Neither Liverpool nor Roma was truly expected to reach this stage, but for one, a golden opportunity awaits–and it sure looks like it's going to be the former.
The two sides opened the Champions League semifinals at Anfield on Tuesday, both looking to take a decisive step toward an appearance in the Champions League final, but it was the hosts that seized their chance, winning the first leg 5-2. It could have been worse, with Liverpool running out to a 5-0 lead behind two goals and assists from both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, but Roma scored twice late to give a semblance of hope going back home.
Liverpool overwhelmed Premier League champion Manchester City in the quarterfinals, racing out to a 3-0 first-leg win before finishing off Pep Guardiola's side with a 2-1 second-leg triumph at the Etihad.
Roma, meanwhile, completed one of the more stunning comebacks in Champions League history in the quarters to reach this stage. The Serie A side battled back from 4-1 down to Barcelona after the first leg to go through via the away goal tiebreaker, with Kostas Manolas's heroic header late in the second leg forcing a 4-4 aggregate draw. Roma did not receive a similar defensive effort from that famous night on Tuesday, though, and will have themselves a massive hill to climb in the second leg yet again.
It was Roma that actually fired the first warning shot in the second minute, when Kevin Strootman tested Loris Karius from long range, with the Liverpool goalkeeper going down to his right to make the clean save.
Salah came down the other end moments later, getting in behind the defense, cutting centrally onto his left foot and ultimately putting a chance on frame that Alisson Becker caught easily.
Liverpool endured a setback by the quarter-hour mark when the in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went down with an injury to his right leg. Georginio Wijnaldum was pressed into action off the bench, with Jurgen Klopp forced to make an early substitution.
Moments after the swap, Roma earned a corner kick, and Aleksandar Kolarov ripped a left-footed blast from distance that seemed to have caught Karius off guard. The goalkeeper managed to get enough of a hand on it to tip the ball off the crossbar and keep the visitors off the board.
Liverpool had two of its best chances about 10 minutes later, both of them off Sadio Mane's foot. First, he led the charge on a counterattack, getting in behind Roma's high line on a breakaway only to opt for power and putting his chance high of the bar.
On Liverpool's next attacking sequence, Roberto Firmino set up Mane with a pinpoint ball to the center of the box, only for Mane to completely mishit the first-time opportunity and send it well wide and high.
Mane thought he had scored in the 34th minute, only for a correct offside flag to rob him of a first-time finish after James Milner's cross from the left.
The opener came moments later, though. It was Salah who did the damage, putting a left-footed curler into the far corner to spark celebrations at Anfield–though he refused to celebrate against his former club.
Dejan Lovren blew a chance to double the lead a couple of minutes later, putting a clean header from a corner kick off the bar and over. Salah doubled it just before halftime, though. It was Salah who took down a long clearance and played it to Firmino, who returned service to the Egyptian and sent him on his way. With Alisson racing off his line, Salah deftly chipped it over the goalkeeper, and the ball trickled over the line before any goal-line clearance could come to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead.
Salah played provider in the 56th minute to make it 3-0. The sequence started with a long ball out of the back by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Salah ran onto it, picked up his head and spotted Mane in the center of the box before crossing. Mane side-footed the tap home to give Liverpool its three-goal edge.
An almost identical sequence for Liverpool made it 4-0 in the 62nd minute. Alexander-Arnold again found Salah in space down the right-hand side, and he curled in a perfect ball to the far post, where Firmino tapped home.
Liverpool didn't relent there. Firmino tallied his second off a corner kick, making it 5-0 in the 69th minute on a clean header snapped down to the bottom left corner.
Roma pulled one back in the 81st minute through Edin Dzeko. Like in the first leg of a lopsided loss to Barcelona in the quarterfinals, Dzeko struck for a late away goal, one that gives some life into a second-leg comeback attempt.
That life grew even more moments later, when Milner handled Radja Nainggolan's shot from long distance in the box. Diego Perotti buried the ensuing penalty kick, making it 5-2.
In the quarterfinals, Roma managed a 3-0 win in the second leg at home to go through. It'd take another 3-0 win (or 4-1) at this point–which would require another attacking onslaught and what few teams have been able to accomplish all season: silencing Salah & Co. over the course of 90 minutes.
Here were the lineups for both sides:
The second leg is slated for Wednesday, May 2 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The winner will face either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the May 26 final in Kiev.