Rabat - The spectacle at Anfield was, as usual, a mixture of joy, drama, and impeccable athletic fluidity: What a night! What a display of ultimate football!
Rabat – The spectacle at Anfield was, as usual, a mixture of joy, drama, and impeccable athletic fluidity: What a night! What a display of ultimate football!
Comments and opinions may differ about whether Liverpool’s sensational football is unstoppable at this moment in time–whether they can claim the UCL title again, more than a decade after the unbelievable victory against AC Milan.
But one thing is indisputable: only this Kloop-coached attacking machine could lead a UCL semi-final game by 5-2 and still look unsatisfied at the final whistle.
Roma, to say the least, have been mesmerizingly merciless in their UCL campaign, stunning Valverde’s Barcelona and topping a group that included Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But when it comes to away games, Dzeko and Co. have been staggeringly shoddy, practically unrecognizable.
Firmino’s uproar; Salah’s deft versatility; Mané’s blistering runs—Liverpool was too much of a pain to bear. Outranked and outclassed in all departments for 80 minutes, Roma barely looked like a professional football team.
But Roma’s tactical blunders notwithstanding, Liverpool needed the class, the illuminating presence, and the flawless moves of one single man to help them demolish their opponents: Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian, recently crowned the Premier League’s player of the year, played against his former teammates as though he still needed to prove himself. To show doubters that he, and nobody else, remains the sensation of this season. What a relishing return in the cour des grands!
When Roma’s Brazilian goalkeeper shutdown Salah’s first dangerous shot in the first 30 minutes, there was a feeling of inevitability hovering in the air, a prelude to a Salah-led onslaught by a team with a brilliant attack.
And Salah can now dream beyond the premier League: should Liverpool qualify for the final (for Roma has not said its last word), the Egyptian can start dreaming of the Ballon d’Or, a suggestion that would have sounded unbelievable when Roma sold him to Liverpool last summer.
By scoring two masterpieces and setting up two other goals for the other members of Liverpool’s deadly trio, Salah proved his place, once more, among the best that the game has right now, enrapturing Anfield and handing Jürgen Klopp the chance of playing his second UCL final.
Like City in the first leg of the quarter-finals, Roma succumbed to the unrivaled physicality and the restless whirlwind of attacks and counterattacks upon which Liverpool currently thrives. Save for Nainggolan, who battled tooth and nail to maintain his sanity in the midfield, other Roma players spent 80 minutes asking themselves what had happened to their hitherto-impressive midfield-dependent squad.
Salah was omnipresent, playing in the middle, passing on the sides, bringing momentum to his mates and challenges to Roma’s defense, and, ultimately, scoring the first two goals that drove energy out of De Rossi and his squad. At 2-0, the air was heavy for Roma and there was ample indication that more goals were on their way for Liverpool.
The much-anticipated goals did come, tactfully and brilliantly set up by the new boy in town. Single-handedly taking on Roma’s defense, the Egyptian made his opponents look like playground kids on two different, yet uncannily similar, occasions. “We made it easy for them,” said Roma head coach Eusebio Di Francesco.
With the score 4-0 at sixty minutes, football fans could be pardoned for wishing that it was Barcelona, and not Roma, that had made it to this defining stage. By the time Firmino headed Liverpool’s fifth goal pass Alisson, Anfield was on fire, thrilled by the unstoppable bravado of a breathtaking attacking side capable of scoring 10 goals in three UCL fixtures (and not in the group stage, like PSG!).
Towards the end, however, some ancient Roman god breathed a bit of creative spirit in the Italian squad. Kloop’s tactical shift—withdrawing his scorer-in-chief—gave the Italians a moment of brilliance, leading them to score two goals in the last ten minutes and changing the whole texture of a game that previously looked irreversibly sealed at 5-0.
With a final score of 5-2, it was unbelievable how the Italian supporters at Anfield welcomed the final whistle. They seemed convinced that, like against Barcelona some two weeks ago, the away goals were all that was needed to secure another otherworldly performance at home one week from now, another miracle that will—supposing that it does happen—have this squad’s propensity for implausibility inscribed in gold alongside football’s greatest moments. Under the shiny and smiling eyes of Roma’s unfathomably triumphant supporters, the original question resurfaced, “We came back against Barcelona; will we, again, this time?” Swept up in the moment, they triumphantly answered: “Why not?”
Head manager Di Francesco hopes—or believes—that his side will be miraculous once more. “If you don’t believe anything can happen, then you shouldn’t be playing these games,” the Italian said at the end of the game, adding, “We will see a very different Roma in the second leg.”