Liverpool must keep their heads and avoid complacency at Roma
Liverpool's stunning first leg performance against Roma has put them in a commanding position for the return leg of their Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.
The Reds looked to be on the brink of booking their place in the final there when they raced into a 5-0 lead at Anfield with the likelihood of more goals to come, but they dropped their intensity after the substitution of Mohamed Salah and conceded two late goals to give Roma a flicker of hope.
The Italians will have been mightily relieved to escape with just a three-goal deficit from a game in which they could easily have conceded double figures. Roma were shambolic on the night, and a rampant Liverpool ran all over them. Unless there is a drastic change in approach from Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco, it's difficult to see how Wednesday's game will be much different.
Roma pulled off a miracle in overcoming a 4-1 first leg deficit to shock mighty Barcelona in the past round, but aside from the belief it may give their players and fans, it has little relevance for this game because Barcelona and Liverpool are vastly different beasts.
Jurgen Klopp alluded to it in his comments at full time after the first leg. Barcelona have been so successful for so long they probably didn't believe it was possible for them to lose a 4-1 lead. Complacency undoubtedly played a part. Barca have gotten fat and lazy, whereas Liverpool should, should, be lean and hungry.
Liverpool have not earned the right to be complacent as they do not have that recent track record of being successful. They are still searching for their first trophy under Klopp, and given their habit of throwing away leads in recent years, they ought to be well on their guard in Rome.
The Merseysiders should not be complacent but they should be extremely confident as so far their performances in the knockout stages have been remarkable. Porto were beaten 5-0 over two legs, Manchester City were beaten 5-1 and they now have a 5-2 advantage over Roma going into the second leg. Klopp's side have looked hungry, energetic, determined and powerful, and so far nobody has been able to live with them.
Liverpool's style of play is vastly different to Barcelona's and is ideally suited to playing with a lead. Barcelona won't go from one penalty area to the other in three passes. Their approach is much more measured and that allowed Roma to play higher up the pitch and chase the game.
If you play high against Liverpool you'd better be close to perfect in possession because as soon as you lose it, you're in trouble. That was what happened in the first leg as the Reds completely bypassed the midfield and repeatedly played early balls into the acres of space behind the Roma backline. The Italians lack pace at the back and Liverpool's forward players ran riot.
That is the fear Roma must live with as they chase the game. Liverpool can go from one penalty area to the other in the blink of an eye. Their second goal in the first leg came from a Roma attack. Virgil van Dijk cleared a cross, Salah produced a wonderful first time layoff to Roberto Firmino and suddenly Roma were in big trouble. Firmino carried the ball forward before giving it back to the Egyptian who finished expertly. Just like that, three passes, one penalty area to another, goal.
Roma know what they need to do and they know they have done it before, but the same is true for Liverpool. They went to Manchester City with a three-goal lead and now they go to Rome with the same advantage. It's slightly different this time because they gave up two away goals in the first leg, but that is levelled out by the fact that Pep Guardiola's side are vastly superior to Roma.
What happened at the Etihad has provided Liverpool's players with the perfect experience for how to deal with this game. The last thing you want to do in that situation is concede an early goal, but that's exactly what they did in Manchester. They came through that ordeal with flying colours so they know how to handle it. The key is not to panic and to keep playing football, because Liverpool know that should they score then it makes Roma's job much more difficult, and if they score two then it becomes almost impossible.
It would surely take something dramatic for them to go out on Wednesday night, but dramatic things can happen. An early red card or an injury to a key player can turn any game on its head, so nothing should be taken for granted.
Roma will believe they can pull off another miracle, but if they do, it will say far more about Liverpool than it will the Italian side. A place in the final is in Liverpool's own hands. As long as they keep their heads and play their football they should be fine.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.