Liverpool face Roma in the first leg of what promises to be a special Champions League semifinal on Tuesday.
There seems to be something special in the air as Liverpool prepare for the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Roma on Tuesday — something to do with history, with destiny.
The last time the Italian side made it this far in Europe’s premier competition, they faced the Reds in the final, played at their own stadium. Roma, in the midst of their most successful era, had won a Serie A and three Coppa Italias in four years. The final was an opportunity to ensure they went down as one of Italy’s great teams.
The Liverpool side they faced were at that time veterans of the latter stages of the European Cup. They had won their debut title in 1976-77, beating Borussia Monchengladbach in the final in Rome. They would go on to win two more titles, including a “home” final of their own against Club Brugge at Wembley in 1978, before their meeting with Roma in 1984.
The Reds won on penalties, the first European Cup final to be decided from the spot, after a 1-1 draw in regular time. Since that night in Rome, however, both clubs have fallen from the summit of the European game. This year’s semifinal, then, represents more than the renewal of an old rivalry; it’s an opportunity for both clubs to return to the level at which they think they belong. That neither side were expected to make it this far only adds to the sense of opportunity.
Jurgen Klopp’s project seemed at risk of stalling earlier in the season, with Reds’ defense struggling and their best player determined to leave the club in the January transfer window. Three months later, they sit on the cusp of a Champions League final, having beaten Manchester City, runaway Premier League title winners, in the quarters.
Roma’s fortunes have been much the same. Eusebio Di Francesco took over from Luciano Spalleti in the summer tasked with guiding the club through the post-Totti era. The results have been mixed. While their current third place position in Serie A is respectable enough, the 18 points that separate them from league-leaders Juventus is a fair reflection of their standing.
Knocked out of the Coppa Italia in the round of 16, Roma’s season was spinning toward an acceptable but uneventful end. Until, that is, they knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League to put themselves two results away from a second European final in their history. Given this backdrop, talk of destiny is, perhaps, inevitable.
Klopp, who has mostly insisted on leaving the past in the past, took a rare glance backward following the draw. “I will watch the two finals for sure because it is destiny or whatever,” Klopp said. “If any German goes to Bern in Switzerland he cannot avoid thinking about 1954 [the World Cup final comeback against Hungary]. There are not a lot of people around on the planet from that time now but it is just a special place. You think: ‘OK, it happened here, well done, all these guys.’ That is how it is, but it was too long ago. If I find something that helped make this place even more remarkable or special for Liverpool then I will use it. Thank God Rome is still Rome. It is the place, it is not who did what, it’s the place.”
The comparison of Rome to Bern is apt. This is a chance, at minimum, for Liverpool’s fans to relive the glory days. They’ll hoping, of course, for much more; not just a trip down memory lane, but the beginning of another era of sustained excellence.
Di Francesco agreed with Klopp, saying it was indeed fate that brought the two sides together. For Roma, however, this is a chance to right the wrongs of ’84, to do in Liverpool’s famous stadium what Liverpool once did to them in theirs.
The Reds are favorites to advance, but both sides know they’ll be underdogs in the final, whether they’re facing Bayern Munich or Real Madrid. The good news, it seems, is they both have destiny on their side.