Football’s crazy isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just Liverpool Football Club. Barely a week after I wrote extolling the Reds’ new found defensive solidity they ship no fewer than four goals in the space of five days – all in the last ten minutes of two games they seemed to be winning easily.
It’s the kind of late game collapse that leaves lingering doubts about Jurgen Klopp’s team. Roma’s two late goals took some shine off a superb Liverpool performance at Anfield and gives the Italian team some hope for Wednesday’s second leg.
Following on the two late goals they conceded in throwing away two points at West Brom four days earlier – to be fair, they started without three of their regular back four – it’s somewhat understandable why questions are being asked about Liverpool’s ability to hold on to their three-goal advantage and reach the Champions League final for the first time in 11 years.
Are these fears justified though? I mean, a three-goal lead is not insurmountable but that kind of margin in a Champions League semi-final is tantamount to having one foot in the final.
I know it’s partly down to recent history. Roma’s very recent history, that is. After all, it took a 3-0 second leg trouncing of Barcelona, no less, to get them through the quarter finals on away goals (they lost 1-4 at Nou Camp) and it’s eerie that they find themselves in the exact same situation ahead of another second leg match at the Stadio Olimpico.
The good news for Roma is that they’ve been in this position before and triumphed. They’ve done it before so they believe they can do it again.
Yet, the bad news for Roma is exactly that: they’ve done it before – and everybody knows it. That element of surprise is now gone and whatever trace of complacency Liverpool might have brought to Rome is out the window. If those two late goals at Anfield hadn’t seen to that, Roma’s recent accomplishment most certainly would. Klopp’s team will be as focused as they have shown they can be on their way to this most unlikely of last four appearances.
Let’s remember; Liverpool went into their round of 16 tie against Porto with doubts about their defending. Not only did they go through without conceding a goal, they put five past the Portuguese champions on their own turf at the Dragao, where they hadn’t lost a single game this season.
Likewise, the same doubts preceded their quarter final clash with Man City – and persisted even after their commanding 3-0 win at Anfield. Going by all the second leg previews, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was in Manchester – rather than Rome – that many in the media had expected to see a three-goal turnover. Yet, City, with all the creative nous and firepower at their disposal only managed three shots on target over the 180 minutes.
And that’s the other thing; Roma have every right to feel emboldened after reversing a three-goal deficit to beat a very good Barcelona side – still unbeaten in La Liga this season. But Liverpool have recent history to draw on too. Indeed, they should have even more cause for optimism after successfully defending and extending a three-goal lead against an excellent City team that – in addition to setting new standards for attacking excellence – is well on course to break Premier League records for wins, goals and points this season. It was a performance that belies all the doubts about Liverpool defending.
Jurgen Klopp knows about doubts though. He arrived Anfield in October 2015 on a mission to “change doubters to believers”.
Thirty months on, his team looks well poised to ride those lingering doubts all the way to the Champions League Final.