Rome (AFP) – Liverpool reached the Champions League final for the first time in 11 years after a 7-6 aggregate win against Roma on Wednesday.
Here are three things we learned from the Reds’ dramatic 4-2 defeat in the semi-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico:
Dream comes true for Klopp
Inspired by dreams of restoring Liverpool to their former glory, Jurgen Klopp joined the Reds three years ago to experience unforgettable nights like this. By leading Liverpool to their eighth European Cup final, Klopp confirmed his reputation as a revolutionary with a unique skill for galvanising moribund teams.
Asked earlier this week what it would mean to set up a heavyweight showdown with holders Real Madrid in the final, Liverpool boss Klopp spoke eloquently about drawing on a youthful love of the game. “It is a childhood dream to make it to the Champions League final. We are here to fight for our dreams,” he said.
The moment Klopp realised he was about to achieve his ambition came in the 25th minute when Georginio Wijnaldum headed Liverpool’s second to leave Roma needing to score four. Usually so animated on the touchline, Klopp pumped his fists, but didn’t celebrate wildly.
Instead, he wore a beatific smile that suggested he knew the promised land was within sight. It was just reward for the coaching masterclass Klopp has delivered in this season’s Champions League. Having out-witted Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in the quarter-finals, Klopp — drawing on the knowledge gleaned from leading Borussia Dortmund to the 2013 final — out-manoeuvered Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco so emphatically in the first leg that even Roma’s late goal blitz in the return wasn’t enough to stop the Reds setting up a repeat of the 1981 final.
The five-time European champions were back at the venue where they won two of those trophies, but, while respectful of that glorious past, Klopp is focused on making history of his own. Now the Reds are one win away from joining the immortals.
Wijnaldum rises to the occasion
Georginio Wijnaldum claimed he had no problem resting in the build-up to Liverpool’s biggest match for a decade, but the ice-cool Dutch midfielder’s crucial contribution left Roma facing sleepless nights for weeks to come.
Wijnaldum was called up to replace Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who was ruled out with a serious knee injury sustained in the semi-final first leg, and he rose to the challenge with a composed display capped by Liverpool’s vital second goal.
With the match level at 1-1 and Roma eyeing a stunning fightback, Edin Dzeko inadvertently directed the ball back to Wijnaldum, who headed past Alisson before sprinting off to celebrate with the club’s head of fitness Andreas Kornmayer. No wonder Wijnaldum was so happy — it was his second goal of the season and his first since October.
It was the former Newcastle star’s first away goal in three years with his two English clubs. He was also the first Dutch scorer in a Champions League semi-final since 2013, when Arjen Robben netted for Bayern Munich.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice
Roma had staged one of the Champions League’s greatest fightbacks when they beat Barcelona 3-0 in the quarter-final second leg in the Stadio Olimpico to overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit.
Bidding to reach the European Cup final for the first time since their penalty shoot-out defeat against Liverpool in 1984, the Serie A side needed an early goal to emulate their Barca heroics. Desperate to fire up his players, Di Francesco had called for them to deliver “a copy and paste” of that astonishing performance.
But Di Francesco had been exposed as tactically naive with his decision to go for all-out attack in the first leg and it was no different this time as Roma were in tatters before half-time.
Roma were the only team not to concede a goal at home in the Champions League this season, yet within nine minutes Liverpool had torn through the hosts’ poorly organised defence. Throwing bodies forward far too soon, Roma were caught cold by Sadio Mane before more woeful defending allowed Wijnaldum to head Liverpool’s second. Despite a superb second-half response, that deficit was too much to overcome.