Liverpool snuff out Roma comeback as Karius outshines Alisson to reach UCL final
ROME -- Three quick thoughts from Roma's 4-2 Champions League semifinal second-leg win over Liverpool, which sees the Reds advance 7-6 on aggregate, setting up a final date with Real Madrid in Kiev.
1. Liverpool move on to reach eighth European Cup final
Georginio Wijnaldum scored his first away goal for three years to help Liverpool secure their eighth Champions League final appearance with a 7-6 aggregate semifinal victory against AS Roma.
Wijnaldum, whose last goal away from home came in PSV Eindhoven's colours in May 2015, banished any fears of a Roma fightback Wednesday in the Stadio Olimpico by putting Liverpool 2-1 ahead on the night after a James Milner own goal had cancelled out Sadio Mane's ninth-minute opener. Edin Dzeko's equaliser on 52 minutes gave Roma an outside chance of repeating their quarterfinal heroics against Barcelona, but Liverpool resisted heavy pressure from the home side -- and rode their luck at times -- to snuff out the Italians' hopes before Radja Nainggolan's late brace gave Roma a 4-2 win on the night.
Liverpool's 5-2 victory at Anfield in the first leg was the key to their progression to the final, but their second-half defending in Rome will be a concern to Jurgen Klopp ahead of the final against Real Madrid in Kiev.
Roma created countless chances and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty after a Trent Alexander-Arnold handball that pushed Stephan El Shaarawy's close-range effort over the crossbar. On another night, Liverpool could have conceded more, and their frailties cannot be repeated against Real on May 26 if they are to win a sixth European Cup.
But Klopp has guided the club to the final, and their forward line of Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino ensure they will travel to Ukraine with confidence. It might turn out to be a case of the team with the best defence on the night winning this season's Champions League.
2. Karius might have seen off the threat of Alisson
This semifinal has been a tale of two goalkeepers, but the script hasn't quite turned out as many would have anticipated.
Ahead of the first leg at Anfield, much of the talk surrounded Roma's Alisson Becker, the Brazil No. 1 who has been linked to both Liverpool and Real Madrid in recent months. Good enough to be keeping Manchester City's Ederson out of the Brazil team, Alisson was highlighted as one of Roma's strong points -- a key factor if they were to make it to the final.
In contrast, Liverpool's Loris Karius was the man under pressure, with Alisson's shadow looming over him at Anfield. The German has seen off Simon Mignolet to become Liverpool's first choice, but he is still prone to errors and that is why Klopp has been urged to sign a proven replacement.
On the evidence of the two legs of this semifinal, though, Karius is improving rapidly and growing in confidence. Although he could have done better with the shot that he palmed out to Dzeko for Roma's second, Karius was otherwise commanding and assured.
Alisson, meanwhile, did little to stem the Liverpool tide and did not cover himself in glory at Anfield or in this game. The Brazilian does not command his area as a keeper of his stature should, and he commits himself too early, which might have been a factor in Mane's opener in this game.
His film-star looks might remind one of a matinee idol, but as a supposedly world-class goalkeeper his performance has been decidedly B-list.
3. Roma can be a force, but they aren't yet
Roma overachieved by reaching the semifinals of the Champions League, and the Stadio Olimpico will never forget the incredible win against Barcelona in the quarterfinals. But their exit against Liverpool exposed the Giallorossi's limitations and highlighted the work that needs to be done to make them a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League.
The noisy, passionate atmosphere inside the stadium is a big advantage that Roma can play to in future campaigns, but the team is not yet on the same level.
Eusebio Di Francesco's squad is too old to challenge for the European Cup. They have the ability to pull off a result like the one against Barcelona, but sustaining that throughout a season is beyond this crop of players.
Yet with their vocal supporters and the money raised from this Champions League campaign, Roma can grow stronger and aim to mount a genuine threat to Juventus in Serie A. That will become a real target once they build their proposed new stadium.
Once they become a title-winning force in Italy, Roma can become a European heavyweight, but it will take time.
Their run to the semifinals will have given Roma a taste for more glory nights, and they certainly have the capacity for growth in the coming years.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_