“It’s funny when I see centre-forwards starting off in the middle against their markers and then going away from goal. Strikers going inside are far more dangerous,” Sir Alex Ferguson once exclaimed while talking about one of the latest advents of modern football, a position which has become increasingly familiar across European clubs in the last decade or so.
On Tuesday, AS Roma discovered just how dangerous an inside forward can be when he is in form and finds himself in the correct tactical system – a thirty-five minute spell orchestrated by their former player Mohamed Salah left the Serie A club teetering on the edge of elimination as Liverpool took a five-goal lead at home in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. A late surge from Eusebio Francesco’s side meant the match eventually finished 5-2 in favour of the home side, with AS Roma still standing a chance to overturn the deficit, just like they did against Barcelona.
Explosive pace, exceptional shooting, extraordinary form – Salah has been a treat to watch for Liverpool fans and neutrals alike, the Egyptian’s splendidness on the pitch a pleasant contrast to his humility off it. Crowned the PFA Player of the Year just this past weekend, Salah came into Liverpool’s most pivotal match of the season riding on the expectations of the Kopites and lived up to the billing of being the ‘most dangerous forward’ in the game right now.
Although Liverpool’s front three probed and prodded since the start of the game, the Serie A side began their trip to Anfield in a surprisingly convincing fashion, holding their own in the midfield and targeting a nervous Loris Karius in the goal. While Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Under found themselves in space in Liverpool’s defensive third, the Liverpool midfield found it increasingly difficult to cope with Radja Nainggolan.
Daniele De Rossi’s casual runs through the midfield as the deep-lying playmaker transitioned playing channels at will, must have been a concern for Jurgen Klopp, especially as Mane fluffed a couple of his shots over the bar after finding himself in the correct position to beat Alisson. Just when it seemed a dogged Roma side might get something out of the game if they manage to hold on to the clean sheet for an hour or so, Salah took charge of the occasion.
Receiving the ball at the left edge of Roma’s penalty area, Salah dispatched a crackling shot for the opposite top corner, beyond the reach of a flying Alisson, bringing the roof down at Anfield and Liverpool never looked back again. Ten minutes later, Salah would exploit the space between the three Roma centre-halves, taking Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas out of the game with a diagonal run, as a hapless Juan Jesus failed to catch up to the Egyptian. Latching onto the inch-perfect pass from Roberto Firmino, Salah dinked the shot over an approaching Alisson, much to the delight of Klopp.
Salah would create Liverpool’s next two in a similar routine – cutting in from the right flank, beating the ageing Aleksandar Kolarov with sheer pace, and setting up Mane and Firmino with low crosses. As the Liverpool rampage continued through a Firmino header for the home side’s fifth goal of the night, Alisson looked shell-shocked at the meek capitulation of his defenders at the home of his prospective employer next season.
“We will see a very different Roma in the second leg. If you lose numerous duels around the pitch, you're going to lose the game. If the opposition has the ball and is preparing a pass, you can't just stand there and wait for it to come in, especially when it's an easy enough situation to read. We made it easy for them,” Francesco admitted to his side’s shortcomings after the game, but the third-placed Serie A side did keep themselves in the tie with two late goals.
Dzeko utilized Liverpool’s trepidation at the back to get on the scoresheet and Diego Perotti’s late penalty have provided the Italians a fighting chance in the second leg at Rome. Although another dramatic overturn of a three-goal deficit is most definitely possible for Francesco’s side, they would have to contend with the magical Mohamed Salah once again.
“If you think he’s the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, in world-class shape, 100 percent,” Klopp sounded pragmatic in his post-match press conference, adding that “to be best in the world”, Salah needs to continue this form for a longer period, but there is no denying that the Egyptian’s Midas Touch is Liverpool’s best bet to reclaim their throne at the pinnacle of European football.
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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2018 10:32:31 IST