Liverpool (AFP) – Liverpool are banking on Mohamed Salah and the passion of the Anfield crowd to propel them towards the Champions League final on Tuesday but Roma stand in their way in a repeat of the 1984 European Cup final.
Spearheaded by Salah and inspired from the touchline by exuberant manager Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool will look to repeat the blitzkrieg attack that blew Premier League champions Manchester City away in the previous round.
But the five-time champions will be wary of the team that staged a remarkable comeback against Spanish giants Barcelona in the last eight, overcoming a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to their first European Cup semi-final in 34 years.
The Italians were given a far warmer welcome than City to Anfield three weeks ago, despite incessant downpours that showered Liverpool all day on Tuesday.
Keen to avoid any repeat of the scenes that saw City’s team bus smashed up by hurled bottles and cans, Klopp called for “respect” for Roma on Monday and Liverpool city council littered the city centre and airport with signs of “Benvenuti a Liverpool” (Welcome to Liverpool) for the travelling fans.
Both buses arrived without incident with the air around filled with the red smoke of flares as fans braved the wet conditions to welcome their heroes to the stadium.
There will be no such niceties on the field as Liverpool look to make the most of the famous Anfield atmosphere on a European night to continue Roma’s rotten run of form on the road in the Champions League.
The Italians have lost their last three away games to Atletico Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona — conceding eight goals in the process.
Bruce Grobbelaar, the hero for Liverpool in the 1984 penalty shoot-out against Roma — unnerving Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning duo Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani with his wobbly knees routine — believes his former side will prevail.
“Liverpool will win the semi-final and final too,” Grobbelaar said. “Roma must have been mad to sell Mo Salah. Either that or they really needed the money.”
Klopp is credited by both City manager Pep Guardiola and Roma’s American co-owner James Pallotta for transforming 25-year-old Salah, who joined the club from Roma in June, from an inconsistent finisher into a goal machine who has scored 41 times for Liverpool this season.
“I think the coach there has clearly figured out how best to utilise him, using him in a different position I would say to Roma because you’ve got (Edin) Dzeko in the middle,” Pallotta told the BBC.
Despite their rich heritage in the competition, Liverpool — who last won the Champions League in 2005 — have not been in the last four of the competition for a decade.
But captain Jordan Henderson believes this season’s run to the semis could be the start of a new golden era under Klopp.
“Hopefully this is the start of something special with this squad,” said the England international. “The manager has been brilliant since he has come to the club. We’ve improved every season and done brilliant this season to get to this stage.”
Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco warned that the pace of Liverpool’s prolific front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino — who have combined for 83 goals this season — offers a very different threat from Barca’s Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
“We are facing a different rival from Barcelona and we need to be ready for that different challenge,” said Di Francesco.
“We have to play our football, impose our style and make the most of Liverpool’s weaknesses.