However, with a silent insistence, more and more professional observers have followed Wright's example in recent weeks. It does not mean that Salah is equal to Messi, far from it, or that he has achieved, or even succeeds. It is only that, under certain light, in certain points, it is possible to glimpse in Salah a bit of the glow of Messi.
Even though the idea has gained credibility, it still seems fanciful. And yet, every three days or so, Salah does something to give weight to the idea. Normally, it's a goal, one of those hypnotizing dribbles that have long been Messi's hallmark. Against Rome, however, was something else, something more significant. Great players win games, not only, but through strength and personality. They bend and shape the contests at will. Nobody does better than Messi and Ronaldo. However, against his old friends in Rome, Salah was close.
It was not just that he scored twice, which put Liverpool on the road to a five-goal lead that, not long after he left the field, was reduced to a three-goal lead. Nor is it just that he scored two times so beautifully, with the kind of game we associate with Messi: a precision shot from the edge of the penalty area, going to Alisson, goalkeeper of Roma; a delicate chip – a reflection, really, there is no other word for that – after exchanging quick passes with Roberto Firmino.
It is not that, after halftime, he created two more: the first is a simple final for Sadio Mané, the second identical opportunity for Firmino, since Liverpool ran riot, and a victory, for a time, was transformed in a defeat.
It was, on the other hand, the way he stood on the occasion, the dominant figure on the field even when he was not close to the ball.
Jürgen Klopp's team had an excellent performance in those first 80 minutes, while Roma stumbled and collapsed: Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum apparently omnipresent in midfield, fulfilling that old saying by Pep Guardiola "I receive the ball , I play the ball, I get the ball, I play the ball "; Firmino himself, scoring not only Liverpool's quarter but also the fifth, a simple header from a corner, buzzing around the scruffy defenders of Rome; Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, wrapping the Liverpool team in a pack of pure energy.
But Salah stood out however, a magnet not only for the ball but also for the eye, impossible to ignore, a danger even when He stood still, sticking his hands in his long-sleeved sweater in the dirty night class that the northwest of England considers his specialty. He did what Messi and Ronaldo have always done: he made this his game, his semifinal of the Champions League. He, more than anyone else, put Liverpool on the road to their eighth European Cup final in Kiev on May 26. In the most exalted scenario, under the brightest lights, it shone.
Rome could not rest while he was there, this player would recognize him but it was still a mystery. He was admired in Italy, during his two seasons there; the club separated from him only reluctantly. James Pallotta, the owner of Rome, has said he had "no other option" than to sell it. Monchi, sports director of Rome, made it clear that the agreement had been agreed before taking office.
Even so: they knew it was fast and they knew he was creative and they knew it could be more. But this is much more, a forward of such lethality – and here is that comparison again – noting the type of index that many had assumed was exclusively for Messi and Ronaldo. Able to score 43 goals in 47 games? It is not surprising that all that previous warning did not count at all. This is not the Salah that Rome remembers. This Salah is something more, something more.
That does not mean that Rome has no hope for the return game, in the Italian capital next Wednesday. "Anyone who does not believe in the return could stay at home, as fans or players," Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said after the game.
There are reasons to believe. Liverpool, 5-0 at the 80 minute mark, was over; Five minutes later, he had conceded two goals – through an effort by Edin Dzeko and a penalty kick, awarded by James Milner and converted by Diego Perotti- and Anfield, previously almost delirious, seemed anxious, restless. Liverpool could, perhaps should, have scored more than five, a waste that can be disturbing.
And Rome, of course, has done this before. In the quarterfinals, he recovered from a 4-1 down after the first leg to beat Barcelona, 3-0, and advance against a howling Stadio Olimpico. Messi himself was not enough to save a team that even Klopp happily admits is the superior of Liverpool.
Klopp does not have Messi next week. He only has Salah; he only has the imitation. If Rome can stop it, there is a possibility. That, however, is quite big yes.
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