Roma need another miracle after display of unfathomable ineptitude

Rome wasn’t built in a day but it was very nearly destroyed in one night.

Radja Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti may well have eaten into Liverpool’s five-goal advantage – as the Reds switched off in the last 10 minutes of their semi-final first leg at Anfield – but Roma’s hopes are all but extinguished after a chastening 5-2 loss.

There won’t be many supporters out there feeling that there is another miraculous comeback in this squad like they experienced against Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

The difference is that back then they had a point to prove. Barca’s 4-1 win in the first leg at Camp Nou was as harsh as they come. Roma scored two own goals and patently did not deserve to be three behind on aggregate.

By the time they got back to the Stadio Olimpico they had a grievance; a burning injustice to correct.

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This one is different. Roma can count themselves very lucky to be only three goals behind with the added bonus of two away goals. They got more than they deserved after one of the most inept performances at the semi-final stage in the competition’s history.

“I think we deserved to score those two goals,” said their coach Eusebio Di Francesco. “The team proved to have soul but I didn’t like that we gave up during the second half.”

Eusebio Di Francesco Liverpool Roma

Roma join Swansea and Watford in conceding five goals at Anfield this season – only Spartak Moscow conceded more – and – on this evidence – they belong in that company.

There will be plenty out there scratching their heads and wondering just how this team managed to do what they needed to do and beat Barcelona by three clear goals.

That was a performance of a lifetime and this their worst collective outing of the season. The truth is that this Roma are not as good as the result against Barca would suggest, nor are they truly as bad as this one.

But how Di Francesco will wish he could play this match again. He would probably do everything differently.

“We controlled the first 20-25 minutes but then we started to lose too many duels,” he said.

“Football is not a game about systems, it is about winning those individual duels. It could have been more than five at one stage.”

Daniele De Rossi Kevin Strootman Liverpool Roma

It’s unfair to blame everything on the Roma coach but the buck stops with him. It was his tactical system that led to his team being fed to the lions, even if some poor individual displays will disappoint him.

How could he leave his three-man defence man-for-man against a front three who have now scored 88 goals between them this season?

How could he put Juan Jesus up against Mohamed Salah and expect anything other than total annihilation?

The manner in which Roma conceded goals and chances was unfathomably bad. Liverpool had 20 shots and put 11 of them on target. They rained down 13 shots in the first half alone. Alisson Becker was exposed to such an extent that one of the world’s best goalkeepers looked poor.

Time after time, Liverpool fed balls over that poor excuse of a Roma midfield and into the channels for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to exploit.

They ran riot to such an extent that Salah became the first man to score two goals and assist two goals in a Champions League semi-final match. Seven minutes after he did it, Firmino did the same.

Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool Roma

“What I didn’t expect was to concede so many goals one after the other in second half,” Di Francesco reasoned.

“When you lose so many midfield duels, it’s hard to change the trend of the game.

“We gave away too many balls, we worked on it and knew they were lethal on the break in that area. I changed things as we lost shape, too much space and needed vitality and another striker to try to play and hold up the ball more.”

It was as if Roma had never seen Liverpool play this season. Everything they did – after that evenly contested first 20 minutes or so – played directly into the hands of the home side’s attack.

Their defenders are slow to a man – Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and the benighted Jesus – but were exposed time and again. Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi aren’t much quicker and chugged pointlessly after midfield runners like James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum breaking into the box.

There was such confusion in the Roma ranks that Di Francesco claimed after that he tried to change the system before Liverpool scored their fifth but his players misinterpreted the instruction. He was seen bickering with Strootman and Nainggolan on the sidelines which added to the sense of farce.

Mohamed Salah Jordan Henderson Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool Roma Champions League

“There was a misunderstanding with the substitution,” he said. “I asked them to play 4-3-3 and they played 4-2-3-1, then they scored the fifth goal, proving details make the difference.”

 It was a night on which all their strengths were nullified and all their weaknesses exposed. It was such an embarrassment that Roma can count themselves very lucky not to be regarded as the worst team ever to reach this stage of the competition.

Yet they have their lifeline. Those two late goals will give them some belief that a repeat of the Barca game is possible. They do have a chance to put things right but they scarcely deserve it.  

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“We don’t need miracles,” said Di Francesco. “We just need to believe like against Barcelona and our fans will be there supporting us.

“This is the first Champions League semi-final for Roma in three decades, we’re not used to it. But let me remind you: the tie is not over. Whoever does not believe in the comeback can stay at home.

“I feel responsible, I am the most responsible here, but we are still playing in a semi-final.”


Montella given until end of season at Sevilla after five-hour board meeting

Under-fire Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella has been backed by the club’s hierarchy until at least the end of the season.

