Two late Roma goals keep the Champions League semi-final tie alive but it’s very much advantage Liverpool…
Another dramatic European night under the lights at Anfield ends with Liverpool having one foot firmly in the 2017/18 Champions League Final, despite a late fightback from an otherwise overwhelmed AS Roma.
A sensational 5-2 victory means the Reds have now won nine of their last 10 home European semi-finals and have a 13th final very much within touching distance.
This was Roma’s first appearance at such a late stage of the competition in the 34 years since that famously lost the 1984 final to Liverpool on penalties, and for long periods it showed as they played directly into their hosts’ hands.
An entertaining opening saw both sides show plenty of intent as both goalkeepers were worked from distance.
Tactically it was an interesting watch with the visitors’ back three holding a surprisingly high line, which effectively became a back five when out of possession.
Liverpool were dealt an early blow when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was forced off, to be replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum, with a serious-looking knee injury picked up whilst executing an excellent sliding challenge on the far touchline.
Roma were having plenty of possession in attacking positions during the opening 20 minutes and they were denied an opener by the crossbar when Loris Karius flapped at a swerving effort from Aleksandar Kolarov.
Dejan Lovren could easily have given away a penalty moments later as the Merseysiders again rode their luck, but with the half hour mark approaching they finally began to seize control.
Sadio Mané sent two glorious chances over the bar within a minute of each other before Mohamed Salah forced a decent diving stop out of rumoured Reds target Alisson.
Mané did find the net soon afterwards but was correctly flagged offside. It was to prove a short-lived reprieve for Roma however as Salah, the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year, sent an unstoppable 36th minute left-footed effort past former team mate Alisson and in off the underside of the crossbar.
Liverpool were now in the midst of one of their trademark full-throttle spells; an unmarked Lovren heading Salah’s corner against the woodwork and Wijnaldum, impressive since coming on, testing an overworked Roma keeper with a diagonal shot on the run.
The visitors were desperately hanging on for the interval but, with the game entering first half stoppage time, Firmino sent Salah through and the Egyptian delightfully dinked the ball home.
The double moves Salah onto 43 goals for the season; the most by any player in all competitions in Europe’s top five leagues and only four shy of Ian Rush’s club record for a single campaign (47 in 1983/84).
Liverpool continued to carry a constant threat at the start of the second half with the Italians looking nervous and increasingly suspect to a simple ball in behind.
It was via this avenue that Salah got in down the right in the 56th minute to centre for Mané to slot into the corner and make it 3-0.
More goals looked destined to follow and the fourth came just five minutes later; Firmino adding the close-range finishing touch to a Salah cross on this occasion.
Roma were now in very real danger of capitulating as the men in red, who were proving too quick and too intense for them, even began to showboat and toy with their wounded prey.
The fifth came in a surprisingly simple manner with Firmino heading a 69th minute James Milner corner into the net.
That should have been game, set and match but Liverpool began to get sloppy and, after Patrik Schick had twice gone close to pulling a goal back, the visitors’ belated defiance was rewarded when Edin Džeko capitalised on a Lovren misjudgement.
The second leg was made even more interesting when the Giallorossi scored a second away goal five minutes from time via the spot after Milner had been harshly judged to have handled.
Further setbacks almost followed as Liverpool, minus the substituted Salah, stumbled towards the finish line.
Roma’s late comeback took the gloss off another memorable European night for the Reds but it was still a phenomenal performance and result; Jürgen Klopp’s side becoming only the second team in Champions League history to score five goals in a single semi-final match.
The Italians know a repeat of their memorable 3-0 quarter-final second leg victory over Barcelona will see them through, but on this evidence it would be a big surprise if Liverpool don’t at least become the first away side to score at the Stadio Olimpico in European competition this season.
Analysing a pulsating encounter at a raucous Anfield post-match, Klopp remarked: “Conceding two goals is not what you want, 100 per cent, but it’s not to change anymore and we can deal with that.
“That’s football. The boys played a brilliant game over a very long period, even the last few minutes when we conceded…
“There would have been work for us to do if we’d won 5-0 because Roma would have tried everything to strike back anyway. That’s not a big difference. And what I learned tonight is that we can win the second game as well, even when it will be different.
“Roma need to score goals against us. I said it a few times and it should not sound like a warning or whatever, but we are not Barcelona. They are one of the two or three best teams in the world and they won so many things in the last few years. We didn’t.
“So we will fight with all we have for that result again. It’s much better than I could have expected before the game, but now in the moment of course I feel the two goals we conceded still.”
Ahead of next Wednesday’s return match in the Eternal City, Liverpool welcome relegation-threatened Stoke City to Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday lunchtime.
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