Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Are Liverpool firing their way to Champions League glory?
Last Updated: 03/05/18 3:39pm
Defensive question marks remain after Liverpool conceded four times against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, but having moved into the Champions League final 7-6 on aggregate, could their firepower now prove too much for Real Madrid?
Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and the rest must have been licking their lips as they watched Roma carve open Liverpool's defence at the Stadio Olimpico. On an extraordinary night in the Italian capital, Jurgen Klopp's side were somehow only a goal away from being taken to extra-time.
The disarray in the closing stages raised familiar questions of Liverpool's defence, but it should be pointed out that they had only conceded nine goals in 13 Champions League games before Wednesday. Even more significant than that, however, is what they have done at the other end.
Liverpool were on the back foot for long periods in Rome, but with Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum's goals, they took their overall tally in this season's competition to 46 in 14 games, setting a new Champions League scoring record in the process.
Their total eclipses Barcelona's 45 goals in the 1999/00 Champions League campaign, a feat which becomes even more impressive when you consider they have played fewer games. Liverpool's strike rate of 3.3 goals per game is the highest in the history of the competition.
Liverpool have hit seven goals past Maribor and Spartak Moscow, five past Porto and Roma, and three past Manchester City and Sevilla. So far, no side has managed to stop them from scoring.
Ronaldo, of course, is this season's top scorer having netted 15 goals, but Real Madrid have scored 16 fewer than Liverpool overall. And while Madrid's 'BBC' front three has been devastatingly effective in previous Champions League campaigns, this year Benzema has only scored four times, while Gareth Bale has lost his place in Zinedine Zidane's team altogether.
Liverpool, by contrast, have a front three to rival any in world football right now. With 29 goals between them in this season's competition, Salah, Firmino and Mane are, according to Opta, the highest-scoring trio for any club in a single Champions League season.
"That's how Liverpool play," said former Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy on The Debate. "Of course Salah has got a lot of goals but Firmino and Mane are hugely important as well. They create each other's goals. Madrid, of course they have exceptional players, but Ronaldo is the main man. Everything is focused around him."
Real Madrid are not just Ronaldo, of course, and their Champions League pedigree will make them formidable opponents in Kiev, but the stats suggest Liverpool will get chances. According to Opta, Zidane's side have conceded the most big chances in the Champions League this season at an average of 2.4 per game.
Bayern Munich were unable to take advantage of that vulnerability over the two legs of their semi-final, but recent evidence suggests Salah, Firmino and Mane are unlikely to be so wasteful.
"I think they've got a hell of a chance," added Danny Murphy on The Debate. "I know we've talked about Real Madrid going forward, but I don't see Real Madrid play and never not concede a load of chances.
"They might score but I think Liverpool will create so many chances against them. I think if Liverpool could have chosen Madrid or Munich, they would have chosen Madrid."
Liverpool's counter-attacking threat could be decisive. "The way Madrid play will suit Liverpool," added Bellamy. "They don't track runners - you can run off the back of them. Experience will be important but this Madrid team isn't as good as the Madrid teams of the last two, three years. This is a very, very good opportunity for Liverpool."
Their defensive struggles in Rome will be a concern to Klopp, but the omens are encouraging, too. In three of the last five Champions League campaigns, the top-scoring side have ended up lifting the trophy. If Salah, Firmino and Mane can continue in the same vein in Kiev, Liverpool will be confident that their goals will lead them to glory.
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