Thursday 13 December 2018

Liverpool tantalisingly close to Champions League final after dream Roma draw

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane

Sam Wallace

Unquestionably the semi-final opponent whom Liverpool would have preferred, Roma are 15 places below them in the Deloitte Money League, a club with less than half the annual revenue and who – perhaps most crucially – sold Liverpool their best player in the summer.

There is no question where Roma stand relative to Liverpool in the hierarchy of European football, even before one goes back to that final of 1984 when Liverpool beat them in Rome. They are a club, like Liverpool, who have punched above their weight with good acquisitions and a bright manager. Roma have eliminated Barcelona and have in Edin Dzeko, exactly the kind of striker that Manchester City needed in their quarter-final against Liverpool. But in this tie, Jurgen Klopp’s team are the favourites.

It was the other way around for Liverpool against City and it will be interesting to see how the reversal affects them. One suspects that Klopp will not change, opting to overwhelm Roma if he can in the early stages of the tie – especially since the first leg is at Anfield. As the game with City proved, Liverpool are now very dangerous when they have the advantage. Only Liverpool won home and away in the quarter-finals and for all Roma’s Barcelona heroics, Liverpool feel like the form team in the last four.

They also have Mohamed Salah, bought from Roma in the summer, and a revelation in English football. The Egyptian looks capable of scoring against any team against whom he plays.

Shortly before the draw, Bayern Munich made the announcement that Niko Kovac, their former player and currently Eintracht Frankfurt manager, will take over from Jupp Heynckes next season. The Croat’s appointment as the next Bayern manager had been revealed by Bild newspaper in Germany and the club must have decided that the time had come to show their hand. Heynckes is some caretaker manager. Like their semi-final opponents Real Madrid, Bayern have a great deal of experience at this level.

But both sides looked off the pace in their second leg games in the quarter-finals. Both just seem to progress in Europe despite blips in their form. Madrid have eliminated Bayern in 2014 and 2017. For now Zinedine Zidane just seems to live a charmed life in the competition. In this instance Madrid at least have an opponent who will not feel intimidated by the history of the reigning champions.

Prediction for final: Liverpool v Bayern Munich

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