ROME • Liverpool today return to Rome's Stadio Olimpico, the scene of two of their most famous European triumphs in 1977 and 1984, amid tight security for their Champions League semi-final second leg.
Jurgen Klopp's men are on the brink of reaching the final of Europe's top club competition for the first time since 2007. And they are well placed to do so with a three-goal lead over Roma, having never squandered a first-leg advantage of three goals or more in Europe.
The Reds, bidding for a sixth continental title, have yet to taste defeat in 13 matches and are also the top scorers with 38 goals, having netted in every away game.
Off-pitch tensions are, however, high after last week's attack on Liverpool supporter Sean Cox by two Roma fans that put him in a coma and club legend Francesco Totti has appealed to the home faithful for "fair play, hospitality and respect for our opponents".
Liverpool have also suffered serious disruption in the build-up after Klopp's right-hand man for the last 17 years, Zeljko Buvac, stepped aside for personal reasons this week until the end of the season.
The Roma tie also comes four days before Liverpool's clash at fifth-placed Chelsea, who are six points behind in the Premier League with a game in hand, but the manager remains unperturbed at the challenge.
"Liverpool always has to take the slightly more difficult way and it's again like this," said Klopp.
"We created a basis and now we have to finish it."
Home Champions League goals Roma have conceded this season, against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Qarabag, Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona. But they have leaked 17 in away games.
Only once have Liverpool failed to score this season in 13 Champions League matches, 0-0 at home with Porto.
Forward Roberto Firmino echoed his boss' thoughts, saying progression to the May 26 final in Kiev was far from a done deal.
"Nothing is won so far," warned the Brazilian. "There is a possibility of winning the Champions League - but we have a semi-final to finish first. It would be a rare thing to do, a unique moment in our lives, in mine. It's my first Champions League season."
Klopp will be without midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emre Can and defender Joe Gomez but midfielder Adam Lallana was in the travelling squad, which included Mohamed Salah.
The first name on Liverpool's team sheet is champing at the bit to put his former club to the sword again after his two-goal showing at Anfield, leaving him just four short of Ian Rush's club record of 47 goals in a season.
The forward's outstanding term received further kudos yesterday after he was voted Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers' Association (FWA) to complete the double of English football's major individual awards. The 25-year-old, who last month was also chosen as Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers Association, is the first African player to win the FWA award which began in 1948.
While Roma no longer have the Egyptian in their ranks, coach Eusebio di Francesco believes Edin Dzeko can be their answer to Salah.
The Italian knows a repeat of the 3-0 scoreline in Roma's quarter-final, second leg against Barcelona will ensure the Serie A side go through on away goals, and the Bosnia striker will have to lead from the front again, just like he did against the LaLiga champions.
Di Francesco told a pre-match press conference: "All the players need to feel responsible and be pleased about that (responsibility)... Even more so with Dzeko - I hope he can be our Salah from the first leg, so he can pull things back and determine a great comeback.
"A player of his quality, ability - it's right he has this responsibility.
Roma have also not conceded in their five home games, shutting out Atletico Madrid, Barca and Chelsea but the uphill task was made even harder after midfielder Kevin Strootman was ruled out by injury.
Di Francesco remains hopeful he can mastermind what would be a comeback to top all comebacks, adding: "This team has had a great journey and we don't want to stop now. We want to believe in this comeback."
Roma forward Patrik Schick issued a battle cry: "We saw that they're not as strong at the back as in attack, we have the chance to score three goals at home.
"We have to go on the pitch without fear, with great determination and great courage," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ROMA V LIVERPOOL
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