Liverpool dazzle but give Roma small chance in CL semifinal second leg
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three thoughts from Anfield as Liverpool raced to a 5-0 lead vs. Roma only to let in two late goals in their Champions League semifinal, first leg.
1. Liverpool could face anxious night in Roma after late slump
Liverpool need to avoid a three-goal defeat in Rome next Wednesday to reach the Champions League final, but Jurgen Klopp's team should have already booked their place in Kiev after building a 5-0 lead before conceding two late goals against Roma.
Having scored two late goals through Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti, Roma gave themselves hope of another Champions League miracle, having stunned Barcelona in the quarterfinals. But Liverpool will still travel to the Italian capital as favourites to make it to the final having dominated this tie for over an hour.
Two Mohamed Salah goals, another two from Roberto Firmino and one from Sadio Mane gave Liverpool what seemed an unassailable lead. But Dzeko's late strike and a Perotti penalty left Eusebio Di Francesco's team needing to win next Wednesday's return leg 3-0 to make it to the final -- the same score that saw the giallorossi eliminate Barcelona in the last eight.
Can Roma do it again? Well they will need to perform better than they did at Anfield, when they allowed the Liverpool forwards far too much time and space to run riot.
Liverpool were sublime at times, tearing holes into the Roma defence, with Salah in particular giving his former club nightmares. But the defensive frailties that always threaten Liverpool's progress returned in the final stages and only time will tell how costly the late Roma goals will be.
Klopp's team, who lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a first-half knee injury, remain most likely to make it to Kiev for the Champions League final, but they will travel to Rome knowing that they could be in for a torrid time at the Stadio Olimpico next week.
2. Salah just goes on and on
When Mo Salah was announced as PFA Player of the Year on Sunday, there were many who believed that Manchester City's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne should have claimed the award. But even the most ardent City fan must now accept that the Liverpool forward has enjoyed such an exceptional season at Anfield that not only was he deserving of that award, he is now a strong candidate for the Ballon d'Or trophy that's been the property of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the past decade.
At some point, their stranglehold on the award will be broken and Salah's incredible season makes him the most obvious challenger to take it off them.
The Egypt international's double against former club Roma took his tally for the season to 43 goals. He also set up two for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, just to show that he is more than a guy who simply puts the ball into the back of the net.
Salah has been in majestic form for months and if he stays fit, Liverpool will have a fantastic chance of winning a sixth European Cup against either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in Kiev next month if they can see the result out next week. His goals are all similar, either a curler into the top corner or a chipped effort over the keeper, but nobody has yet found a way to stop him.
Neither Real or Bayern would fancy facing Salah in Kiev, especially with the underrated Firmino and Mane alongside him. And if he can help inspired Liverpool to glory in the Ukraine capital, Salah may just move himself into pole position for the Ballon d'Or.
3. How did Barcelona lose to Roma?
Roma's quarterfinal success against Barcelona, when they overturned a 4-1 first-leg deficit against La Liga's leaders, will go down as one of the most memorable fight-backs in Champions League history, but it now looks like a freak result that will haunt Barca.
Roma started well enough at Anfield but once 20 minutes had elapsed, they had surrendered the initiative to Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp's team set about destroying them with a ruthless display.
Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, are arguably even more potent than Liverpool going forward, so their inability to score in Rome is inexplicable judging by the Italian club's performance at Anfield.
Roma were shambolic at times. The hapless Juan Jesus had a night to forget while goalkeeper Alisson did little to justify his reputation as one of the world's best goalkeepers. In midfield, Daniele De Rossi played like an old man while Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan could not get close to the home team in the centre of the pitch. Perhaps Barca's defeat in Rome was an example of what can happen when teams take their foot off the gas and pay for their complacency.
Roma's two late goals give them hope next week but if they go out, it will be their awful performance for an hour in this game that will cost them.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_