Liverpool 5 – A.S Roma 2
And breathe! Liverpool have the advantage going in to the second leg of the Champions League Semis after a thunderous night at Anfield. For the first eighty minutes, it was as near perfection from the Reds as we’re likely to see. Barring a disappointing end to the match, this was a performance that deserves to live long in the memory.
After a cagey start Liverpool rocketed into the ascendancy and the watching football world was treated to a display of genius from Mo Salah which eclipsed anything we’ve seen in recent times. He was unplayable, partly thanks to the bizarre space the Roma defence kept giving him, but it was also down to his quickness of his feet, skill and sheer audacity. His first goal was a great strike, flying past Allison into the top corner of the net, the second was a beautiful deft touch past on the onrushing sweeper ‘keeper with the perfect weight to carry it over the line on the stroke of half time. Is there a better player in the world on current form?
Roberto Firmino was, as usual, a gem of player on the night. His two assists for Salah’s first half brace were rewarded with a double of his own. Salah was devastating down the right as he cut back two perfect balls for Mane and Bobby to tap in from close range and give Liverpool real control. The crowd seemed dazed and by the time the fifth goal went in, a header from Bobby, there seemed little surprise, The Reds had been so dominant. In fact they could have been six or seven up had Lovren scored from a free header in the first half and Mane not blazed over in a one- on-one.
Roma we’re all over the place, their back four resembling a group of strangers playing together for the first time. Arguments raged in their dugout and they kept loosing possession to the tireless duo of Henderson and Milner.
Many were thinking of a Porto-style whitewash, including Dejan Lovren probably. His missed header and poor concentration from a simple direct pass, allowed the experienced Eden Dzeko in behind to flash the ball past Karius. Roma were renewed and got an undeserved second goal from a harsh penalty. We’ve all seen them given, but when a ball is thumped at you at that speed there is little you can do, Milner didn’t complain, but then he never does. The ref was keen eyed and pointed to the spot. And we now have a game on for the second leg.
Come stoppage time, weirdly it was our fans craving the final whistle. The two late goals had dented the celebrations somewhat, but it must not be allowed to take anything away from the Liverpool performance. It was an attacking showpiece of how football should be played at this level. Firmino, Wijnaldum, Mo, Henderson and Milner all had arguably their best performances in a red shirt. Liverpool punished Roma’s odd decision to play a high-line and dominated so thoroughly, that it must be a bitter pill to give their opponents any hope going into the second leg.
The injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set to end his season prematurely. It is a cruel blow to a player whose improved performances have been one of the highlights the season. Liverpool will miss his energy, drive and aggressive passing. The squad was already thin, and rotation against Stoke City at the weekend is now imperative with the second leg in mind. Woodburn must be utilised and it may not be a surprise to see Herbie Kane (great name), Rafa Camacho (also great name) and Curtis Jones in the match-day squad at the weekend.
The ugly head of defensive weakness also made an unwanted appearance last night. Dejan Lovren was excellent against City in the second leg at the Eitihad, and he’d been fine for most of the game last night. Therein lies the issue though. His concentration, rather than his ability let him down at a key moment in a huge game. His capacity for mistakes is still a real concern and it does beg the question as to whether Liverpool can make a real title challenge next season with the number-six as a regular starter.
The Second Leg
There is already a pang of nerves for next week’s second leg clash at the Stadio Olimpico. AS Roma will be a different side regardless of the result and Liverpool must be able to cope with the pressure of seventy thousands screaming Romans. Despite Liverpool’s clear advantage, professionalism and character must be shown as we look to book place in Kiev. Two well documented defeats there for Chelsea and more sensationally, Barcelona, prove that this tie is far from over. Klopp is all too well aware of this.
“If one of my players doesn’t think Roma will try to come back, then he will not play.”
The German reaffirmed last night after the match. He will be crucial in motivating the players and keeping them focused. They recovered well against City after a nervy start and early goal, Roma will no doubt fly out of the traps at us and we must remain composed. Van Dijk, Henderson and Milner must all step up and use their experience wisely.
With the Italian side pushing for three goals on the night, Liverpool should play on that defensive uncertainty on display last night. Barcelona seemed incapable of creating anything in their recent away goals defeat, but Liverpool must use their momentum and creative potency of their front three in Rome. Klopp has already taken this wonderful team further than any of us imagined. We just need one more huge effort in the second leg. Allez, Allez, Allez…