Mohamed Salah was hailed as ‘the best player on the planet’ after his extraordinary performance put Liverpool on the brink of the Champions League final.
Steven Gerrard, the last Liverpool captain to lift the European Cup in 2005, led the praise on BT Sport for the newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year, who scored twice and provided the assists for two further goals as Jurgen Klopp side’s built up a remarkable 5-2 first leg lead against Roma.
Salah’s total for the season is now 43 and he is within touching distance of breaking Ian Rush’s club record for a campaign, set in 1983-84, of 47. His odds to win the Ballon d’Or were slashed by bookmakers and Gerrard did not leave any ambiguity about his feelings.
‘Without a shadow of doubt he’s the best player on the planet right now,’ said Gerrard.
Jurgen Klopp was a little more circumspect but could not hide his admiration for Salah, saying: ‘In that shape, he is outstandingly good. He is pretty hard to defend against. I like the other boys (in my team) of course but the first goal is a genius strike. He’s scored a few like this already this season.
‘If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that (Roma) scored two goals because I took him off I will accept that. It would not help us if Mo got an injury and I was thinking about Stoke. You always create stories. If you think he is the best in the world – write it.
‘What I will say he is in world class shape, 100 per cent. But to be the best in the world, you have to do that over longer period. There are one or two others who are doing that, I would say.’
Liverpool looked to have had the tie wrapped up when they amassed a five goal lead by the 69th minute – Roberto Firmino (two) and Sadio Mane scored the others – but Klopp’s downbeat mood had nothing to do with the concession of two cheap late goals.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was carried off early in the first half with what appears to be serious knee ligament damage. Though Klopp would not confirm it, the indications are that the midfielder will miss the World Cup and is set for a prolonged spell on the sidelines.
‘The biggest blow is the injury of Oxlade-Chamberlain,’ said Klopp. ‘I thought the boys played a brilliant game over a very long period. When the medical department quite concerned without a scan but it doesn’t look good.
‘We lost a fantastic player, so I am not really in the mood to talk about specific fantastic things. ‘That is bad news for us. The squad doesn’t get bigger at the moment so we need to be creative in the next few games.’
Roma overturned a three-goal deficit in the last eight to shock Barcelona and there was a sense that they might do the same again in the return leg next Wednesday. Klopp is not concerned, though, and is confident Liverpool will rise to the challenge in the Stadio Olimpico.
‘There would have been work if we won 5-0,’ said Klopp. ‘Roma would have tried everything anyway. Roma need to score goals against us and as I said a few times, we are not Barcelona. Barcelona is one of the two or three best teams in the world and they won so many things in the last few years and we didn’t so we will fight with all we have for that result.
‘Much better than we expected but the two goals we conceded but I am already in the Stoke game. The atmosphere tonight was ab outstanding, what you can expect if you are 5-0 in the lead, the people enjoyed it so I say I expect the same atmosphere at 1230 on Saturday for Stoke so we must be ready for that.’
Roma boss Eusebio di Francesco said: ‘Let me remind you once again the tie is not over, and we have proved it, we have shown we can come back – we scored three goals at home against Barcelona, so we can do it. If any of my players does not believe we can win they can stay away from the second leg.’