Point/Counter-point: Can Roma recover vs. Liverpool in Champions League?

James Sharman and Craig Forrest preview this week's second legs of the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

Ninety minutes remain for both Bayern Munich and AS Roma to salvage their campaigns in the UEFA Champions League. Both sides trail in their respective semifinal matchups entering the second leg this week, and neither deficit will be particularly easy to overcome.

Roma’s might be more difficult than Bayern’s, but they managed to recover a three-goal deficit versus Barcelona in the quarterfinals at the Stadio Olimpico. Could another shock be on the cards in the semis?

Here is a point and a counter-point for each team’s chances of overcoming the odds and advancing to the Champions League final.


Point: Liverpool’s attacking trio struggles against deep-lying defences

If there was one area in which Stoke City could educate Roma, it’s how to successfully contain Mohamed Salah, who scored two goals in last week’s 5-2 win over the Italians.

The Egyptian was held off the scoresheet on Saturday at Anfield as Stoke City earned a massive 0-0 draw with Liverpool. The Potters’ deep and compact defence prevented Salah from hitting a shot on target, although he did miss a sitter early in the match.

Roma did very well through 25 minutes in the first leg against Liverpool, until the Reds realized they could just hit long balls to their attacking trio over the top of the defence. There was so much space to exploit and it was a surprise that the Merseyside club didn’t finish the game with more than five goals.

That’s surely an area that Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco will address for the second leg. If the defence doesn’t play with a high line and the midfield stays compact, there won’t be as much space for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Counter-point: Roma has to push forward for goals

Unlike Stoke City, Roma has to eventually push players forward in numbers to recover from its three-goal deficit. That, in turn, could allow Liverpool to win back possession quickly with its high press before countering through one member of the attacking trident.

It’s a delicate balance for Di Francesco’s side. Sit too deep, and the attack suffers. Push too high, and the defence will be exposed again. Perhaps the injuries to Liverpool’s midfield and the knowledge of Roma pulling off a similar comeback in the previous round will benefit the Italians.


Point: Salah, Mane and Firmino are incredible

Salah is clearly the star man for Liverpool, but Firmino showed why he is just as vital to Jurgen Klopp’s system. Sadio Mane is no slouch, either, as he’s contributed 18 goals and eight assists in 36 matches in all competitions.

Liverpool has only been shut out once in the Champions League, a 0-0 draw with Porto in the return leg in their round-of-16 tie. Salah, Firmino and Mane have been involved in 39 goals combined in Europe. Anytime they’re on the pitch, it’s almost a guarantee that they will score.

Counter-point: Injuries to midfield leaves Liverpool in a bind

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out for the season, so the dynamism in Liverpool’s midfield declines drastically without him. Jordan Henderson suffered a knock against Stoke but is expected to play. It will be intriguing to see if Henderson is able to last the 90 minutes and keep up with the energetic Radja Nainggolan.

As good as Salah, Mane and Firmino have been all season, if the Liverpool midfield can’t drive forward or can’t string passes together, then Roma could run rampant at the Stadio Olimpico.


Point: Bayern dominated the first leg

Real Madrid won 2-1 in the first leg last Wednesday, but Bayern Munich dominated the match. The underlying numbers and general eye test back up that claim. That should give Bayern plenty of confidence entering the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Even recent history is encouraging for Bayern. The Bundesliga champions defeated Madrid 2-1 to forced extra time in the quarterfinals last year after losing 2-1 in Munich.

The Bavarians created enough chances to win last week. A stunning first-time strike from Marcelo and a poorly executed pass from Rafinha essentially determined the outcome of that game. On any other day, Bayern could’ve easily won.

While Bayern is dealing with a few key injuries, so is Madrid. Isco and Dani Carvajal will be massive losses, which will force Lucas Vazquez to deputise at right-back. Franck Ribery will fancy that individual matchup.

Counter-point: Bayern’s injuries will be even more costly

Arjen Robben left the first leg after just eight minutes with an injury. Jerome Boateng had to exit before halftime as well. Arturo Vidal has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Kingsley Coman and Manuel Neuer are still hurt.

Robben and Boateng are both expected to miss out, making it five absentees for Bayern. Manager Jupp Heynckes will have a quality starting lineup but his options will be limited off the bench, especially if he needs a goal. That could play into Madrid’s favour, who still have Gareth Bale, Mateo Kovacic and Dani Ceballos to throw into the game.


Point: Real Madrid is nearly unstoppable at home

There is only one blemish on Real Madrid’s home record in the Champions League under Zinedine Zidane. The 3-1 defeat to Juventus in the quarterfinals is the lone setback suffered by Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. Bayern also managed to beat Madrid after 90 minutes before falling in extra time last season.

Real Madrid’s attack was quite stagnant in Munich despite the 2-1 win. Lucas Vazquez up front with Cristiano Ronaldo, along with Isco drifting across the pitch, limited the team offensively. Marco Asensio made an immediate impact off the bench with his direct movements and scored the decisive goal off a costly turnover by Rafinha.

Asensio is tipped to start the second leg along with one of Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema next to Ronaldo. That should bolster the attack and help Madrid wrap up this semifinal.

Counter-point: Real Madrid has not been convincing

Even with Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale starting next to Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid hasn’t exactly dominated any of their games thus far in the Champions League.

The Madrid midfielders were too spread apart against Bayern, which meant Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro had to attempt more risky passes. This led to dangerous counters, with plenty of space to exploit for the Bavarians. In the quarterfinals, Juventus actually capitalized on crosses into the box. Those are all very basic tactics.

In Madrid’s defence, Sergio Ramos was suspended for that match against Juventus. But that doesn’t excuse the positional indiscipline from the midfielders. The loss of Dani Carvajal is also going to be massive because Franck Ribery will be facing Vazquez, normally a winger. That could be an area of weakness for the hosts on Tuesday.


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