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03 May 2018

Liverpool deserve to be in the Champions League final

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When in Rome

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Lucky draw

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Verdict

REUTERS/Max Rossi

Look at the aggregate score and it would be easy to think Liverpool qualified by the skin of their teeth against Roma in their Champions League semi-final. 7-6 flatters the Italian side, though. 

The Reds were not without their defensive calamities: an unfortunate James Milner own goal and two dubious penalties went the way of Roma, but the tie was all about Liverpool’s attacking quality.

Sceptical onlookers complain about Liverpool’s good fortune in this edition of the Champions League. A group containing Spartak Moscow, Maribor and Sevilla posed no issue for Jurgen Klopp’s team. Porto, Manchester City and now Roma then fell victim to Liverpool in the knockout stages. 

Liverpool’s opponent’s in Kiev, Real Madrid, have had a much more difficult run on paper. After qualifying second in a group containing Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia, they have triumphed against Paris Saint Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. 

Liverpool, though, have reached the final in a much more convincing fashion.

When in Rome

Roma had not conceded a single goal at home in the Champions League this season until Mo Salah and Co. visited the Stadio Olimpico. 

It took Sadio Mane less than 10 minutes to silence the home crowd and force Alisson Becker to pick the ball out of his own net before Georginio Wijnaldum headed in a second 15 minutes later.

Roma’s defensive record at home was no fluke. The Giallorossi hosted Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona (as well as Azerbaijani minnows Qarabag) before their semi-final. 

For the Italians to shut out the likes of Griezmann and Messi over multiple games only serves to highlight the potency of the Liverpool strikers on Wednesday night. 

Reuters/John Sibley

To accuse the Merseyside club of luck would be naïve. It is not just that they netted twice, but the ease with which their goals were scored. Mane’s opener resulted from a clever through ball from Roberto Firmino, giving the Senegalese acres of space before slotting past the goalkeeper. 

Wijnaldum’s goal was more fortuitous, heading home from a poor defensive clearance, but Liverpool kept creating chances throughout the game. For all of Barcelona’s attacking talent, they never seriously threatened Alisson’s goal in their quarter-final second leg.

Klopp’s men benefited from a few fortuitous offside calls but equally suffered from controversial penalty decisions as two handballs were awarded in Roma’s favour.

In their prior knockout ties, Liverpool swept Porto aside without breaking a sweat and defeated Premier League champions Manchester City home and away, winning 5-1 on aggregate.

Lucky draw

Compare Liverpool and Real Madrid’s roads to the final, and it is clear which is the one you would rather take. 

Real Madrid are the dominant force in continental football this decade, but this season they have not shown the ruthlessness that has defined them in recent years. After finishing second to Spurs in the group stage, they cruised past PSG but made tough work of beating the Italian and German champions.

A 3-0 win in Turin looked to be enough to see Zinedine Zidane through into the semi-final, but Juventus almost deservedly spoiled the party in the Santiago Bernabeu before Cristiano Ronaldo saved Real Madrid’s blushes in the last minute of normal time. 

REUTERS/Juan Medina

In the semi-final, Real Madrid once again took an away lead from the first leg. This time, they were fortunate to be ahead and were even more fortunate that Sven Ulreich lost concentration for a few seconds, gifting a goal out of nothing to Los Blancos in the second leg. Bayern Munich had an xG of 4.9 against Real Madrid’s 2.8, making their 3-4 defeat even more difficult to take.

Additionally, Bayern could have easily been awarded a penalty for a handball against Marcelo, but the referees did not spot the infringement. 

Real Madrid have been lucky, but so are all sides that eventually lift the Champions League. In their quarter-final and semi-final, they advanced by the smallest of margins, and did so despite being the inferior side for long periods.

Liverpool have also been fortunate, but more in the fixtures they have drawn from the hat. They swept Porto aside with ease, overcame Manchester City beating them home and away, and beat Roma, scoring twice against the meanest home defence in the competition.

Verdict

Ultimately, every team that reaches the Champions League deserves to be there, like it or not. 

Liverpool have set several goal scoring records this campaign, including becoming the first side to score five or more goals in four Champions League fixtures. Real Madrid have bulldozed their way to Kiev by hook or by crook, like the winners they are.

Have they been lucky? Yes. Are they any luckier than previous winners? No. The two teams aren’t even the best to compete in the tournament this year. 

Manchester City will almost certainly beat the Premier League points record and Barcelona are on the cusp of becoming unbeaten over an entire La Liga season.  

But that doesn’t matter. Liverpool and Real Madrid will play on 26th May to decide who lifts the Champions League trophy and both of them deserve to fight for it.

What do you think? Have Liverpool been lucky? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.