Liverpool face Roma in the Champions League semi-final first leg today (Tuesday).
You can say supporters have waited for this moment for almost 10 years but that’s become repetitious throughout season 2017-18.
They beat Hoffenheim last August to enter the group stage, thrashed Spartak Moscow 7-0 in December to qualify for the knockouts and then beat Porto to reach the quarterfinal.
As Liverpool passed each test with flying colours a sense of the club returning to the big time has grown.
This will be their 18th semi-final in European competition, the first their debut continental season 1964-65, with an infamous defeat against Inter Milan that still rankles today.
That also featured a first leg at Anfield. Although Liverpool initially thought they’d done enough with a 3-1 win, the San Siro rematch saw a 3-0 loss and proved to be an eye-opening, disheartening experience.
There have been a whole range of emotions ever since, ranging from the harrowing tragedy of Heysel in 1985 to the delirious, unlikely triumph of Istanbul in 2005.
The matches with Roma won’t scale the heights of ecstasy or plumb the depths of despair those two evenings did but will provide another chapter in Liverpool’s European story that’ll be told and retold for years to come, whatever happens.
The last time Liverpool reached this stage was 10 years ago, far too long for a club of Liverpool’s stature and also featured a first leg at Anfield.
Back then the Reds were heading for a narrow but important win until John Arne Riise headed into his own net for a vital Chelsea away goal.
It turned the tie upside down and Chelsea ultimately triumphed. It demonstrated the importance of a clean sheet in the home tie, something the Reds managed against Manchester City in this year’s quarterfinal.
The away goals rule is a wonderful creation that has created so much drama, so many twists and turns. Liverpool were nervous and uneasy at the Etihad in the second leg until Mohamed Salah ended City’s comeback completely by making it 1-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate.
The Reds go into the Roma game on the back of a curious 2-2 draw with relegation certainties West Brom. They’d begun to look defensively sound beforehand. The only consolation is that three of Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice defenders were being rested.
Complacency played its part against a team that offered little threat until the final 15 minutes but its unlikely Liverpool will lose concentration against Roma. That still doesn’t mean they can keep the Italians out.
Klopp’s ruffled response at the weekend reflected the nervousness surrounding this massive game. He clearly feared players would either be injured or lose confidence after such a result.
There appears to be no injury setbacks and so Liverpool should be at full strength on Tuesday. Having beaten a seemingly indestructible City side in the previous round, Roma may not seem as big a challenge but any team that knocks out Barcelona must be respected.
This season more than most, the Champions League has produced some curious results. Liverpool were 3-0 up at Sevilla in their group match but had to settle for a draw.
Roma needed three goals without reply to beat Barcelona and got them. Real Madrid squandered a three-goal lead against Juventus at the Bernabeu before a contentious penalty sealed their safe passage.
Manchester City could easily have pegged back Liverpool’s 3-0 lead too having scored in the opening minute, hit the post and had a goal controversially ruled offside at the Etihad.
Knockout football is primarily about momentum and any glitch can cause almost immeasurable harm. If this is the year of the unexpected, the Reds could quite easily lose to Roma having previously beaten one of the tournament favourites. The Italians could of course be thinking the exact same thing.
Liverpool need as good a start against Roma as they got against City. The renowned Anfield atmosphere may not quite have such a big effect on a Roma side used to the cacophony their own fans make.
What makes the difference is the effect it has on Liverpool’s own players, with lost causes continually chased and every atom of effort being demanded and usually given.
Reaching the semi-final would’ve been welcomed by both clubs before the tournament began but now they’re here neither will want to go out without giving absolutely everything. It promises to be an exciting tie. The tournament favourites may be facing off in the other semi-final but this one’s more intriguing and harder to call.
Both will feel that if they produce their best they should go through but in PFA Player of the Year Mohamed Salah Liverpool have someone capable of making the ultimate difference.
Liverpool exploited the role of underdog against City to perfection. This will be a different kind of challenge.