Liverpool v AS Roma: Salah welcomes Roma seeking 10th UCL goal
When the teams – Liverpool and Roma, file out through the narrow Anfield corridor on Tuesday for the first leg of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League [UCL] semifinal, there would be a succession of handshakes and hugs between most of the Roma players and Liverpool’s leading man, Mohamed Salah.
In those greetings would be love and awe. Because just nine months ago, Salah was a Roma player scoring goals and making assists – 15 goals in 31 league appearances but since joining Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool for about $51 million last summer, he has become a goal machine.
By the time he played his 31st EPL match for Liverpool, he had almost doubled his goals tally from a year before. At the moment, he boasts 41 goals in 46 appearances for the Reds. That is nothing short of phenomenal for a player whose starting position is the right flank.
But Tuesday’s encounter is not all about how Salah can hurt his former side, it would a tactical match between two of Europe’s most sought-after managers – Klopp  and Eusebio Di Francesco .
If football were to Mathematics, this semifinal would have been between Manchester City and Barcelona but Liverpool were too quick and too rapid for Pep Guardiola’s City while Roma became modern Roman gladiators in ousting Lionel Messi’s Barcelona after a 4-1 first leg defeat.
Though Di Francesco did not get to coach Salah, he must prepare his team to combat the Egyptian’s direct running and goal scoring run.
“I don’t need them to tell me [about Salah],” Di Francesco told the Guardian of London. “His qualities are very clear. Don’t forget that I prepared games against him in Italy, too. But the fact lots of our players know him well, that can be an advantage.”
Roma legend and a former teammate to Salah, Francesco Totti is surprised and “also not surprised” by how many goals the Egyptian has scored for Liverpool. “To some extent, it surprises me that [Salah] has been doing so well in his first season at Liverpool,” Totti told Roma’s official website.
“But, on the other hand, considering the quality of the squad, the coach they have – Klopp, to me, is one of the best coaches in the world – it didn’t surprise me.”
Salah was crowned the Professional Footballers Association [PFA] Player of the season on Sunday, ahead of Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne – a selection that says a lot about his improvements since coming back to the EPL after a first cameo with Chelsea.
“We have special tactics [for Salah] but I’m not going to share them! Italian defence, that’s what I’m hoping for,” revealed Kevin Strootman on Monday.
To which Klopp replied, “Mo [Salah] will realise pretty early in the game that they are not his team-mates anymore. Then he can strike back the way he normally does.”
Whatever Roma have planned, the question is would it be enough to stop Salah, who has scored nine goals in this season’s UCL [about 27 per cent of Liverpool’s total] from scoring his 10th on Tuesday? Kick-off is 7.45pm.
The midfield will be a battleground
If the managers start with their preferred formation and players, Jurgen Klopp will start with Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and James Milner while Eusebio di Francesco should start with Danielle De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan, and Kevin Strootman.
This will be the battleground!
Klopp has formed a band of high-energy, hard-pressing, and relentless running ethic on his players while Di Francesco has attained a level of happiness into the work that his players perform.
Both teams play very aggressive, high-risk football as Edin Dzeko alluded to. “In 180 minutes we can get to the final, which is something we all dream about. But it’s not going to be an easy task given that Liverpool are a strong team with a coach who likes aggressive football, just like us.”
Therefore it may be that the team that marries aggressiveness plus constraint could be the winner on Tuesday as you expect tackles to be flying.
Current Form: Liverpool [D-W-W-D-W]; Roma [W-W-D-W-L]
Head to head
Tue 02/08/16 CLF Liverpool 1 – 2 AS Roma
Thu 24/07/14 CLF Liverpool 0 – 1 AS Roma
Wed 25/07/12 CLF Liverpool 1 – 2 AS Roma
Tue 19/03/02 UCL Liverpool 2 – 0 AS Roma
Wed 05/12/01 UCL AS Roma 0 – 0 Liverpool
Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson sets the tempo for the work done by his team and is keen to test that against the experience in Roma’s ranks, especially that of their captain, De Rossi.
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s been around so long and has so much experience. We have experienced players, too, but none with as much [experience] as him. They have a great balance to their squad and he’s a big part of that.”
His manager, Klopp also agrees on the coming battle. “We’re expecting a mighty battle. They beat Barcelona, were first in their group and haven’t conceded a home goal so far in the Champions League.”
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Words before the war
“I love our history but it’s not allowed to compare us constantly. You can do whatever you want but it is not allowed for us. Those teams were great but they became great in these situations.”- Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool Manager
“I don’t like to talk about our line-up. Our team has acquired two systems of playing – with a back four and a back three. I will decide in due course, but the most important thing is our philosophy.” – Eusebio Di Francesco, Roma Manager