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24th Apr 2018

Liverpool took Roma apart for an hour but were left with a familiar feeling of anxiety

Dion Fanning

In injury-time at Anfield as a final Roma attack broke down, a voice in the crowd cried out with some urgency, “Come on Liverpool, a sixth.”

This is where Liverpool had found themselves, somehow making an anti-climax out of an annihilation in a Champions League semi-final, somehow needing a sixth goal to feel confident of their place in the final, somehow needing one more goal to rid themselves of that perpetual anxiety.

But the anxiety will be with them in Rome next week after they conceded two goals in a manner which was familiar, even if it has been less of a concern in recent critical matches.

It returned here at Anfield at the end of an evening when Mo Salah’s lethalness in the first half and his creativity in the second seemed to have put Liverpool in the semi-final.

They had been driven along by the astonishing noise of the home crowd, but the flip side of that manic energy is an awareness that life is fickle, that things can turn in an instant.

With just over 20 minutes left, Aleksandar Kolarov and Federico Fazio tried to encourage their Roma team-mates. They were 4-0 down and had just given away a corner but there was, by an optimistic analysis and the vivid memory of what happened against Barcelona, still some hope for Roma if they could get a goal and not concede any more. So Kolarov and Fazio clapped their hands and urged concentration and then Roberto Firmino scored from the corner.

At that point, Roma looked broken. Liverpool seemed capable of scoring at will. Salah was, of course, central to everything, but Firmino had produced another display of advanced awareness while James Milner’s purpose and strength was critical to the performance.

At that point, there was a strong case to be made that this was one of the most dismal performances seen in an European Cup semi-final, but there was an equally strong case that Liverpool had found those weaknesses with a precision which makes them so riveting to watch.

Liverpool had taken time to get going. Roma had started with possession and Liverpool’s directness wasn’t producing anything.

Roma pushed forward without threatening until a Kolarov shot evaded Loris Karius and came off the bar. It came at the end of their sustained period of pressure, but the shot seemed to rouse something in Liverpool.

Roma had dominated but now they found that domination turned against them as Liverpool managed to effectively get behind their high defence. Sadio Mane missed a series of chances, the purpose of which seemed to be to illustrate the serenity which Salah brings to everything he does.

By the end of the night, Salah was toying with Juan Jesus who may well have been sad to see his former team-mate leave Rome, but he won’t be looking forward to seeing him again.

Salah’s two goals may have been very different, but they both came from that place of calm where he may do something spectacular or the bare minimum in pursuit of a goal.

In some ways, his second was even more audacious than his first as he lifted the ball over Alisson’s body by the tiniest margin, as if he wanted to test the very margins of goalscoring, to understand how close to the edge we are.

Liverpool felt assured at half time and they came out for the second half with the same intent.

Liverpool had closed down the first leg against Manchester City in the second half, but this maybe seemed too easy. The goals kept coming, for Mane and Firmino twice. Klopp then took off Salah, brought on the willing Danny Ings and Roma chipped away.

Their two goals from Dzeko and Perotti from the penalty spot changed the atmosphere. Maybe Liverpool had failed in game management as some suggested or maybe they had felt supremely confident in their ability to continue scoring. But at the end Liverpool felt a sense of urgency, that need for the sixth goal which would take all their troubles away. But what troubles. A team that feels a pressing need to score a sixth goal to make it to a European Cup final should always be encouraged, even if we might wonder what is going on that they could end up regretting not scoring eight.

They will feel certain they can open up Roma again next week, but they will also bring with them some concerns.

Some clubs might reach a European cup final by cruising past the opposition, but Liverpool will be more familiar with this path.

Klopp’s side are favourites to reach the final. They will travel to Roma confident they can score, but accompanied by a familiar feeling of anxiety.