Continuing this year’s Champions League tradition of first-leg beatdowns followed by second-leg borderline meltdowns, Liverpool lost to Roma today by a score of 4-2 but still won the tie. They will now meet Real Madrid in the final in Kiev on May 26th.
To be fair to the Pool Boys, it never really felt like they were going to blow this. The Reds stomped Roma in the first leg back in Liverpool last week by such a margin—5-2—that it would’ve taken a miracle for this entertaining enough and laudable but fundamentally weak Roma team to fight their way back. Today, Liverpool mostly went through the motions. Roma pressed hard to stage another comeback like the crazy one they pulled off against Barcelona last round, but it seemed like everyone knew it wasn’t likely to happen.
The game had lots of action but none of it really mattered. The most memorable moment was this weird own goal when the three-first-name-having Trent Alexander-Arnold whacked the ball off James Milner’s face and into the back of the Liverpool net:
Liverpool went into halftime in command of the tie, up 2-1 on the day and 7-3 on aggregate. Edin Džeko knotted things up with Roma’s second goal not long after the break, and a 86th minute Radja Nainggolan belter plus a butter soft penalty decision late in stoppage time put Roma just one goal away from leveling the tie and getting the game into extra time. Ultimately the fight-back was too late coming and Liverpool held on to a small enough loss that saw them through.
It should be noted, regardless of what happens in the big game, the reaching the Champions League final is a spectacular achievement for Liverpool. This is a huge club with tons of resources with which to compete, but their economic stature and general prestige barely even rates when it comes to the biggest of the big boys who commonly vie for European domination. The clearest example of this is how Barcelona stole one of Liverpool’s best, most important pieces when they bought Philippe Coutinho in January.
In spite of taking a blow that big, manager Jürgen Klopp has devised a tactical strategy that perfectly fits his personnel and puts his team in a position to run any team off the pitch with the ferocity and beauty of their high-octane pressing and countering. Liverpool are one of the best-coached teams in the world, have one of the most fearsome attacking lines anywhere (and have assembled said line on the cheap), and play with a holistic, collective style that is as effective as it is gripping to watch.
That being said, man, this year’s Champions League has kind of sucked. All these late comebacks—of both the successful and unsuccessful variety—lead to the conclusion that there isn’t a truly great team out there in Europe this season. This final will pit the Premier League’s and La Liga’s third-placed teams against one another, and none of those team’s betters in their respective leagues or beyond can make that strong of a case that they deserve to be in the final above either of the two that made it. Both Liverpool and Real Madrid have put together great performances in this competition, but neither have done so as consistently or impressively as you’d hope to see from the European champion.
One of these two teams will win the trophy and the right to call themselves best team in the world, though. It will be a true enough statement about their superiority over all others in the sport’s premier knockout competition, but the designation of being the best won’t quite have the same impact as it has in years past. Sure, maybe Liverpool or Real Madrid are the best team in soccer, but when this is their competition, is that really saying all that much?