Georginio Wijnaldum came on in his place and perhaps the substitution unsettled the home side as Roma almost took a surprise lead. Cengiz Ünder’s outswinging corner narrowly missed Džeko’s head, before the ball fell to Kolorov on the edge of the box. The former Manchester City left back, renowned for his powerful left foot during his time in England, fired a shot at goal which goalkeeper Loris Karius fumbled fortuitously onto the underside of the crossbar.
Karius, who has spent much of his Liverpool career playing second fiddle to Simon Mignolet, has regularly given his own teammates and fans similarly heart-stopping moments. As the clocked ticked towards half an hour, Sadio Mane had two gilt-edged chances in the space of 49 seconds to give Liverpool the lead.
First, Firmino’s clever flick and pass was latched onto by Mane, whose exceptional first touch allowed him to get away from Federico Fazio, but the Senegalese blazed his finish high over Alisson’s crossbar. Moments later, Roma’s high defensive line was again exposed, this time as Firmino got in down the right to square the ball for Mane, but again his shot went high into the stands.
It wasn’t long before Mane did finally have the ball in the net, prodding home Andy Robertson’s low cross, though this time he was met with the sight of the linesman’s, now fully functioning, flag. That first Mane chance, though it wasn’t taken, felt like the watershed moment in the first half. Wave after wave of red shirts began descending on Roma’s back line; every lunge increasingly desperate, every tackle increasingly last ditch.
It wasn’t long before Liverpool’s star man, Salah, got in on the act, cutting inside and curling a shot which was palmed away by Alisson at full stretch. Roma naively didn’t heed that warning, again allowing Salah to cut inside onto that magical left foot. This time it was inch perfect, the ball kissing the underside of the crossbar as the scrambling Alisson looked helplessly upwards.
There was a brief intake of breath, a split second of silence as the 54,000 watching fans heard the noise of ball against woodwork, before Anfield — which up to this point had been simmering nicely — exploded into life. Salah, facing his former employers for the first time since his summer transfer to Merseyside, immediately turned to where the away fans were congregated and put his hands together, asking for forgiveness.
Bar the small pocket of Roma fans in the corner of the crowd, Anfield was delirious and the Liverpool players responded to a crowd which now was baying for more Roma blood. Again they came forward, this time Firmino crashed through a weak tackle from Kostas Manolas — Roma’s hero from their second-leg quarterfinal comeback against Barcelona — and threaded a pass through to Salah.
With his first touch, the Egyptian dragged the ball into his path; with his second, he nonchalantly clipped it over the onrushing Alisson. For a moment it looked as though the backtracking Juan Jesus might be able to save Roma, but the wet turf quickly coaxed the ball over the line. Roma made a substitution at the start of the second half, Patrik Schick replacing Under, in what proved to be a futile attempt to stem the tide.