Johannesburg - For the four teams remaining in the Uefa Champions League, the return leg of the recently concluded quarter-finals will act as both a warning and a ray of hope.
After good victories in their first leg of clashes against AS Roma and Bayern Munich, respectively, Liverpool and Real Madrid will fancy their chances to advance to the May 26 final in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Although the Reds gave away a five-goal lead against Roma at Anfield, they will take a three-goal cushion to the return leg in Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who has tasted defeat in a Champions League final when he lost with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich in 2013, said there was still a lot of work to be done.
“Of course we were disappointed after being up five goals, but if anybody had offered me a three-goal margin ahead of the match, I would have taken it. But we are not in the final.”
His words of warning make a lot of sense – just ask Barcelona. In the quarter-finals, the Catalan giants secured a 4-1 home victory in the first leg, but then were knocked out when Roma won 3-0 at home. A repeat performance would be enough to see Eusebio Di Francesco’s men through against Liverpool.
Di Francesco came under fire after the game, being accused of not having bothered to watch Liverpool ahead of the match and allowing former Roma player Mohammed Salah to run riot.
The Egyptian international scored twice and created two other goals, as the Roma players were unable to prevent him from having the freedom of the park.
For their part, Liverpool looked vulnerable at the back, as the two late goals by Edin Džeko and Diego Perroti attest. That is certainly something that Klopp will be weary about as he seeks to take Liverpool to their second European final in two years.
Unlike Klopp, Jupp Heynckes has twice already won the competition. Once with Bayern Munich and again with the team the Bavarians faced in the semi-finals, Real Madrid.
The septuagenarian, who has said that he will return to retirement at the end of the season, said that he would love to take on Klopp in his final match as manager.
However, while Klopp and Liverpool have taken the first step towards achieving that, Heynckes and his side are still as far away from the final as Kiev is from Munich.
After a brief control and lead against the defending champions, who are looking for a historic third consecutive title, Bayern let the game slip – allowing Marcelo Vieira and substitute Marco Asnesio to turn around Joshua Kimmich’s opening goal into a 2-1 defeat.
Heynckes said that he felt they deserved more from the game.
“We lost Arjen Robben early and then Jerome Boateng. We gifted Madrid two goals and had a host of chances ourselves, but we did not use them. If you don’t use them, you should not be surprised if you lose.
“But which other team managed to create so many chances against Real Madrid as we did. We have nothing to lose in Madrid and can simply play our game there,” he said.
While it seems unlikely that Boateng will be back in time for Tuesday’s game at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the coach is hopeful that Robben will be.
The last time Bayern faced Real in Madrid, they forced the match into extra-time when they were leading 2-1 at the end of 90 minutes. Controversially, they lost as the home side were gifted a Cristiano Ronaldo goal that TV footage clearly showed to be offside.
Madrid’s victory in the return leg of this year’s quarterfinal was similarly controversial, although in this case the referee got it right when he awarded Real an injury-time penalty to give them the goal they needed to advance 4-3 on aggregate – after Juventus had managed to claw their way back into the tie by leading 3-0.
Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos, who is a former Bayern player, said that although the result was good, the team did not play well.
“The game was on an equal footing, possibly Bayern had even more chances. We used our chances well, but now we have to be careful in the return leg.”