Jurgen Klopp admits that few expected the Reds and Roma to fell Man City and Barcelona Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah has been one of the Premier League’s best players this season
Liverpool host Roma tonight at Anfield in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, a clash that few would have anticipated a month ago.
With the Reds drawn against Manchester City in the last eight, and Roma paired with Barcelona, the smart money was on the two leaders of their respective domestic leagues to progress.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted as much on Monday when he addressed the press ahead of this evening’s showdown. “I do understand that probably a lot of people thought this semi-final would have been usually Barcelona against Manchester City,” he said. “But it’s not, because it’s football. Roma made it possible and we did as well.”
Liverpool not only beat City, they thrashed the runaway leaders of the Premier League, inflicting a 5-1 aggregate win on the Sky Blues. Roma, on the other hand, staged one of the great comebacks in the history of the Champions League, overturning a 4-1 deficit from the first leg Barcelona into triumph 3-0 in the Italian capital.
“I came up the stairs at Manchester City and somebody told me Roma won 3-0,” said Klopp, looking back on the shock of the season. “I thought in the first second, ‘not possible’ because the opponent was Barcelona. But I love that game because it is possible.”
Sounding remarkably relaxed ahead of the club’s biggest game in years, the German even made a quip at his own expense, and that of his Roma counterpart Eusebio Di Francesco. Asked if there were any similarities between the two coaches, Klopp said: “We both wear glasses and have a bad shave!”
What gives tonight’s tie an added piquancy is that Liverpool signed Mo Salah from Roma last summer, an acquisition that has played a large part in propelling the Reds into the semi-final, with the Egyptian’s contribution to the Anfield cause recognised at the weekend with his winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.
“Losing Emerson and Mo Salah is really difficult,” said Klopp. “It’s quite difficult to find players like this, you have them on a specific level and you lose them. We really had a similar situation [losing Philip Coutinho]. But we continued believing in ourselves, and Roma obviously the same.”
Asked if he thought this semi-final was the battle of the underdogs, given that tomorrow’s semi-final pits Bayern Munich against Real Madrid, Klopp said: “If anybody thinks we two are the underdogs, who cares? We are in the semi-final and we can go to the final, that’s all I care about… for Roma it is a big thing the semi-final, like it is for us. We are not used to that. That’s good. We don’t have experience, that’s not good, but we are not used to it – that means you will see the excitement of both teams in a positive way. That’s how football should be.”
Salah, who has already scored 41 goals in his first season at Anfield, will be crucial for Liverpool as they seek to establish a first-leg advantage before the trip to Rome on Wednesday week. The Egyptian ace will be on a high following his award, an honour that Klopp believes is fully deserved. “I’m really happy for him,” he said. “He can be really proud of that, it’s a fantastic achievement. I think if all the other players vote for you that means the most to all players… and I really have to say, in a season like this when Kevin de Bruyne plays a season like he played, it makes it even more special.”
Nonetheless Klopp had a message for Salah. “It’s great, but he knows the season is not finished so far. There are a lot of things to come.”