“At my signal, unleash hell”. We are not going to talk about “Gladiator” movie, but Roma head coach definitely wants to look like Russell Crowe’s epic character and make Liverpool lose their heads in the inferno of Stadio Olimpico’s tonight Champions League match.
Di Francesco hopes his side can pull off another shock, just as they did in the quarter-finals when they fought back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to eliminate Barcelona.
“I would do a copy and paste of the Barca game if it was possible” said Di Francesco. “It is in the mind of the players. In order to compete against a rival such as Liverpool, we need to raise the bar in terms of physical effort, then comes the attitude, approach to the game and trying to score an early goal to have the fans behind us even more.
However, if a miracle has happened already, on the other side of the coin, as a match fact, it’s necessary to say that no team has ever overturned a 5-2 first-leg defeat away from home in the Champions League. The last time there was such a scoreline in a first leg of the competition was in 1999-00, with Valencia knocking out Lazio 5-3 on aggregate. Plus, Liverpool are the only unbeaten side in the Champions League this season, which gives even more troubles to Roma’s hope to take it over. The focus now turns to another “Romantada”: the Giallorossi don’t need the Pope to work a miracle for them because they have done it before. It’s acknowledged in a motivational message attached to the walls of the tunnel at the Stadio Olimpico: “The fact it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Improbable only means that it can happen. I believe.”
The ‘only’ trouble is, again, Salah, Liverpool’s ‘expensive risk’ that has already showed Roma what they could have had if they didn’t just give him away so easily.”Salah the ferocious”, according to adopt the name given by La Gazzetta dello Sport in the aftermath of Roma’s 5-2 defeat by Liverpool, has had throughout the season an unexpected improvement and now aims to win the Golden Ball Awards. Also, he is used to scoring here: for him will definitely look like an home from home.
On Liverpool side, the 5-2 result gained last week in Anfield has a potential psychological impact: having effectively won this tie once, they may feel they have to win it again, which supports the theory that at this stage of the Champions League it is the team who can manage emotions and have the greater mental strength who go through.
Klopp addressed the issue. “The closer this game comes, they will realize they need three goals,” he said. “People think Roma have to only win 3-0, but that is quite a result.” Klopp added: “If the warning was needed, and I didn’t need a warning , then that was the warning. We are in a much better situation than I could have imagined.”
Liverpool will be without five first-team players for this second leg after midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered a season-ending knee injury in their victory at Anfield. So the team selection appears obvious for Liverpool, with Georginio Wijnaldum retaining his place. Liverpool will also be without assistant manager Zeljko Buvac, who will not be involved with the first team for the remainder of the season for personal reasons.
Last but not least, the important focus on security after Anfield violence: Rome is on red alert with 3,000 police officers deployed to provide extra security during the semi-final. Liverpool supporter Sean Cox, 53, remains in critical condition after being attacked close to Anfield by visiting supporters before last week’s first leg. Around 5,000 Liverpool fans are expected to attend but police say they can “guarantee the safety of the fans” as long as they obey Italian rules.
The “Gladiator” team is about to face Salah the “Sultan”: the modern crusades are beginning. But this time, the “Infidel” are coming to conquer the Capital.
By Michele Calamaio
The writer is an intern with TV3 Sports