Mohamed Salah's latest attacking masterclass helped to establish a 5-2 lead for Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final with AS Roma.
The Egyptian was the chief destroyer against his former club at Anfield, scoring twice in the opening 45 minutes to increase his goal tally for the season to 43 – now just four short of Ian Rush’s club record.
Salah switched to provider mode after the interval, teeing up strikes for fellow forwards Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in the space of five decisive second-half minutes.
Firmino headed home a scarcely believable fifth from James Milner’s corner, but the visitors significantly reduced their arrears through Edin Dzeko and a Diego Perotti penalty late on.
Nevertheless, the Reds finished the evening with a healthy advantage over the Italian side at the halfway point of their battle for a place in the Kiev showpiece next month.
The key points…
- Salah opened scoring against his former club
- Egyptian doubled advantage a minute before break
- No.11 assisted Mane and Firmino to create 4-0 lead
- Firmino headed in Reds’ fifth, before Dzeko and Perotti responded
- Second leg to take place in Rome next Wednesday
The team news…
Jürgen Klopp made five changes to his line-up, restoring Trent Alexander-Arnold, Firmino, Dejan Lovren, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson to his XI.
The first half…
Liverpool’s hopes of a trademark fast start met the obstacle of a well-drilled, defensively diligent Roma team who were set up to stifle the hosts’ passing routines.
Firmino did lift Kopites off their seats in the fifth minute, though.
Slipped through in the right channel by Salah, the No.9 threaded a cross-shot along the face of the goal but found neither a teammate nor the bottom corner.
As the match failed to take off, the Reds’ rhythm was further affected by an injury blow on the quarter-hour.
After stemming a Roma attack along Liverpool’s right hand side with a sliding tackle, Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately signalled an issue and was replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum.
As Klopp’s men readjusted, Aleksandar Kolarov smacked a dangerous swerving effort from the left edge of the area that Loris Karius tipped onto the crossbar.
But the home side soon settled and carved open I Giallorossi with a blistering counter-attack on 28 minutes.
Firmino was the architect, with his touch and pass freeing Mane to sprint away from Federico Fazio and bound towards Alisson Becker – but he lifted his finish too high over the goalkeeper and off target.
The Senegal international skewed wide within a minute and then had an effort correctly disallowed for offside after converting from Robertson’s angled cross.
Pressure was building, though, and it was Salah – of course – who made it tell.
He broke the deadlock in the 36th minute with a strike he should consider patenting. Collecting Firmino’s assist at the right side of the Roma area, the 25-year-old stood up Kostas Manolas and curled the ball around Alisson, off the underside of the bar and in.
Lovren nodded a header against the woodwork moments later but Liverpool were not to be denied a second before the half-time interval.
Again it was from a rapid breakaway, beginning with a Virgil van Dijk clearance via a sublime Salah touch to Firmino, who released his fellow forward through the centre. His finish, clipped diagonally over the oncoming Alisson, was the mark of the man – exquisite, unflinching, sheer excellence.
The second half…
Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco responded by replacing Cengiz Under with Patrik Schick at the outset of the second half, but the Red tide simply kept coming.
And it overwhelmed the Serie A side again with 56 on the clock.
Alexander-Arnold’s sweeping pass over the top was an invitation for Salah to scamper into space and the Egyptian unselfishly squared for Mane to send a low hit creeping inside the left post. Sensing something special, Anfield erupted.
It was a similar story just five minutes on. A flick around the opposition from the Liverpool right-back found the team’s relentless top scorer with room to cause trouble; he danced beyond Juan Jesus and rolled the ball to the far stick, where Firmino tapped in.
A more direct route produced the fifth of the night.
Firmino was in the perfect position to meet Milner’s outswinging corner at the Kop end with a guided header out of Alisson’s reach and into the net – a goal which brought up the Brazilian’s half-century for the club.
Roma pressed for an imprint on the scoresheet and Karius had to react quickly, low to his left, when substitute Schick nodded a decent effort goalwards.
The Italians found a way, however. First, Dzeko expertly chested down a long knock forward from Radja Nainggolan and coolly squeezed a strike between Karius and his near post.
And Milner was then penalised for handball from Nainggolan’s drive, allowing Perotti to clip a spot-kick into the top right corner and ensure there is plenty still to play for at the Stadio Olimpico next Wednesday night.