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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Uefa Champions League semi-finals: Why Roma will go on to win the title

Daniele de Rossi of Roma celebrates his side's victory over Barcelona with teammate Alisson Becker after their Uefa Champions League quarter-final second-leg match in Rome. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Daniele de Rossi of Roma celebrates his side's victory over Barcelona with teammate Alisson Becker after their Uefa Champions League quarter-final second-leg match in Rome. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Arguably Roma's hardest task in their quest to win a first European Cup is already out of the way.

The Italians finished top of a group containing Chelsea and Atletico Madrid without conceding a goal at home.

A 2-1 defeat in Ukraine to Shakhtar Donetsk was overturned by an Edin Dzeko goal at Stadio Olimpico that sent the Italians through to a quarter-final against a Barcelona side with designs on matching their domestic dominance, where Ernesto Valverde's side had yet to taste defeat, on the continental stage. Roma achieved what no team had previously managed in the Uefa Champions League by eliminating Barcelona in the quarter-finals while trailing by three goals.

The goal Dzeko scored in the 4-1 defeat at Camp Nou proved all important as the Romans won the return leg 3-0 at home to advance to a first semi-final in Europe's premier club competition in 34 years on away goals.

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The Bosnian striker has found his mojo again after seeming to get unsettled by Chelsea's interest during the January transfer window, but manager Eusebio di Francesco should also be applauded for a change of approach in that game, switching to an untested 3-4-1-2 formation, partnering, Patrik Schik alongside Dzeko with Radja Nainggolan playing just behind the pair. Dzeko scored, won the penalty converted by club stalwart Daniele de Rossi for the second and harried and harangued the Barca defence into making mistake after mistake before Kostas Manolas headed in the goal that sent Roma through to a semi-final showdown with Liverpool.

While Schik, signed amid much fanfare from Sampdoria in the summer, has struggled for goals, Di Francesco may have stumbled upon his best formula int Europe by partnering him alongside Dzeko. Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy provide a goalscoring threat from wide positions, as does Cengiz Under, who is beginning to show his worth and justify his manager's faith after initially struggling following his move from Turkey.

Roma fans will feel their team has a score to settle with Liverpool, their conquerers when Roma last contested the championship game of what was then the European Cup in 1984 at their own Stadio Olimipico. The game finished 1-1 and went to a penalty shoot-out. Visiting goalkeeper Bruce Grobelaar's now legendary wobbly legs routine to distract Roma penalty taker Francesco Graziani worked a treat as the unfortunate Roma player sent his effort into the stands to seal a fourth European Cup for Liverpool.

Di Francesco will need to formulate a plan to contain a swashbuckling Liverpool attack led by the excellent Mohamed Salah, once of Roma's parish. The Egyptian's goalscoring exploits honed during a two-year spell in the Italian capital alerted Liverpool to his talents last summer. Alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool's attacking troika have the ability to do to defences what hot knives regularly do through cold butter.

The protection to the defence afforded by a midfield containing such physically intimidating specimens as De Rossi, Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman will be crucial in stopping a team that destroyed Manchester City over two legs in the quarter-finals.

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-finals, first leg
Liverpool v Roma

When: April 24, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

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