Liverpool blitzes Roma, then leaves door slightly ajar in Champions League semifinals

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino celebrate Salah’s second goal of the Champions League semifinal first leg against <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/roma/" data-ylk="slk:Roma">Roma</a>. (Getty)
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino celebrate Salah’s second goal of the Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma. (Getty)

For 25 minutes, there was calm before the storm. Then came the deluge. The Liverpool onslaught. The unparalleled combination of intensity and quality.

Then came a night that Anfield will never forget.

Then came five goals that should send the Reds to their first Champions League final since 2007. Over 50 minutes of unrelenting pressure, behind the brilliant Mohamed Salah, they seemed to have buried an overmatched Roma side in the semifinals.

But late goals from Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti sent the tie back to Italy at 5-2. At the very least, they rendered a second leg necessary. At most, they made that second leg intriguing – and excruciatingly so for Merseysiders who were already contemplating trips to Kiev with 20 minutes still to play on Tuesday.

It was almost as if Liverpool waited to pounce. As if the hosts lured Roma into a false sense of security. Into thinking its imperfections wouldn’t prove costly. Into throwing full weight behind a gameplan that, in retrospect, was the soccer version of suicide.

[More FC Yahoo: Why Roma’s tactical approach was naive]

The Italian visitors tried to be combative. They tried to play a high line and press. They tried to play their game, which just so happened to be Liverpool’s game as well. And for 25 minutes, with Liverpool a half-step off its typically breakneck pace, they were steady.

When Liverpool upped its energy and zeal to match the occasion, Roma crumbled.

It began with warning signs. With chances. With Sadio Mane squandering two, sailing both over the bar, one with his left foot, one with his right. With Salah testing Alisson, giving the Roma keeper advance notice of what was to come.

Suddenly, the tide hadn’t just turned; it had turned into a tidal wave. Liverpool midfielders were getting forward and getting stuck in. Andy Robertson advanced from left back to cross for Mane, who had the ball in the back of the net, only to see the assistant referee’s flag raised on the far side.

That midfield enabled Salah’s near-perfection. Jordan Henderson and Giorginio Wijnaldum won two crucial challenges in midfield. Seconds later, Salah had the ball on the right, with Roma defenders standing off him, and produced something otherworldly:


And Liverpool didn’t let up. Dejan Lovren rattled the crossbar with a header. Mane was foiled on another breakaway.

Salah, again, provided the necessary quality, this time to double the lead:


At a certain point, the chances became difficult to keep track of, and dizzying – especially for Roma. The visitors looked stunned, gasping for air and consciousness, unable to cope with the noise and the speed and the fervor of everything that Liverpool was doing.

And halftime didn’t help. Roma was still all over the place. Never once did it look like keeping the rampant reds at 2-0. Salah fed Mane for the third:


He set up Firmino for a tap-in, and for No. 4:


Firmino also got No. 5:


The tie, at that point, was over. Anfield was roaring and rocking. Traveling fans were sullen and silent. Home fans were researching tourist attractions in Kiev, the site of the final.

But before they could book flights, they received a rude awakening. Liverpool’s ball pressure in midfield eased up. Dejan Lovren mistimed a jump. Dzeko pulled a goal back:


Still, it was a seemingly inconsequential goal. But then a James Milner handball sent Perotti to the penalty spot. The Argentine winger picked out the top corner to bring Roma back to 5-2.

The visitors ended the night ascendant. And they’ll go back home knowing a 3-0 or 4-1 victory – or, in other words, a repeat of their stunning quarterfinal comeback against Barcelona – will be enough to complete the biggest, most miraculous comeback in Champions League history, the first five-goal turnaround.

And if the relieved, measured applause that rolled around Anfield at the final whistle was any indication, Liverpool fans – for the second straight round – will spend an entire week fretting about that possibility.

But hopefully their worries won’t erase those 50 minutes from their memories. Because they were everything Jurgen Klopp ever dreamed of when he arrived in England in 2015. They were almost too good to be true. But they were real. So real. And they should have Liverpool back the biggest European stage of all.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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