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 By Steven Kelly

Chaotic Liverpool's awesome attack undermined by more defensive mishaps

Liverpool's Champions League final hopes remain strong, but their leaky defence is a concern.
Liverpool's Champions League final hopes remain strong, but their leaky defence is a concern.

Liverpool's semifinal tie with AS Roma should be over.

They can still reach their ninth European Cup final -- their third in the Champions League format -- and probably will, but instead of absolute certainty there is doubt once again.

With any other team capable of such breath-taking attacking football -- and there's just a few in the world, club or international level -- it would be over, but this is Liverpool; specifically, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. Exhilarating and infuriating.

Can you name another team that could score five goals and whose fans then end up whistling furiously for the referee to end the game?

Yes, it was only a first leg and everyone knows what Roma are capable of on their own ground, but such was the nervousness triggered by the Reds' late stumble that it was obvious supporters expected a previously timid Roma to score every time they came forward.

It happens too often for comfort. Last season, Bournemouth won a match 4-3 after being 3-1 down with 15 minutes to go. This season Liverpool were three up at Sevilla and ended up drawing the game. 

Over the next week fans will rev up the confidence and go into the second leg convinced it can be won.

It's all a smokescreen. In the back of everyone's mind is the knowledge that Liverpool could blow this. As exciting as this team clearly is, they really put their fans through the wringer.

The levels in Serie A may not be what they once were but such a hammering rarely happens to an Italian side in Europe. They were taken apart and if Sadio Mane had been on top of his game there might have been a record Champions League score-line.

Given this was a semifinal against a team that just knocked out Barcelona, it was an extraordinary performance.

People may say Roma also conceded four at the Camp Nou but there were moments of fortune for the Catalonian giants. ESPN's Gab Marcotti tweeted as much, claiming this was a completely different game although the score was similar.

Now, Roma can go through again with another 3-0 win. You can say lightning doesn't strike twice but this is a chaotic, whirlwind Champions League tournament where anything can happen and already has.

Roma's two late away goals at Anfield gives them a glimmer of hope for the second leg.
Roma's two late away goals at Anfield gives them a glimmer of hope for the second leg.

Liverpool's Fab Three forward line scored all the goals again. Together they've racked up an incredible 88 in all competitions. Even Paris Saint Germain's magical trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani cannot match that, despite playing in a weaker league.

An individual season like Salah's happens once in a generation and yet incredibly Liverpool might still not be playing in the Champions League next season. It's insane, and so exasperating.

A lack of defensive solidity is clearly to blame. There were warning signs on Saturday against relegation certainties West Brom and this isn't the first time Liverpool have come under the cosh late in games.

Injuries are tying Klopp's hands in terms of rotating the squad and an early knock to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on Tuesday did not look good. Using the same players continuously must surely be tiring.

Liverpool are still favourites to get a top four place in the Premier League while also reaching the Champions League final.

Over confidence in how this team can just get whatever goals they require could be damaging however, as it was during Brendan Rodgers' title surge in 2014.

Few cared if the Reds conceded two, they'd just score three. There were few qualms if they let three in, they could even score six as they once did against Cardiff City.

When it mattered most however, costly mistakes took a long-awaited title away from Liverpool.

Roma beat Barcelona 3-0 in the second leg to reach the semis and a similar result against Liverpool would be enough.
Roma beat Barcelona 3-0 in the second leg to reach the semis and a similar result against Liverpool would be enough.

Can Klopp fix these lapses? Does he even want to? The big money defensive signing Virgil van Dijk is already having moments of carelessness so it cannot be blamed on the personnel, although those who do so saw yet another error from Dejan Lovren against Roma as more proof.

Some may regard it as the price worth paying for such tremendous excitement at the other end. Others will claim such brilliance simply cannot camouflage the unreliability at the other end forever.

All forwards have an off day. Everyone in Liverpool's forward line had one against Manchester United recently, though some praised Jose Mourinho's so-called masterplan as the cause.

If they were to fire blanks at the Stadio Olimpico in a week's time it wouldn't generally matter if your team already leads by three goals.

That's if the rest of the team is fully capable of doing their job. The team that conceded three goals in one half against Sevilla, Arsenal and West Brom in the FA Cup has needed rescuing by its forwards countless times.

It would be nice if defence could return the favour in Rome next week, but few would bet on it.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.

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