There was no Mo-shaped threat to devastate the Italians on this occasion but nothing should obscure the inconvenient truth. Roma looked dynamic, dangerous and demonstrated to Liverpool they mean business, in the game which sends them into Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg.
With Kevin Strootman and Diego Perotti both missing through injury for manager Eusebio Di Francesco – who has been the source of stinging criticism here since his tactical disaster at Anfield – Stephan el Shaarawy is the left-sided attacking outlet who may be asked to carry the baton on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old has Egyptian blood (his father was born in the North African country) and they even call him ‘Il Faraone’ (The Pharoah.) He shone as Roma secured Champions League football next season with a thumping win, bringing pace and ambition as the lowly Verona side were subjected to the kind of first half onslaught Di Francesco’s players suffered at Anfield.
El Shaarawy, an Italy international signed from Milan two years ago, has confidence to go with technique. An audacious back-heeled volley from Aleksandr Kolarov’s cross was ruled offside by a VAR referral. A beautiful right-foot effort was arced against the far upright. And then came the evening’s sublime, stand-out moment – a run from him that began in his own half, saw him nutmeg substitute centre half Alessandro Gamberini and tuck home, right-footed, to make it 3-0.
It had been the Czech Patrik Schick who got things started, scoring from Radja Nainggolan’s ball after only eight minutes, and the second goal was made in Manchester City. The club’s former players Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko combined, with Dzeko deftly glancing in the Serbian’s cross with his left instep.
If there is one criticism of El Shaarawy it is that he is slightly one-footed. He did not use his weaker left to cross for Dzeko on 36 minutes and the ball eluded the forward.
Chievo looked like they might strike back after the break when defensive failings from Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus presented Chievo forward Roberto Inglese with a close-range chance. Keeper Allison Becker was adjudged to have brought him to ground but promptly saved the ensuing penalty, hurling himself to his right.
Then Roma ran away, with El Shaarawy’s pearl topped off by a fine Dzeko strike from the edge of the box. Two touches on a ball Nainggolan laid into his path and he struck it far to the goalkeeper’s right. Dzeko’s monumental popularity here surpasses his experience at City where things were so often a struggle under Roberto Mancini. ‘Goal, Dzeko’ is a huge and popular chant.
Inglese did score a consolation three minutes from time but nothing could detract from the Roman performance.
The favoured expression in the streets of Rome these past few days has been ‘Miracles happen once.’ No-one thinks Roma can accomplish against Klopp’s side what they achieved against Barcelona. But they sent out a message. This tie is not over yet.