Liverpool 5, AS Roma 2
Roma came to Anfield with a game plan similar to the strategy that propelled its comeback against Barcelona two weeks ago. However, things went awfully wrong for Roma, the Italian side, on Tuesday in a UEFA Champions League soccer match.
Roma started brightly in the first half hour, as it was able to control possession and create decent chances. The visitor played a surprising high defensive line, which gave Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane a ton of space to make runs in behind. After seeing off Roma’s early spell of dominance, Liverpool’s pacey wingers punished the visitor’s lack of respect.
Salah was the inspiration for Liverpool’s memorable victory. Roma’s reckless approach gave the winger the freedom to run at its defense. The Salah show began in the 35th minute as he broke the deadlock with a curve to the left corner. Just before the halftime break, Salah scored his 42nd goal this season, finishing off a wonderful Liverpool break with the chip past Roma’s goalkeeper Allison.
The second half saw the situation get worse for the visitor. Just three minutes after the restart, Trent Alexander-Arnold played an accurate long ball to Salah, who then burst into the box and picked out Mane for an easy tap-in to make it 3-0. Twelve minutes later, Salah provided his second assist of the night. This time, he squared the ball to Firmino, who slotted home. Firmino completed the riot in the 68th minute, scoring his second goal with a header from James Milner’s corner kick.
The visitor’s 3-4-2-1 shape not only gave Liverpool an awful amount of space to run into, but it also fell into Liverpool’s ball-orientated pressing trap. Roma’s three center back struggled to build the attacking sequence from deep, as the home team’s front three pressed them one-on-one relentlessly. Most of the time, the ball was passed to wing-backs Alessandro Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov, for whom Milner and Alexander-Arnold had waited.
Although Kolarov, who completed 66 passes and had 101 touches, the most for Roma, was able to carry the ball forward, Florenzi couldn’t get past Milner on the right side. Right winger Cengiz Under was substituted after the break after having an astonishing four touches. Roma wasn’t able to progress the ball because it was outnumbered in virtually every possession sequence.
With the five goals advantage on the bag, Liverpool should have seen off the game comfortably. Instead, it gave Roma a spark of hope as it cheaply conceded two away goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti in the 81st and 85th minute.
Roma’s coach Eusebio Di Francesco was praised for his tactical genius in the returning leg against Barcelona, but his gung-ho approach on Tuesday was suicidal. However, the two away goals meant he and his players have a foothold on the tie as they again found themselves trailing by three goals heading back to Stadio Olimpico. The traveling fans were loud in the final 10 minutes because they were given a sense of déjà vu.
Real Madrid 2, Bayern Munich 1
Real Madrid, the two-time defending champion, wasn’t at its best on Wednesday night in Munich, Germany, but it somehow found itself a healthy lead for yet another Champions League final.
Bayern Munich suffered a huge blow as it lost two key players Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng in the first half because of injury. Nevertheless, an attacking-minded Bayern side was controlling the first half as the visitor struggled to get out the home team’s high press.
Bayern finally struck first in the 28th minute. Former Real Madrid player James Rodriguez played a slick ball to send Joshua Kimmich into acres of space down the right. Seeing goalkeeper Keylor Navas setting up for a cross, Kimmich fired into the exposed near post to give Bayern the lead.
Bayern continued to dominate, but it failed to double the lead as Franck Ribery, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller squandered their chances from the close range. The home team paid the price in the 41st minute as Marcelo, who was at fault in the opening goal for not tracking Kimmich, fired a thunder bolt to the bottom right corner to give Madrid a precious away goal.
Bayern suffered another calamity. After the initial corner kick was cleared, Rafinha cheaply gave the ball to Lucas Vasquez, who ran away to set up a two-on-one opportunity. He then picked out Marco Asensio, who coolly lifted the ball over Sven Ulreich to give Real Madrid the lead.
Still, Bayern created chances. Seeing Robben, a right winger, limping out of the game, coach Jupp Heynckes resolved to push Mueller, who started on his familiar striker role, to fill the vacancy. Mueller, a 28-year-old, is known for his ability to pop up out of nowhere in the box, but his erratic on-ball skills made him a liability on Wednesday. On the other side, left winger Ribery was in the spotlight as he created havoc on the opposite side. The winger completed five dribbles, the most in the match, and had two chances to tie the match. However, Navas denied him twice from close range.
Bayern’s wastefulness was the story of the match. With 23 minutes to play, Muller somehow failed to make contact from two yards out with the goal gaping. Bayern’s top striker Robert Lewandowski missed the final chance on the 88th minute from a one-on-one situation.
Cristiano Ronaldo was a mere spectator as he failed to have an attempt on target, while Real Madrid was outscored 2.32-0.62 on the expected goal chart. However, it somehow held on to steal an away first-leg victory.