Just conceeding one goal less would have seen the Lupi through, or continuing on their clean sheets at home would have been nice - and entirely possible had it not been for individual mistakes and refereeing errors.
At the same time, there was always a real struggle to find enough quality in this Roma side to contain Liverpool’s frontline whenever the match was in the balance, sometimes with the Reds stretching the Italian side at will. There will be plenty to learn from this match to shape Roma’s summer. Limits were hit and that’s only to be expected at this level. Grazie Roma was playing at the end of the night, but the applause from Totti was muted. The look on Pellegrini’s face one of disappointment and what-could-have-beens.
Perhaps the best way to sign off is with the message Roma were left with from their fans all the way back in 1984 after that Olimpico night against Liverpool - Grazie Lo Stesso.