In the highest scoring Champions League semi-final of all time Liverpool secured their place in the final. Here’s five things we learned from this enthralling second leg of the tie.
The Way to Play Away?
For years, Liverpool’s away form had been a hinderance but this season has been a big step forward for them. Up until the latter portion of the game Liverpool had managed it excellently.
Liverpool clearly arrived with a game plan to soak up the pressure and then launch quick counter-attacks when possible. These are very similar tactics to the ones they used in the away leg against Manchester City. The plan had been performed to perfection for most of the game.
With around 30 minutes to go Liverpool decided to mix up their tactics. They fluently moved between their starting formation, 4-3-3, to 4-1-4-1 and later 5-3-2. Deviating from the starting formation restricted Liverpool’s opportunities to counter and it nearly backfired after Roma were able to take a 4-2 lead on the night.
Liverpool seem to have solved their problems away from home but still have some way to go. They have the capability to be excellent away but still have much work to do on reciprocating to opposition tactical changes.
Roma struggled to create clear-cut chances for much of the game and it may be due to the fluidity of their play. When at home it is usual to see teams push forward and have all outfield players except centre backs contribute to offensive play but that wasn’t always the case for Roma.
Eusebio Di Francesco seemed to instruct a very structured approach to Roma’s play. They kept it very simple with the main aim to get the ball out wide and cross to the forwards. However, the problem with this is that it made it very easy for Liverpool to focus on individual aspects of Roma’s play and neutralise it.
In the latter stages of the game Roma finally decided to play a more fluid game. The wing-backs got much further forward whilst the wingers played closer to the goal. Meanwhile, the midfield made much more frequent late runs in to the box and it payed dividends.
It would of course turn out to be too little too late.
Movement of Mané
Sadio Mané turned in a performance of outstanding quality when it mattered for Liverpool. His movement around the pitch caused havoc for the Roma defence and he got a deserved goal.
One of the main reasons for Mané’s quality was his ability to confuse his marker. Since the winger joined Liverpool he has gradually become a player that can score from any angle and any opportunity.
That ability was on full display against Roma as he was able to comfortably play on both his left foot and right foot. He was also able to drop deeper and defend then execute brilliant runs forward where the defence would back off for fear of misjudging the tackle.
The Case for VAR
One of the big talking points of the game will be whether Roma should have had more than one penalty. Their biggest claims came as Karius appeared to foul Džeko in the box after he was wrongly flagged for outside and later as Alexander-Arnold clearly denied Roma a goal with the use of his hand.
UEFA have made it clear that they will not be supporting the use of VAR for now and that the additional official behind the goal is adequate. This game is likely to question whether that is the correct stance to take going forward.
Whilst opinions on VAR are incredibly divided, one thing that can be agreed upon is that the officials made some clear errors in this match. If VAR was to be introduced it’s difficult to see how the number of errors won’t be reduced. However, as tests of VAR have proven, even with the use of the technology some referees are still making questionable decisions.
Whether or not UEFA decide to introduce VAR in the future or not it is clear that something needs to be done to reduce the amount of errors made by match officials.
Karius Coming of Age
Speculation as to who should be Liverpool’s goalkeeper has been going on for years. Simon Mignolet was originally brought in to be the Liverpool ‘keeper for a decade or so. However, his performances were not up to scratch and as such he was replaced by Loris Karius. The German ‘keeper struggled though and was subsequently dropped.
Now, with Loris Karius reinstated as Liverpool’s first choice ‘keeper he has been showing why he was the upgrade on Mignolet that Liverpool so desperately needed. Barring a tendency to push the ball out to dangerous areas occasionally he has been excellent.
Despite his good recent form, Liverpool have been strongly linked with Roma’s goalkeeper Allison. With a record fee for a goalkeeper being rumoured should Liverpool sign the Roma ‘keeper, it may not actually be all that worth it.
Compared to his opposite number, Loris Karius didn’t seem to be far off of Allison in terms of quality across the two ties. If Liverpool are willing to splash the cash on a new goalkeeper they would be better placed looking at a player like Atletico’s Jan Oblak.