Well…that was something.
Liverpool took one step into the Champions League final as they defeated AS Roma 5-2 in a dramatic game at Anfield on Tuesday evening. Goals from Mohamed Salah (x2), Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino (x2) were enough to win the game for the Reds despite a late flurry of Roma goals.
The build up to the game was dominated by stories involving Mohamed Salah and the 1984 European Cup final clash between the two sides which Liverpool won. This tie was seen by most as the more favourable and with the other two teams being Real Madrid and Bayern Munich you’d be hard pressed to disagree. However everyone made sure our feet stayed planted on the ground, Jurgen Klopp especially. Roma beat Barcelona, they were not to be underestimated at any cost.
It might have been difficult for Klopp to keep the smile off his face however when Roma announced their three at the back formation. It looked like suicide from my perspective, and it almost proved to be.
The game started off tremendously nervously for Liverpool as Roma started to control the game. Former Manchester City player Aleksander Kolarov hit a well struck shot which Loris Karius, despite misjudging the flight of the ball completely, managed to tip onto the crossbar. This was a let off that Liverpool were not afforded when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was taken off on a stretcher mid way through the first half with suspected ligament injury. It was a massive blow for the team and the player himself, who now might be a doubt for England’s World Cup campaign let alone the rest of the club season.
It took a agonisingly easy missed chance from Sadio Mane to start Liverpool playing the way we know Liverpool can play. Chance after chance came and the crowd got louder and louder. You could feel the first goal coming.
And come it did.
In spectacular fashion.
Roberto Firmino picked up the ball and played in Mo Salah on the right side of the box. We’ve seen it time and time again this season. The Egyptian cut inside onto his left and curled a quite magnificent shot into the very top left corner. Allison in goal had no chance. No celebration from Liverpool’s number 11 but that goal was Number 42 of the season for Salah and lift off in the semi final for the Reds.
The second goal came from the same dynamic combination. Firmino picked up the ball and drove forward before released Salah through the middle. He then did what Mane should have done earlier in the half and brilliantly dinked the ball over Allison and watched as it slowly but surely trickled into the net. 43 for the season. 10 goals in the Champions League. Just beyond words.
Half time came and went and Liverpool returned for the second half exactly the same as they left the first. The third goal was soon to come. A ball down the line from Trent Alexander-Arnold into Salah who had miles of space around him allowed the Egyptian to drive into the box and pull the ball across to the waiting Sadio Mane who just had the turn the ball into the bottom left corner. So so so easy for Liverpool. Roma’s three at the back was proving to be completely the wrong choice. 3-0 to Liverpool.
The fourth goal was almost a carbon copy as Salah again drove into the box, past one Roma defender before crossing low into Firmino at the back post who tapped the ball in. 2 goals and 2 assists for Salah, 1 goal and 2 assists for Firmino and 1 goal for Mane. The front three were in full flight. 4-0 to the Reds.
The final goal of the night for Klopp’s men came from a James Milner corner (!) which Firmino rose brilliantly to head past poor Allison and into the Roma net. A few stats for you about this goal. It is only the 2nd time (Messi and Neymar for Barcelona, 2014/15) that any team in the Champions League has ever had two players get 10 goals in a single Champions League season (Firmino and Salah). Milner’s assist for the 5th (!) goal, his 9th assist of the campaign, got him the record for assists in a single Champions League season. I did see someone say that no team had ever had two players get 2 goals and 2 assists in a single Champions League game (Salah and Firmino) but I can’t verify that…so I’m just going to believe it’s true because I like it.
Roma were dead and buried…but then we stupidly resurrected them. Dejan Lovren mistimed a jump to intercept a ball which allowed Edin Dzeko in to score what could be a vital away goal for the Italian side. Then a shot rebounded off of Milner’s arm and the referee (maybe harshly) gave Roma a penalty which was duly converted by Diego Perotti. 5-2 was the final scoreline. I was annoyed, Jordan Henderson was annoyed, most of Anfield and probably Jurgen Klopp were also annoyed. Just a very annoying end to what had been a very enjoyable game.
We take this lead into the next leg in Rome and, with the Italians not having conceded a goal at home in the Champions League this season (although we haven’t failed to score away from home once), it will still be a tough task to retain the lead and advance to the final in Kiev. Imagine it’s City again, one goal and we’re good. Up the reds!