Montella, who took over at the Liga club in December, is under increasing pressure, with his side winless in eight games in all competitions.

The Italian saw his team thrashed 5-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday as part of their form slump.

But after a five-hour board meeting on Tuesday, Sevilla confirmed Montella would be retained until the end of the campaign.

“When we arrived on Sunday, we met him and for three hours he told us that he feels strong, enthusiastic, capable and confident that he can get us to the Europa League,” club chairman Jose Castro said.

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“We have that same confidence in him – it was a unanimous board decision.”

Castro added: “For the moment, until the end of the season, then afterwards we’ll decide.

“It’s true that it’s been a season of highs and lows. But we have also played 16, 17 matches more than other teams and that’s been plain to see in the league.

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“If there’s something we can see it’s that we’re ambitious and we’ve tried to get right to the end in all competitions.”

While Montella remains, director of football Oscar Arias will leave the club at season’s end, with Sevilla expecting to announce his replacement within a month.

Sevilla sit seventh in La Liga with five games to play, clinging onto a Europa League qualifying place.


Barcelona eyeing Chelsea star Alonso as long-term Pique replacement

Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso is being considered by Barcelona as a possible long-term replacement for Gerard Pique, Goal understands.

The World Cup winner at Camp Nou is set to turn 32 in February 2019 and the Blaugrana believe a man currently at Stamford Bridge is capable of one day filling a void at the heart of their defence.

The versatile Alonso does have experience of playing as a centre-back from his time at Serie A side Fiorentina, but he has never operated there under Antonio Conte at Chelsea since completing a £23 million move in August 2016.

He has impressed in England in a wing-back role, with his efforts in 2017-18 earning him a place in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year.

Alonso has also been drafted into the senior Spain squad for the first time on the back of consistent outings across English and European competition, with Julen Lopetegui handing him a debut against Argentina in March.

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The 27-year-old is now in contention for a seat on the plane to this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia, where he could be given further opportunities to impress.

Barca will be among the interested observers of a man who may soon be given the chance to follow in the footsteps of his father, who graced the books at Camp Nou in the 1980s.

Alonso, who is a product of Real Madrid’s academy system – the club his grandfather once represented – is considered by those in Catalunya to boast the required height, ball skills and tactical awareness to slip seamlessly into the Blaugrana fold.

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Chelsea, though, are prepared to resist any approaches and the interest from Barca could lead to them putting improved terms to a man already under contract in west London until 2021.

If that happens, then those at Camp Nou have several other options to turn to, with Ajax’s talented teenager Matthijs de Ligt another of those to have figured on their transfer radar.

Additional reporting by Ignasi Oliva in Barcelona.


Monchi hoping for repeat of Barcelona miracle against Liverpool

Roma sporting director Monchi insisted the club still have hope against Liverpool thanks to its two late goals at Anfield.

The Serie A outfit suffered a 5-2 loss in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final Tuesday, but it looked set to be worse.

Roma were trailing 5-0 before an Edin Dzeko goal and Diego Perotti penalty dragged the side back into the tie.

Monchi lamented the result but said his side, who completed a comeback against Barcelona in the quarter-finals, had hope.

“It’s a difficult moment, we were in form heading into this game and the result is not good,” he said, via the club’s website.

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“But up until the final 10 minutes we were out of the competition. Now we still have some hopes, and we must take this small chance and do the same thing we did against Barcelona.”

Monchi hopes his team can deliver at the Stadio Olimpico in the second leg next week.

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“I always have faith in my team. It’ll be difficult, we have done it once before and they will know that they cannot afford to underestimate us,” he said.

“We have to have confidence and believe in it. The fans will be cheering us on – and 90 minutes at the Olimpico can be very long.”



Wijnaldum: Salah decides the biggest moments

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah always delivers in the biggest moments, according to team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum.

Salah led his side to a 5-2 win over Roma in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield on Tuesday, scoring a brace and providing two assists.

The Egypt international has scored 43 goals this season in what has been an incredible campaign.

Wijnaldum was full of praise for Salah, saying the forward continued to deliver when needed.

“It’s great to have him in our team, especially in the form that he is in right now, he decides the biggest moments,” he said.

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“He’s always there with his goals and assists, but the way he plays, he’s always a threat for the opponents, so that helps the other players to perform better.”

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Danny Ings, who replaced Salah during the second half, also lauded the 25-year-old for his display.

“You’ve seen it yourself, he’s a special player, he’s fantastic for the team, and yet again he’s done exactly what he’s been doing in the previous games this season,” he said.

“He’s been fantastic, and long may it continue as well.”