There will be a smile on the face of a certain Egyptian after Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final opponents were confirmed, that’s for sure.
For Mo Salah, it is the unlikeliest of fairy stories. When he left Roma in the summer, he may have dreamed that his new club could reach the last four of the European Cup. The idea of his former side joining them, though? That might have been a bridge too far.
In a cold-blooded sense, this represents the ‘easiest’ draw for Liverpool. However impressive the Italians’ comeback against Barcelona was, Roma are not Real Madrid and they are not Bayern Munich. They’re battling just to qualify for next season’s competition, fourth in Serie A and more than 20 points adrift of leaders Juventus.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s team shocked the continent with their remarkable, unfathomable fightback against Lionel Messi and co on Tuesday, but Liverpool will fancy their chances over the two legs. There is no Cristiano Ronaldo or Robert Lewandowski or Luka Modric or Thiago Alcantara in the Giallarossi ranks.
Of course Rome has already played a huge part in the Reds’ rich European history. It was there that Bob Paisley’s men secured the club’s first of five European Cups back in 1977, and just seven years later Joe Fagan’s side would pick up their fourth.
The opponents in the Stadio Olimpico that night, memorably, were Roma themselves. It was some night – Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs breaking the hearts of the hosts on penalties - though fans who made that trip will have mixed feelings about the idea of another visit.
More recently, a Michael Owen-inspired win helped Liverpool on their way to a UEFA Cup triumph in 2001. Liverpool’s last visit was later that same year, a goalless draw in the Champions League group stage. The return fixture at Anfield saw Gerard Houllier’s return to the dugout following life-saving heart surgery. The subsequent 2-0 win came amid one of the stadium’s great European atmospheres.
The same is guaranteed this time around. Anfield will rock, for certain, while the travelling Kop will head to Italy in huge numbers – albeit by air rather than rail this time, surely?
On the pitch, Liverpool will go in as favourites despite Roma’s Barcelona-slaying. Certainly the Italians cannot be underestimated. In Rome - where the second leg will be held - Di Francesco's men have not conceded a goal in the Champions League this season. They have defeated both Barca and Chelsea 3-0 at the Olimpico, and held Atletico Madrid Madrid to a stalemate.
Much of the focus will fall on Salah, who this season has already doubled his best-ever scoring tally in Italy. He netted 34 goals in 81 games for Roma, and has only good things to say about his time there. Much of the incredible progress we have witnessed at Anfield can be traced back to the work of Luciano Spalletti, now at Inter, and his coaching team.
It is credit to Roma that they have progressed to this stage having waved goodbye to such a prolific talent. Liverpool, having sold Philippe Coutinho in January, could relate to that. The Italians deserve respect – the likes of Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi are proven performers, while goalkeeper Alisson Becker is regarded by many to be a world class talent – and one impressive enough to catch the eye of Liverpool’s scouting team.
Clearly, they’re a talented side, but in terms of progression, this represents the Reds’ best chance. The Eternal City beckons, and the chance to write another chapter in the Reds’ long and glorious history.