Much of the pre-match build-up to last night’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg tie between Liverpool and Roma was centred around Mohamed Salah facing his former side for the first time since leaving them in a €42 million deal last summer.
The Egyptian certainly did not disappoint his adoring Scouse audience, scoring two goals and assisting a further two against Eusebio Di Francesco’s defensively hapless side. They had no answer to any of the questions posed by The Reds’ outstanding attack, and were lucky to only concede five on the night.
Of course, Salah put in a phenomenal performance, but no one can deny he was helped by the fact Di Francesco got his tactics so blatantly wrong. Leaving Juan Jesus to face the newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year one on one was suicidal.
Admittedly, Aleksandar Kolarov offered very little in the way of extra defensive cover, though that is immaterial given that Salah tends to occupy more central positions compared to what he did at former clubs. Jürgen Klopp’s direct style of play meant that the midfield area was completely bypassed at times, hence the experience of Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan verged on useless.
Di Francesco’s priority ahead of next week must be to find a better tactical solution for his midfielders. That area of the pitch is arguably his team’s main strength, while he simply cannot afford to allow his defence to be as exposed as they were at Anfield.
Salah is having a magnificent season and is playing to a standard very few thought possible, but there is simply no excuse for the basic errors made by Roma’s rearguard. Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and the aforementioned JJ were caught in no man’s land for the majority of the game – they gave their former teammate the freedom to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Jordan Russell (@JordRuss96)