Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah put his stamp on the Champions League semi-final first leg here against AS Roma, scoring a brace and assisting on two other goals in a 5-2 victory that leaves his club poised to reach the final for the first time in more than a decade.
The Egypt international, voted Player of the Year by his peers in England, has 43 goals in 47 club matches this season — including 10 in the Champions League — and people have begun to mention his name in the same breath with those of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, reports EFE news agency.
Neither Liverpool nor Roma were on anyone’s pre-season list of likely Champions League semi-finalists.
But Jürgen Klopp’s Reds are the last remaining undefeated side in the tournament, while Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma squad reached the final four by mounting a historic comeback in the quarterfinal against mighty Barcelona.
Roma made a good beginning during Tuesday night’s contest, neutralizing Liverpool’s pace for the first 15 minutes and giving home goalkeeper Loris Karius some anxious moments as a strike by Aleksandar Kolarov skipped just over the cross-bar, momentarily silencing the raucous crowd at Anfield.
Liverpool regrouped quickly after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left the game injured in the 17th minute and Roma soon found themselves penned in their own end for extended periods.
Sadio Mane threatened twice from close range before Salah got the breakthrough in the 35th minute, leaving Roma keeper Alisson a bystander with a perfect strike to make it 1-0 for the hosts.
Dejan Lovren should have doubled the lead moments later when he got a free header in the box, but he sent the ball straight into the cross-bar.
The second goal for Liverpool came in the final minute of first half regulation, as Salah lifted the ball over Alisson to make it 2-0.
As he did after the first goal, Salah abstained from celebrating out of respect for his former club.
Liverpool’s dominance carried over into the second half and the hosts increased their advantage to 3-0 in the 56th minute, when Mane scored with an assist from Salah, who also set up Roberto Firmino’s goal five minutes later.
Firmino made it 5-0 in the 68th, heading in a James Milner corner.
With the job seemingly done, Klopp substituted Danny Ings for Salah, which turned out to be the signal for a late surge by Roma.
Edin Dzeko, the hero of Roma’s amazing triumph over Barça, exploited a mistake by Lovren to score in the 81st minute. Four minutes later, Diego Perotti cut Liverpool’s lead to 5-2, converting from the spot after the referee spotted a handball by Milner.