Liverpool will play Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 26. Jurgen Klopp's side lost 4-2 at Roma in tonight's second leg but won the semi-final 7-6 on aggregate.
By Ger McCarthy
The cliché that goals win games has never been more apt when describing Liverpool’s path to this year’s Champions League final.
Jurgen Klopp’s side heads to Kiev as the highest scoring team in the competition with a record 46 goals; possess the continent’s most potent attacking weapon in Mohamed Salah and a burgeoning self-belief that club football’s most sought-after trophy is within reach.
Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum’s midfield solidity has provided the platform for Sané, Salah and Firmino to express themselves in the final third and Liverpool has exploited the aforementioned trio’s talents to the maximum.
In the words of their manager, Liverpool ‘fought for their dreams’ to reach an eighth European Cup final and never before has the Premier League club scorched such a dominant path through the continent to get there.
Real Madrid should provide formidable opposition in the decider yet Liverpool will have little fear of taking on Zinedine Zidane’s ‘Galacticos’ considering their ability to repeatedly carve open Hoffenheim, Maribor, Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Porto, Manchester City and Roma’s defences this season.
Roma’s Champions League aspirations were already on life support heading into Wednesday night’s showdown despite netting two late goals at Anfield.
An unexpected quarter-final comeback to oust Barcelona offered the Italian club’s fans hope until the concession of the Giallorossi’s first Champions League goals of the season on home soil ultimately proved catastrophic.
True, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side kept pressing forward and came back to win the second leg but the damage had already been done following the concession of five goals on Merseyside.
Uncharacteristic mistakes contributed to the Serie A side’s exit but manager Di Francesco must take his share of the blame for Roma’s demise having tinkered with formations to disastrous effect in the first leg.
On the defensive
Liverpool are no doubt relishing the prospect of taking on Real Madrid’s back four following their less than inspiring display in overcoming Bayern Munich. Yet, Ronaldo and his fellow teammates probably feel the same way considering the amount of chances Liverpool presented Roma with at the Stadio Olimpico.
Jurgen Klopp has a lot of work to do on the Melwood training ground in the coming weeks with neither Dejan Lovren nor Trent Alexander-Arnold’s performances inspiring confidence ahead of facing the Spaniards much vaunted attack.
Goalkeeper Loris Karius lacked poise at vital moments and Liverpool’s back four - Virgil van Dijk apart - looked nervous every time they attempted to defend a set piece. You can be certain Zinedine Zidane will look to exploit those perceived weakness in what is shaping up to be the most open Champions League final for years.
Liverpool set up a repeat of their 1981 meeting against Real Madrid despite a first Champions League defeat of the season at the Stadio Olimpico.
A chaotic 4-2 semi-final second leg loss to Roma saw Liverpool progress 7-6 on aggregate, with victory secured thanks to Sadio Mane's 19th of the season and the rare sight of Georginio Wijnaldum's first away goal in almost three years.
A fortuitous own goal by James Milner in between had put the hosts back in the game, while Edin Dzeko's strike shortly after half-time ensured the Reds endured a testing conclusion and two late goals for Radja Nainngolan - including a penalty with the last kick of the game - came too late for Roma.
But Liverpool move on from defeating the same opponents against whom they won their fourth European Cup - in this very stadium in 1984 - to facing the club they beat 37 years ago for their third.
Given the way they have taken teams apart in this competition a sixth triumph in Kiev is a realistic possibility, although whether their defending can cope against reigning champions who have won three of the last four titles is open to question.
Jurgen Klopp's side are smashing all kinds of records this season and another one fell as they reached 46 goals in 14 Champions League matches (including qualifiers), eclipsing the previous best set by Barcelona (in 16 games) in 1999-2000.
A great deal of that is owed to their formidable front three of Mohamed Salah (10), Roberto Firmino (10) and Sadio Mane (nine), now the highest scoring club trio in a single Champions League season after overtaking Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who scored 28 in 2013-14.
They are the fastest to 40 (12 matches) in a single campaign in the competition proper.
It was Mane's turn to star on the night Liverpool booked their first Champions League final place in 11 years and their eighth in the competition.
Having survived a scare when Alessandro Florenzi fired a long-range shot just wide Mane, who had an early penalty claim waved away after Kostas Manolas' challenge, struck the first blow which severely damaged Roma's hopes of clawing back a 5-2 first-leg deficit.
Naingollan squandered possession in midfield and Jordan Henderson fed Firmino, who teed up his team-mate for a smart left-footed finish: the first goal conceded by Roma at home in the Champions League this season as Liverpool maintained their record of scoring in every away fixture.
That left the hosts requiring four in 81 minutes and they were handed a lifeline when Dejan Lovren, under pressure from Patrik Schick, hacked the ball straight at Milner's head and rebounded past goalkeeper Loris Karius.
Liverpool wobbled and Roma sensed their chance but that was taken away from them by a second away goal, cancelling out the only slight advantage the Serie A side had coming into the tie, in the 25th minute.
Alisson turned Mane's shot for a corner after Andrew Robertson's driving 35-yard run to the byline to provide Wijnaldum with his big moment, heading in his first away goal in 1,081 days since he found the net for PSV Eindhoven against Den Haag in May 2015 and his first for an English club in 64 away games.
It sent the 5,000 travelling fans, who had to deal with long queues to get in but apparently none of the pre-match security concerns, into raptures.
Stephan El Shaarawy offered Roma hope as he had a shot deflected off Milner and onto the post and a penalty shout against Trent Alexander-Arnold turned down but when Dzeko fired home a badly-directed punch from Karius, Roma required three in 38 minutes to force extra-time.
Alexander-Arnold appeared to get away with a handball against El Shaarawy but Liverpool were hanging on even before Nainggolan's 86th-minute drilled effort off the post set nerves jangling, with the midfielder converting a penalty after substitute Ragnar Klavan's handball.