Liverpool secured an emphatic 5-2 victory at Anfield in the first-leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final clash versus AS Roma on Tuesday night. Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco tried to take a unique approach to stop the Reds counter-pressing by opting for a 3-4-2-1 formation and adopting to press the home team high up the pitch in the early stages of the game. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp decided to trust his usual suspects and played the same team that demolished Manchester City at Anfield with a 3-0 scoreline, a few weeks ago.
Klopp decided to stick with his favoured 4-3-3 formation versus the Romans and opted for an all-English midfield. The German wanted to deploy hard-working players at the centre of the park so that they can press the away side into making mistakes while providing enough cover for the Reds backline. The Liverpool defence and attack almost picked itself due to the recent form of those players.
Di Francesco decided to opt for an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation and deployed similar tactics to what Liverpool are used to, in the early stages of the contest. He put his faith on the 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under in place of Diego Perotti in his starting eleven. However, the rest of his team was the same group of players who were part of the memorable 3-0 victory at Rome against Barcelona which sealed their progression to the semi-finals of Europe’s premier cup competition.
AS Roma’s high defensive line and territorial dominance
The away side kept a high defensive line in the early stages of the game and pressed Liverpool high up the pitch to maintain some territorial dominance. They managed to keep Klopp’s side quiet up until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s unfortunate injury. In the meantime, Aleksandar Kolarov hit the post with a powerful strike which Loris Karius almost deflected into his own net. The Reds tried to use the pace of their front three but the Roman defence did enough to withstand the pressure.
Both Radja Nainggolan and Cengiz Under drifted inside which forced the Liverpool back four to play narrow while the AS Roma wingbacks pushed on, in the empty space down the flanks.
Liverpool’s comeback: Milner’s role change and full-backs pushing up the pitch
Jurgen Klopp’s side withstood the early Roman dominance and decided to make a few tactical changes after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had to go off because of a serious injury. James Milner played in a deep-lying defensive role, almost making it a back three to stop the trio of Nainggolan, Dzeko and Under from causing problems in the final third. Meanwhile, the Reds full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson started making runs in the opposition half, which forced Kolarov and Florenzi to drop back and allow Liverpool to dominate possession.
Sadio Mane missed a glorious chance for Liverpool in the 27th minute and squandered another great opportunity just two minutes later. The home team finally made a breakthrough courtesy of their Egyptian superstar Mohamed Salah in the 35th minute when he curled home an unstoppable shot from just inside the box.
Salah used his pace once again as Roma kept playing a high defensive line. The 25-year-old winger capitalised in the first half injury time when he found the back of the net once again to put Liverpool in a commanding position at half-time.
Same story in the second half: More Liverpool dominance and goals galore!!
Klopp’s side kept exploiting Roma’s high defensive line in the second half and scored three goals in a blistering 12-minute spell to put AS Roma all but out of the contest. The away team got outnumbered inside their own box due to the remarkable pace of the Liverpool counter-attacks.
AS Roma fight-back: Salah substitution and Roma shifting to a back four
Jurgen Klopp decided to substitute Salah after witnessing his side go 5-0 up which meant that Liverpool lacked pace and precision up top. AS Roma responded by reverting to a back four in defence which helped them dominate possession.
The new 4-3-3 formation helped Roma cope with the Reds attacks with ease and launch their own counter-attacks.
Roma found a way back into the match due to some ‘school-boy defending’ from Dejan Lovren which let Dzeko in for a clever finish.
The Italian outfit scored another goal just four minutes later when Diego Perotti converted from the penalty spot after James Milner handled a goal-bound shot from Nainggolan. The two away goals will give Roma some hope that they can mount another remarkable comeback at the Stadio Olimpico next week.
Only time will tell whether Di Francesco’s side could replicate a similar kind of performance that they put up in their home tie against Barcelona to stop the rampant Liverpool team from progressing into the final of the UEFA Champions League next week.
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