Champions League takeaways: Salah, Liverpool blitz Roma

Liverpool's-Mohamed-Salah

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores his side's second goal of the game against Roma during the first leg of their Champions League semifinal at Anfield, Liverpool, England on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

It’s going to take another remarkable comeback from Roma to undo a perfect first-leg performance from Liverpool, who crushed the capital club 5-2 in their Champions League semifinal on Tuesday at Anfield.

All three members of Liverpool’s lethal front three scored, with braces from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino leading the way for the Reds. A pair of late goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti instills some faith for the Romans, who still have a slender chance of overturning another first-leg deficit.

Here are five takeaways from a thrilling game.

Sensational Salah

When Roma sold Salah to Liverpool for a then-record £37 million (plus bonuses), no one could have expected this sort of a season from the Egyptian.

Salah’s brace brings his total up to 43 goals in 44 matches in all competitions, including 10 in as many Champions League games. But what’s most remarkable about this debut season is his consistency. The winger’s longest drought lasted just three games from Sept. 26 to Oct. 14.

Salah’s first goal was hit with surgical precision, bending a shot from the right side of the box, over every Roma defender, off the underside of the bar and into the top corner. He followed it up with a scintillating run from the wing to the inside, before chipping Alisson to double the lead. Two very different strikes, but equally brilliant.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp will be acutely aware of Roma’s resilience when they meet for the second leg at the Stadio Olimpico on May 2. As long as Salah is on the pitch, that lead should be safe.

Costly mistakes hurt Roma

Roma always starts with intensity and favour pressing with a high back line. For 25 minutes, that pressure was overwhelming for Liverpool. When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was stretchered off early in the first half, it could have been even more disastrous for the hosts. Without Oxlade-Chamberlain’s driving runs forward, the Reds’ midfield might’ve become overwhelmed.

Eventually, it was Roma’s midfield that was under duress. Careless passes and costly turnovers in the centre of the pitch, or in the Giallorossi‘s defensive third, allowed Liverpool to counter into tons of space. A simple long pass through was enough to send Salah or Firmino in towards goal, and they usually capitalized. Everything went wrong for Eusebio Di Francesco’s side.

Dzeko and Perotti salvaged some hope for the Romans, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to recover from this deficit while restricting Liverpool’s potent attack.

Firmino’s influence crucial to Liverpool

Few centre forwards have been as influential in Europe this season as Firmino.

The Brazilian international has now been involved in 16 goals in 11 Champions League games for Liverpool. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (17) has more. In all competitions, Firmino has a total of 25 goals and 14 assists in 48 matches.

However, what makes Firmino so crucial for Klopp’s side is his completeness. He tracks back, presses, recovers possession, assists teammates with the perfect pass or finds space to make a run and finishes calmly. Firmino is the essential forward for this system because he does everything.

Gabriel Jesus is pegged to start for Brazil at the World Cup because Tite prefers to keep his ideal XI intact. Given Jesus’s injuries and Firmino’s form, he could force the coaching staff to rethink that selection.

De Rossi, Strootman overwhelmed

Daniele De Rossi produced a man-of-the-match performance in the second leg of the quarterfinals against Barcelona. However, as solid as De Rossi performed, he had very little pressure on the ball. Barca was keen to sit back and give him time to operate.

Liverpool did nothing of the sort on Tuesday. De Rossi was pressed quickly, which led to more rushed passes, giveaways and positional indiscipline as he attempted to avoid the danger.

Strootman was equally engulfed by Liverpool’s intense wave of energetic pressing. The midfielders were kept at bay, and once surpassed, the Roma back three had to cover acres of open space.

Concern for Oxlade-Chamberlain?

If someone had mentioned that Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a crucial loss for Liverpool back in August, that person would’ve been laughed off.

However, that is very much the case. Depending on the severity of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury, that could leave a gaping hole in Liverpool’s midfield for a potential final. England manager Gareth Southgate may also be concerned as well.

The Englishman’s ability to win back possession, dart forward and connect the midfield with the forwards is so vital. Georginio Wijnaldum doesn’t have the same pace and stamina, so if Oxlade-Chamberlain is ruled out for the next few weeks, that presents a dilemma for Klopp.

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