Because of what Roma did in the quarterfinals against Barcelona, a 5-2 win by Liverpool felt slightly disappointing, and the Anfield celebrations at the end of the first leg in the Champions League semi final clash felt a bit subdued.
Liverpool crushed Roma for nearly 70 minutes. A double from Mohamed Salah, a brace by Robert Firmino and one goal by the mostly wasteful Sadio Mane against the panicked Roma defense seemed to book Liverpool’s trip to Kiev in May.
But two late goals by Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti (penalty) created a something of a surreal feeling inside the previously frantic stadium. Suddenly Klopp’s decision to take off Salah in the 75th minute was criticized every which way. The Liverpool defense looked exposed. The terrific pressing which completely dismantled Roma’s tactics was unable to reignite. Roma are still huge underdogs for the second leg, but coming back from 3 goals down and having the away goals advantage, just like against Barcelona, is far better than coming back from five goals. Remember – 5 home matches in the Champions League, not a single goal conceded by the Giallorossi.
While Salah and Firmino were as usual the big stars for the home side during their terrific hour and a bit, it was the entrance of Georginio Wijnaldum in the last 15 minutes (for an injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) that turned the match on its head. Roma pressed well in the early goings and didn’t allow Liverpool any space in the middle or behind the defense. Aleksandar Kolarov hit the crossbar with a powerful shot, and Roma looked like the team closer to scoring.
But Wijnaldum added a different dimension of passing and decision making that allowed Liverpool the kind of pace and passing they’re used to take teams apart with. Salah started the scoring with a typical wonder goal, which galvanized the crumbling of Roma’s defense. Luckily for the visitors from Italy, Liverpool letting their foot off the gas gave them a sliver of hope for the second leg.