Weblog: The football punter

Solid Roma will be tough to beat in Anfield semi

Champions League semi-final first leg
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Tuesday

Anfield has been a fortress for Liverpool on big European nights but Roma may not crumble under the wall of noise in their Champions League semi-final first leg.

The Anfield factor played a big part in their quarter-final success – Manchester City were three down inside 31 minutes and were never able to recover – and home advantage is usually more significant in European competitions than domestic fixtures.

That is certainly the case for Liverpool, who are unbeaten in 15 home European contests since losing to Real Madrid in October 2014, and, quite bizarrely, rock-bottom West Brom are the only side to win at Anfield in all competitions this season with a surprise FA Cup success.

Liverpool have scored in 22 of their 25 Anfield clashes this term so they will expect to take a lead to Rome for next week's second leg, as do bookmakers who rate the Premier League side strong odds-on favourites.

This, however, is no walkover and Roma can stay competitive. A bet on the Italians receiving a one-goal Asian handicap start is the preferred wager in a difficult punting heat.

Roma produced one of the most remarkable comebacks in Champions League history in the last round, beating Barcelona 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to progress on away goals.

Mo Salah crowned PFA Player of the Year

It's worth bearing in mind that Roma deserved to qualify over the two legs despite their 4-1 loss at Camp Nou. That result that was harsh on the Wolves, who scored two own goals and created numerous chances.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side switched to a back three for the Barca return and that defensive reshuffle could help when it comes to containing Liverpool's much-feared forward line of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and ex-Roma man Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool are the Champions League top scorers with 33 goals and it's usually the tremendous trio who do the damage – Salah and Firmino have eight goals with Mane one behind – but Roma are no slouches themselves on the attacking front.

Di Francesco's outfit scored three in a thrilling draw at Chelsea in the group stage and then battered the Blues 3-0 at home. At the start of March they also won 4-2 at Napoli, a team who play in a similar style to Liverpool.

In moving to a back three it looks as though Roma will be able to compensate for a lack of pace in key areas, but even if Liverpool find a way past the likes of Kostas Manolas it won't be easy for them to beat top keeper Alisson.

Roma are robust in midfield where Kevin Strootman, Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan are likely to protect those behind them, and striker Edin Dzeko can make it uncomfortable for the Reds rearguard.


Roma +1 on Asian handicap

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.