Former Liverpool FC defender and Finland international Sami Hyypiä sees a lot of similarities between the current Liverpool side and the squad he was part of that won the 2005 UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool plays the first leg of the Champions League semifinals against AS Roma on Tuesday, April 24, at Anfield.
“On paper I don’t think we were the strongest team in 2005 when we won the Champions League,” Hyypiä said at an International Champions League press conference in Miami. “I think now as well when you put the teams next to each other on paper, I don’t think Liverpool is the favorite to win it, from the final four or earlier as well.”
The Reds, currently third in the English Premier League, topped Group E by going 3-3-0 (12 points), three points ahead of Sevilla. Liverpool had the second-best goals for (23) and goal differential (+17) in the group stage, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain (25 goals for; +21 goal differential).
Liverpool utilized a dominant five-goal away performance in the first leg in the Round of 16 against FC Porto to advance 5-0 on aggregate following a scoreless draw at Anfield. The Reds jumped out to an early advantage over Manchester City FC in the first leg of the quarterfinals, winning 3-0 at home, and 2-1 away to advance 5-1 past the 2017/18 Premier League Champions and one of the Champions League tournament favorites.
“It seems that the team has grown in confidence, the individual mistakes are gone, and the attacking is still the same of what it used to be,” Hyypiä said. “Everything is going well at the moment.”
Mohamed Salah has been a revelation for the Merseyside club this season, scoring 43 goals in all competitions, including a record-tying 31 in a 38-game Premier League season. He was named 2018 PFA Player of the Year. Coupled with Roberto Firmino (26 goals all comps) and Sadio Mané (17 goals), the attacking trio have proven to be an arduous task for opposing defenders and goalkeepers.
“I’m quite happy I don’t have to play against them,” Hyypiä said with a laugh. “I’ve played with some quality players and it wasn’t always nice or easy in training playing against guys like Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard. I’m happy they’re doing well at the moment and scoring goals.”
During the 2004/05 Champions League, Liverpool overcame a second-place finish from Group A (3-1-2) to win its fifth European Cup title. The Reds toppled Group B winners Bayer Leverkusen 6-2 in the Round of 16, Group C winners Juventus 2-1 in the quarterfinals, and outlasted Group H winners Chelsea 1-0 in the semifinals to advance to the final.
Liverpool faced yet another tough match against AC Milan, the heavy favorites, in the ’05 Final in Istanbul. The road was made harder by Paolo Maldini’s goal in the first minute and a 3-0 deficit by halftime following a brace by Hernán Crespo. The Reds scored twice in a 15-minute span to start the second half — Gerrard 54′, Vladimír Šmicer 56′, Xabi Alonso 60′ — to force extra time. The teams were deadlocked after extra time, and Liverpool outlasted Milan 3-2 on penalty kicks to come away with the most coveted prize in European club soccer in the “Miracle of Istanbul”.
Hyypiä said he is unsure how AS Roma, another tournament underdog, will respond from their exciting comeback victory over FC Barcelona in the quarterfinals. Roma trailed 4-1 after the first leg at Camp Nou, but shocked the soccer world by defeating the perennial favorites 3-0 in the Italian capital to advance to the semifinals thanks to their lone away goal.
“I’m not sure if Roma gained confidence from the games against Barcelona or if
they’re satisfied already that they beat Barcelona,” he said. “I don’t want to say they’re going to be arrogant, but sometimes when you beat a great team you’re relieved and your concentration might not be the same for the next game.”
Regardless, Hyypiä is looking forward to a thrilling semifinal, with the winner advancing to play the winner of Real Madrid-Bayern Munich in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final on May 26 in Kiev.
“I think it’s going to be tough,” he said. “We need to play a good leg at home, but I’m sure we’ll score a goal away. I think we’ll go through on away goals.”