There was genuine excitement and anticipation in the air prior to this Champions League Semi Final. Liverpool Football Club were on the precipice of returning to European Football elite for the first time in nearly 10 years. They had just convincingly seen off the near unstoppable force of Manchester City in the quarter finals and now just stood 180 minutes from a place in a first European Cup final since 2007.
One concern in the build up to the game was that this was thought of as the more favourable side of the draw. After all European football Aristocrats Bayern Munich and Real Madrid would face off in the other Semi Final. Liverpool’s opponents would be AS Roma. Roma have always been a good side who had finished second in Serie A the previously season but they lacked the lure of a true European heavyweight. Perhaps most pertinently though, they had knocked off Barcelona in a stunning second leg comeback in the quarter finals having recovered from a 4-1 first leg deficit (sounds familiar!). Therefore it was clear that this was not a tie to be taken lightly.
Yet instead of being left with a mouth watering for the neutrals semi of Manchester City v Barcelona, Uefa had to settle for what promised to be quite the matchup as both sides realised there would be few better opportunities to reach the final of Europe’s greatest prize.
The game within the game had the potential be very interesting as well given Mo Salah was facing off against the team he left the previous summer having had a very successful two year spell in the Italian capital. There would also be a certain Alisson Becker between the sticks for Roma who was already building quite a imposing reputation in his first year as a starter for the club.
I remember vividly that there were massive concerns raised that Liverpool would get overrun in midfield. After all the trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum (who replaced an unfortunate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after just 18 minutes) at that stage were still massively under-appreciated. They would be going head to head with an intimidating as they are talented unit of Kevin Strootman, Danielle De Rossi and Radja Naingollan.
It turned out we had nothing to worry about as Liverpool put in one of their most devastating displays of the past 10 years to outperform Roma in every facet of the game. It was a Red avalanche that simply could not be slowed down. It was the type of contest where if it had been a boxing match, the second half wouldn’t have seen the light of day. It was sizzlingly good.
It was the type of performance however that should have come of no surprise to Roma. After all, the Reds had nearly done the exact same thing to Manchester City in the previous round. However, there is one thing knowing what is coming, and quite another to formulate a plan to stop it.
In fairness the game was back and forth in the early stages. Sadio Mané missing a big chance for Liverpool shortly after a near disaster moment from Loris Karius off a long range effort from Aleksander Kolarov. However once the goal came, the floodgates were well and truly open and there was nothing even a hero like Alisson could do about it.
Salah started the onslaught with a brilliant curling effort after cutting in from the right. He refused to celebrate in respect to his old team, but the rest of us could. Dejan Lovren then hit the bar with a header from a corner before Salah doubled the lead dinking expertly over the onrushing Alisson after being put through by Roberto Firmino. Half time 2-0.
At the start of the second half, the chaos levels only increased. Salah the scorer turned provider as he teed up Mané to make it three. The Salah show kept on rolling as he got Firmino in on the scoring act on the hour and it was now a scarcely believable four goal lead.
When Firmino added a second after he headed in assist king, James Milner’s corner it seemed like there was almost one foot in the final already. It was five goals but could easily have been 7 or 8. It was a massacre and yet there was still a final twist in the tale.
Roma would score two late consolations through Edin Dzeko and Diego Perrotti to plant the smallest seed of doubt into the minds of the Liverpool team and their supporters. After all, this Roma team as mentioned earlier did comeback from 4-1 to beat Barcelona last time out.
The stage was set for another classic encounter in Rome. A place in the 2018 Champions League final was still at stake. Whatever was to happen, Jurgen Klopp and his squad had announced to Europe that they were well and truly back in the big time.