Liverpool (AFP) – Liverpool beat Roma 5-2 in a dramatic Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday to take a big step towards the final in Kiev, despite conceding two late away goals.
Here are three things we learned from the Anfield showdown:
Asked if Roma would be able to subdue Mohamed Salah, Jurgen Klopp had hinted the Italians might resort to kicking his Egypt star, but the Liverpool manager need not have worried as they never got close enough to leave a scratch on the man of the moment.
Salah left Roma to join Liverpool last year in a £34 million ($47 million) deal that now looks an absolute bargain after an incredible first season saw him voted PFA Player of the Year.
Individual honours are fine, but Salah wants a Champions League winners’ medal and he remains on course after demolishing his old club.
Teed up inside the Roma area in the 36th minute, Salah was coolness personified as he curled his strike into the top corner. Salah’s majestic effort made him the first Liverpool player to score in 33 different matches in a single season, surpassing the mark set by Anfield icon Ian Rush.
More importantly, it left Roma in ruins and Salah delivered a hammer blow in first-half stoppage-time when he sprinted through a huge hole in the Italian defence to score again with a deft finish.
He has scored 43 times in 47 appearances as he chases Rush’s Liverpool singe-season record of 47 goals in all competitions. Having scored two and with Rush watching from the stands, Salah finished with a flourish as his passes allowed Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to net after the break.
Emboldened by his side’s stunning victory over Barcelona in the quarter-finals, Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco had made it clear he wasn’t coming to Anfield just to frustrate Liverpool.
“They have to do well to force us deep,” he insisted on Monday. But at the end of a chastening 90 minutes, Di Francesco was left to rue his words as Liverpool ruthlessly exploited the visitors’ defensive weakness and tactical naivety.
Roma arrived without a clean sheet in their last 26 away Champions League matches, the second longest run in the competition’s history, and it was easy to see why as Liverpool carved through them time and again.
It didn’t help that Di Francesco asked his defenders to deploy a high defensive line. They lacked the mobility to cover the space that left and Salah and Mane gleefully exploited the holes with their pace and movement.
And yet Roma will feel all is not lost after late goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti. They staged one of the Champions League’s greatest comebacks to reach the semi-finals, overturning a 4-1 first-leg deficit to eliminate Barcelona with a 3-0 victory in the return leg at the Stadio Olimpico.
Another epic escape act seems improbable, but can’t be ruled out if Di Francesco gets his tactics right in Rome.
Wall of sound
Aware of the damage done to Liverpool’s image by the supporters who threw missiles at Manchester City’s team bus before the quarter-final first leg, Klopp had asked fans to show respect to Roma.
A large police presence and strategic road closures ensured Klopp’s plea was followed as Roma arrived without coming under attack. That was as welcoming as it got for the Italians however.
Anfield is always at its best on European nights and the famous Kop End generated a deafening wall of sound from the moment the club’s “You’ll never walk alone” anthem was belted out before kick-off. Roma wilted in the cauldron of noise and Liverpool took full advantage to move to the brink of a first Champions League final since 2007.
Liverpool’s fans provided a valuable edge inside the stadium. But worryingly, police were probing a “serious assault” outside the stadium that left a fan injured after clashes between Liverpool and Roma supporters that could lead to revenge attacks when the teams meet in the second leg.