Mohamed Salah masterclass helps Liverpool thrash Roma and put one foot in Champions League final

Liverpool 5 AS Roma 2: The Reds led 5-0 with less than ten minutes remaining but late goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti gave the Italian side some hope

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer at Anfield
Tuesday 24 April 2018 07:14
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Liverpool fans await team bus arrival outside Anfield stadium ahead of Roma game

Mohamed Salah does it again, and to an ever greater level, but the question that will linger after how this game finished is whether Roma can do it again.

That natural concern of an Italian comeback that comes from their quarter-final against Barcelona will colour what was otherwise another very special night at Anfield, and ensure this bombastic 5-2 win isn’t quite absolutely certain of lifting Liverpool back to the highest stage in the club game. But this was still a night when a very special player moved onto the highest stage of performance.

It was when the effervescent Salah transcended the brilliance he’s shown in the Premier League this season, to have the type of effect on the European Cup that really echoes through football history.

It’s going to take more than Roma repeating what they did against Barcelona. It’s going to take preventing Salah doing this.

As much as the feeling inside the stadium changed with those odd final 10 minutes, it can't change the reality that the Egyptian has still put Liverpool on the brink of their eighth Champions League final. The difference is still that great, the requirements that great, the performance that great. Should Liverpool complete the job in eight days' time, as should be expected, this first leg will be seen a display to rival any of their heroes from those previous occasions. Salah was the fire for everything that followed.

Because, as bad as Roma were for half an hour; as self-defeating as Eusebio Di Francesco’s tactics were; and as rampant as the whole Liverpool side were by the time the second half started: the initial and lasting difference was the deafening quality of Salah.

Salah opened the scoring with a sublime finish

It was all the more impressive because there was a long period when it had looked like this might be a much more difficult night for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Roma’s pressing game was initially offering more reward than risk, and a period of home panic that culminated in Aleksandr Kolarov rocking the crossbar with a long shot and also saw Liverpool rocked by what looks a concerning injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

That was just another element that meant this wasn't a completely perfect night, and there was the serious news of a supporter getting stabbed by Roma hooligans before the game. That could cause further concern ahead of the second leg, beyond the scoreline.

In the fantasy world inside the stadium, though, Salah was offering a perfect football display. And a perfect response.

The Egyptian's crafty dink doubled Liverpool's lead

Up until that supreme 35th-minute strike, Liverpool players were only missing chances rather than taking them, none more so than Sadio Mane. His uncertain and hesitant touch looked like they could be a prelude to one of those frustrating nights when nothing falls right; when legs go then heads go.

They were only the prelude to Salah proving his greatness on another level.

To think that as recently as October he was still regularly being spoken of as a frustrating player himself, who often seemed unable to strike a ball with true conviction. No one could possibly say that after his first strike here.

Mane made it three

Just when the game was really on a knife-edge, just when Liverpool needed something to lift them, he lifted the ball into the top corner with an unstoppable stroke. It was from distance, and yet still left no distance between the ball and the top corner.

He didn't celebrate against his old team, but Anfield couldn't but roar at these new heights. And more was to come.

That first goal was sensational in its imposing purity, but may well have been trumped by the casual impudence of the second. Put through on goal, and with goalkeeper Allison coming out, the Egyptian merely lifted the ball in another way. This was more delicious than decisive, Salah tantalisingly putting just enough on the chip to make over the line.

Firmino celebrates his late goal

Liverpool had now seemingly crossed the line, such was the nature of Roma’s implosion. This was now the prelude to what should have been a thrashing. Roma’s high line was now just leading an embarrassingly high score, as their players didn’t know where to go in the face of such confident running from Salah.

He set up Mane for the third, before squaring for Roberto Firmino for the fourth. There then came what should have been the clincher as Dejan Lovren struck from a set-piece.

Klopp even felt confident enough to take Salah off, something that may now be a mistake, as Liverpool proceeded to commit a few more.

Dzeko scored a potentially crucial late goal

Edin Dzeko was allowed in to finally strike for the Serie A side, before James Milner was immediately adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. Diego Perotti stepped up to make it 5-2.

The reality is that it still looks like it might be too much of a step-up for the second leg.

Roma may have to score the exact same amount of goals they needed against Barca, and may be emboldened by having done it before against a notionally superior side, but the exact dynamics of the game are not the same.

Perotti scored a late penalty

The Italians will also have to step out, and yet still try and stop Salah.

Right now that looks as difficult as stopping Leo Messi, and that’s really saying something.

Then again, this was quite a statement individual display.

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