Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Liverpool overwhelmed Roma at Anfield before their late wobble
Last Updated: 25/04/18 10:16am
Liverpool overwhelmed Roma before their late wobble as they won 5-2 in a Champions League semi-final thriller at Anfield. Adam Bate assesses a crazy game in front of the Kop. Can anyone stop Jurgen Klopp's team?
"I don't have to tell the fans anything, they already know it," said Jurgen Klopp beforehand. "They have more experience than me." Perhaps. The Liverpool fans are certainly used to the extraordinary on European nights at Anfield. But they have never experienced anything quite like this. Klopp's team showed them something different. Liverpool five, Roma two.
Salah stars against Roma
Mo Salah struck twice against his former club but Liverpool conceded late away goals in a topsy-turvy 5-2 Champions League semi-final first-leg win.
The Italian side, the conquerors of Barcelona, were overwhelmed and undermined by the irresistible force that is Liverpool. The top scorers in the Champions League. The only unbeaten team in this season's Champions League. Real Madrid or Bayern Munich have the pedigree but does any team in Europe have the pace or the poise to keep this team quiet?
Not Roma, it seems. They saw enough of the ball early on - 56 per cent of it in the first 25 minutes - to provide the briefest illusion of containment. They also went on to score two late goals to give their supporters some hope of a second miracle comeback at the Stadio Olimpico. But in between they became just the latest team to be mauled by Liverpool.
Indeed, at times it was like watching a second-rate matador at constant risk of being gored. In possession, Roma were always hurried, always pushed to the limit. And each time Liverpool were able to get hold of the ball themselves, it was an invitation to carve Roma apart.
A high defensive line coupled with no pressure on the ball? This was a team determined to throw petrol on the fire that is the Liverpool front three. Initially, the opportunities fell to Sadio Mane. One wide with his left foot. Another over the top with his right. But when the chance came Mohamed Salah's way there was only going to be one result.
Kostas Manolas, the hero of the win over Barcelona, seemed more concerned by the ball striking his hand than the net as he was too slow to close down the Egyptian inside the penalty box. Salah duly curled the ball into the top corner. But that was just the start. He was in behind again before the break, this time chipping Alisson with ease.
Liverpool had seven shots on target in the first half. The only other team to do that in the Champions League this season are Tottenham and that was at home to APOEL. This was the third time that Liverpool have done it. If Barcelona used to be able to put opponents on the carousel, facing Liverpool must be more like a rollercoaster. Roma were soon sick of it.
Had they watched Liverpool at all? Eusebio di Francesco tried to tweak things but nothing seemed to stop the home side. The chances kept coming and the space in behind remained. Salah found it again for Liverpool's third, setting up Mane for his overdue goal, and did the same for the fourth - this time finding Roberto Firmino at the far post.
"Mo will feel early on that they are not his team-mates anymore," Klopp had predicted and so it proved. Roma thought they had vanquished Lionel Messi but here was their former player channelling the great man at his best. Two goals. Two assists. It said plenty that while Salah refused to celebrate the former, he couldn't resist raising his arms for the latter.
When Firmino headed in James Milner's corner to make it five, Roma looked to have abandoned all hope, dispirited by their Anfield experience. But respite came when the only man in the stadium capable of stopping the otherwise irrepressible Salah did the job for them - Klopp withdrawing his star man to wreak havoc another day. It turned the night.
Dejan Lovren's misjudgement allowed Edin Dzeko to pull one back. A harsh penalty call against Milner permitted Diego Perotti to add a second Roma goal from the spot. It was a reminder that while Virgil van Dijk's arrival has helped to transform Liverpool's defence, this brilliant and beautiful team to watch still has its weaknesses that can be exploited.
It was enough to leave a lingering doubt going into the second leg in the Italian capital but there were similar questions asked of them when taking a three-goal lead to Manchester in the previous round. Liverpool just went and beat their opponents again. Unless Di Francesco comes up with something new in the second leg, Roma are the ones at risk of a repeat.
"It will be a different game to Manchester City and they will ask different questions," Jordan Henderson had said on the eve of the game. Well, Liverpool keep finding the answers and the list of teams left to pose those questions grows ever smaller. Is there anyone out there who can flummox them? On this evidence, Klopp's men remain simply irresistible.