Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino stole the show as Liverpool beat Roma 5-2 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal. Despite the three goal cushion, things could have been much better for Jürgen Klopp’s men.Liverpool 5 -2 Roma
(Salah 36′, 45′, Mane 56′, Firmino 61′, 69′ – Dzeko 81, Perotti pen 85′)
Even for a team that overcame a three-goal deficit against Barcelona in the last round, this one looks to be a bridge too far.
Stunning individual displays from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, who bagged a brace and a pair of assists each, and a shambolic defensive effort from the visitors conspired to give the Premier League side a huge advantage going in to next Wednesday’s second leg, despite a late Roma fightback.
The Italians began well, matching their English opponents in an open first quarter. Roma left-back Aleksandar Kolarov almost got his side the early away goal they craved on 18 minutes when his fierce shot slipped through Loris Karius’ hands. Fortunately for the German keeper, the ball cannoned off the bar.
That effort, and an injury to midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, seemed to serve as a wake up call to Jürgen Klopp’s men, who upped the tempo soon after. Sadio Mane had two golden opportunites within a minute just before the half-hour mark but blazed both over before Salah, who joined Liverpool from Roma last year, tested Alisson from the right-hand edge of the box.
While the Brazilian stopper was equal to that shot, he could do nothing six minutes later as the prolific Egyptian dipped a left-footed effort in off the bar to open the scoring. It was his 9th European goal of the season and 40th overall.
The newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year didn’t have to wait long for number 41, collecting a well-timed pass from Roberto Firmino before dinking it over Alisson to give Liverpool the cushion their superiority merited at the break.
If Mane’s first-half misses were weighing on his mind, it didn’t show when he got his first chance of the second period. As they had been several times throughout the match, Roma’s wingbacks were caught too high up the pitch by a long ball, this time from Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. Salah was in again but spotted Mane in a better position. The Senegalese forward kept his head down this time and tucked away at the far post.
The Italian side, and Kolarov in particular, failed to learn from their mistakes. The Serbian defender tried to win a ball high up the pitch isolating Juan Jesus against Salah. As befitting a man in his form, the Liverpool star breezed past his opponent and threaded through to Firmino, who tapped home.
The Brazilian doubled his tally eight minutes later thanks to more catastrophic Roma defending. Firmino rose unchallenged to nod home from a corner and make it five.
Liverpool’s superiority was so great that Klopp felt able to take Salah off with 15 minutes remaining, offering him both a rest and the adulation of the crowd. But the German boss cut a frustrated figure five minutes later as Edin Dzeko took advantage of Dejan Lovren’s missed header to beat Karius at his front post.
If one away strike looked like scant consolation, then a penalty soon after provided hope of a second successive unlikely comeback in the competition. James Milner was adjudged to have handled Radja Nainggolan’s shot and Diego Perotti tucked away the spot kick.
While the late blows make the return leg a little more awkward for Klopp and his charges, a three goal lead is still formidable, even given Roma’s recent history. With Liverpool’s often-irresistible attacking threat Klopp may allow himself to dream of a first Champions League final since his loss with Dortmund in 2013.