Touted in some quarters as the clash of the underdogs, Liverpool and Roma throw up an intriguing spectacle for the neutral.
The Reds were cast as early favourites at the time of the draw. However, as the first leg in the first semifinal of this season’s Champions League creeps ever closer, many people are starting to warn of the dangers in underestimating the Italian side.
This game will be Liverpool’s biggest match in almost 13 years and while success in it may not guarantee safe passage to Kiev next month, it will be a significant step for Jürgen Klopp’s side.
With so much at stake and plenty of high-drama sure to unfold on Merseyside, RealSport step back and take a look at three areas of the contest which could play a vital role in deciding the outcome.
1 Liverpool’s triumvirate vs Federico Fazio
With 82 goals and 32 assists between them so far this season, Liverpool’s attacking trio require little introduction. Mohamed Salah will garner much of the pre-game attention due to his link with Roma but Roberto Firmino has scored as many goals (8) in this competition as the Egyptian while Sadio Mané is only one strike behind.
What makes them so threatening is the pace and fluidity with which they attack. Firmino’s use as a false nine will either mean he finds space or soaks up a dedicated marker which itself can open space for his pacey colleagues. Sitting in the heart of Roma’s defence is one player they are likely to target in this way.
Federico Fazio has definite qualities he brings to the side. However, pace is not one of them. How he’s able to cope with the speed and interplay of Liverpool’s front line will be critical to Roma’s gameplan.
The ex-Tottenham defender has a great aerial presence for Roma which can nullify any crosses from marauding wing-backs but it’s on the ground where he will be severely tested over these coming two ties.
2 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain vs Daniele De Rossi
From the fringes of Arsenal’s squad to a key element in Liverpool’s current set-up, Oxlade-Chamberlain has grown impressively during his eight months at Anfield. Not only will Roma need to handle the three red forwards bearing down on their goal, Chamberlain too is likely to drive at their box from central midfield.
His thunderous strike against Manchester City in the last round highlighted his ability for shooting, however, he’s also developing an eye for a pass. An assist in each of his previous two Premier League appearances is signalling an increased maturity in his game but it’s consistency which he needs to bring to enhance his reputation although a big performance against Roma will certainly help achieve that too.
Shielding Roma’s defence from the central areas will be a rare thing in modern football. Similar to former Roma legend Francesco Totti, De Rossi has spent his entire senior career wearing the red and gold of the Romans. While his 34 years of age should seemingly count against him, the Roma captain was in inspired form as they rallied back against Barcelona.
De Rossi's energy and determination in pressing the attacking players were balanced by a coolly-taken penalty which atoned for the unfortunate own-goal he conceded in their first leg meeting. He may not be able to produce this type of performance every week, however, the Italian was rested in last weekend’s win over SPAL and should be ready for action on Tuesday evening.
3 Jordan Henderson vs Radja Nainggolan
Henderson’s return to form of late, coupled with the injury of Emre Can, is likely to see the England midfielder play in the base of Liverpool’s midfield.
Having quietly and efficiently gone about his job in recent months, Henderson has stopped receiving criticism for his displays but still largely goes unrewarded for his efforts. A big performance on a big stage is exactly what he needs and in facing Nainggolan he will have a platform to showcase his talents.
Roma’s midfield is arguably their greatest asset and Nainggolan is the jewel in that midfield crown. Having recently talked of Liverpool being warrior-like opponents, the Belgian is equally fitting of his own description. As one of the current game’s greatest box-to-box midfielders, Roma have a player who is capable of dragging his team on to greater things.
Henderson will need to be at his best to avert this threat while he will likely receive little time to settle on the ball due to Nainggolan’s high pressing. As a match-up which is also likely to unfold between England and Belgium in the World Cup this summer, this battle also takes on a greater significance in the wider scheme of things.
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