Sunday 26 January 2020

Stephen Hunt: Between Klopp and the Kop, Liverpool have the beating of Roma

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Stephen Hunt

Roma may have been the draw Liverpool supporters wanted, but there is no danger of complacency with Jurgen Klopp. He will be well aware of the dangers posed by Italian opposition - just look at what Roma did to Barcelona. Look at what Juventus did to Tottenham. They don't know when they're beaten.

The Anfield crowd and the incredible atmosphere they generate on a European night will undoubtedly take over again on Tuesday. There is every possibility that it will have the same impact it did on Manchester City and Liverpool might well blow Roma out of the tie in the first leg.

Not all games will follow the same pattern as that 3-0 win over Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions in the first leg of the quarter-final at Anfield, but there are goals in this Liverpool team, especially with that noise behind them, and the front three are the best in Europe at the moment.

But Italian teams love a tight, difficult game. They will be looking to keep the score down, exploit the weaknesses in the Liverpool backline and grab an away goal. This will be a totally different challenge to the Man City game because the Roma players will not run at Liverpool with the ball or at pace. Rather they will use more subtle means to play through them, relying on knock-downs and set-pieces. And they never give up.

It will be a different type of physical battle for the Liverpool boys so there is a different kind of concentration required.

Klopp will be keen to keep everything the same as usual, but he will not want his players to be too relaxed ahead of these two massive games, even if fourth place is just about secure now. He will want to switch off their muscles as much as possible and just keep them ticking over, while supplying them with little snippets of information on the Roma players.

Other than James Milner, I can't see any of the Liverpool players sitting down every Sunday to watch a Serie A game live and until the draw was made, I suspect most of them knew very little about Roma, their players, and style of play. They will have done their homework now though and watched the Barcelona games.

Klopp knows how his team can play, so he won't be worrying about that side of things too much, but he likes to give players information about the players they are going to come up against, which is what every manager should be like.

I used to love it when I was given a little piece of information about the direct opponent I would be facing. Steve Coppell enjoyed giving support to his players by passing on something which would plant a seed, often the day before a game.

It might be a weakness in a particular part of an opponent's game which you can exploit, or whether he is strong or weak on his left or right foot. It might be a strength you need to be aware of, particularly if that might expose one or your weaknesses. You don't want to go into a game full of fear, but you do want vital information on your opponent.

The younger players in the Liverpool team probably don't particularly care about the Roma players. Because they are playing so well at the moment, they have nothing to fear about attacking any of the teams left in the competition.

The Anfield roar will ensure that the Liverpool players are up for the game from the start, but it will be useful to have those snippets as it progresses and they get more familiar with a group of players they don't see on Match of the Day every week.

Roma are no mugs, they showed that against Barcelona, who they bullied out of the Champions League. They deserve respect for what they did that night. They outplayed Barcelona and while I don't think they can do that to Liverpool, especially not at Anfield, it is the one thing Klopp's team must be wary of.

Roma win games by being direct or predictable. When Manchester City score against a team, you sit back and applaud the way they open up their opponents. When Roma score you wonder, 'How did they do that?' It is often from a lapse in concentration or a defender falling asleep for a split second.

Edin Dzeko is a physical handful of a centre-forward who comes alive in the penalty box and is good at winning free-kicks. I expect him to try to play on Dejan Lovren at every opportunity on crosses. Virgil van Dijk should recognise this danger and go to head it because Dzeko has the beating of Lovren in the air.

There is no doubt Van Dijk has already made a difference. It helps that the 'keeper, Karius, looks more solid and less dodgy. Van Dijk's presence must have helped. He is a man mountain of a centre-back who is very good on the ball, plays with pace, looks in control with or without the ball, and although it looks almost too easy for him, it is all about his high levels of concentration

This is going to be a huge night for Mo Salah and he will have to handle the emotion of playing against his former club. Because no matter what they say, it is always emotional playing against a club you've recently left, especially if you had an affinity with the place and the supporters.

Ideally, I am sure he would prefer to come up against a left-back who wasn't there when he was a Roma player. How do we know he won't be playing against one of his best friends in football? I am sure he would much rather be facing Roma in the final, rather than the man who will be trying to stop them getting there.

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