There are measures of Mohamed Salah’s brilliance. Many come in the form of statistics and, even by his standards, it was extraordinary to score two goals and make two more in a Uefa Champions League semi-final, just as it was to take his tally to 43 goals for the campaign, one more than Cristiano Ronaldo managed in his most productive year for Manchester United.
Yet the heights he has scaled can also be judged by questions that are posed, ones that merit consideration. Jurgen Klopp was asked if the PFA Player of the Year is also the planet's finest. "What a player," he replied. "To be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad." Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – otherwise known as "the other two" – remain in the lead, but they have a new challenger.
Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma was another showcase of Salah’s dynamism and destructiveness. “The first goal is just a genius strike,” Klopp said. It was reminiscent of a Merseyside derby strike. “This makes clear it is no coincidence. The second is brilliant play.”
Salah then set up two more, one for the previously profligate Sadio Mane, the other the first of a double for Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian was exceptional: part harrier, part creator, part scorer. He and Salah are the first teammates to both score 10 goals in a Champions League campaign. Add in Mane’s eight and Liverpool’s front three have as many as Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Monaco mustered between them.
They eviscerated Roma, exposing their naivety in fielding a high defensive line and a back three. Liverpool scored three goals in 19 minutes against Manchester City in the quarter-final and five in 33 against Roma. This was another indication of their ability to score in spurts. They are a side who can seem to develop an irresistible momentum. “What I didn’t expect was to concede so many goals one after the other at the start of the second half,” said Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco. “We let in five and it could have been even more.”
“A perfect performance for pretty much 80 minutes or so,” added Klopp. And yet there were imperfections on a seminal Anfield night when Roma were intimidated by Liverpool’s relentless running and the wall of noise from the stands.
And yet the often exuberant Klopp was comparatively subdued afterwards. “I am not flying, mood-wise because we lost a fantastic player,” he said. A knee injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems set to end his season and rule him out of the World Cup. “Probably a really bad injury,” added his manager. Already without Emre Can, he is short of midfielders and said: “We need to be creative in the next few games.”
The other downside came in the form of late concessions; for the second successive game, there were two.
“It felt as though we were in full control but we basically gave them two goals,” said captain Jordan Henderson. “You can't do that in the Champions League.”
Roma were offered a lifeline. "At 5-0 we were dead. Now we have a chance," said sporting director Monchi after Edin Dzeko struck and Diego Perotti converted a penalty Klopp believed should not have been awarded.
Salah had gone off before then, Klopp arguing he removed Roma’s tormentor, and former player, to reduce the risk of injury. “If anyone wants to say it is my mistake we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said.
So hope may spring eternal in the Eternal City. Roma required a 3-0 victory against Barcelona in the quarter-final and got one. They know a similar scoreline is not impossible.
“The tie is not over,” Di Francesco added. “We don’t need miracles. We have already proven we can come back. Whoever does not believe in the comeback, can stay home.”
“If one of my players doesn’t think Roma will try to come back, he will not play,” Klopp countered. “But there would have been work to do if we won 5-0.”
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