“We don’t have to be the best team in the world, we just have to be able to beat the best”. Some may consider this statement a paradox, but this quote exemplifies Jurgen Klopp’s unique charisma and exuberant passion that has galvanized both the fans and players of Liverpool FC. Currently in 3rd place on the Premier League table, the Reds have had a mostly positive domestic term. They have scored the second-most league goals with 80, held a clean sheet in nearly every other league match since mid-January, and most recently, winger Mohamed Salah Ghaly was awarded the PFA Player of the Year for a historic season that has included a record-tying 31 goals and counting.
Even more impressive however has been Liverpool’s 2017-18 European campaign. After flying past the group stage and making major statements in the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals against Porto and Manchester City respectively, Liverpool have found themselves 180 minutes from the Champions League Final.
This is the third time in the last five Champions League seasons that a Premier League club has reached the semifinals. Liverpool have the chance to be the first English club to play in the Final since 2011-12 when Chelsea lifted the coveted European Cup. However, as has happened three times previously in European competition, the wolves of Roma are standing in their way.
In Il Giallorossi’s dream-like 3-0 defeat of Barcelona in the second leg of the quarterfinals, manager Eusebio Di Francesco organized a high pressing, do-or-die style of play, which led to mistakes from Barcelona’s defense and goals from Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi, and Konstantinos Manolas. This is similar to the gegenpressing that Jurgen Klopp’s sides are often known for.
Klopp and Di Francesco not only have similar tactics but are similar in character. They were both hard-working, versatile players; Klopp a physical striker turned defender at Mainz, Di Francesco an indefatigable midfielder for clubs throughout Italy. As managers, they are both energetic along the touch-line, and accept that the game of football is fluid. All these factors make this matchup extremely intriguing in many analysts’ eyes, as neither has really met a club quite like the other.
Because of this, the deciding factor could come down to individual performances. While Roma have many quality players capable of putting out impressive displays of skill such as Cengiz Under, Radja Nainggolan, or Dzeko, Liverpool’s Salah, a former wearer of the yellow and red, is the likely candidate to achieve this.
Salah’s landmark season at Liverpool is no fluke. Despite being known by many Premier League fans pre-2017-18 as a stereotypical ‘Chelsea flop’, the Egyptian had multiple successful spells in Italy at both Fiorentina and Roma. His speed down the right flank, along with excellent dribbling skills, allowed him to excel in counter-attacks developed from the catenaccio style many Italian clubs utilized. Additionally, though he is currently deployed as a right winger, Salah began his youth football career at the opposite position on the pitch: left back. All these moments throughout his career have molded Mohamed Salah into a picture-perfect match for Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing system.
Just three seasons ago, the headlines for this matchup would’ve read something along the lines of “Il Re di Roma vs. Captain Fantastic”, in reference to the two clubs’ legendary icons Francesco Totti and Steven Gerrard. Now, even with Salah’s remarkable form taken into consideration, it is more the collective effort of the clubs as a whole that has taken them this far.
Liverpool players and coaches can’t get complacent simply because it isn’t a PSG or Bayern Munich- Roma made it out of one of the toughest Champions League groups this season that included Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, and defeated Barcelona in the quarterfinals. Nothing less than a superb team implementation and execution of the manager’s plans will get Liverpool to within reach of glory.
Writer: Will Sinsky
Photo: Getty Images