LONDON • Roma know the threat posed by Mohamed Salah more than most, having sold the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year to Liverpool for an initial £37 million (S$68.4 million) just 10 months ago.
But that may not help the Italian side much as they become the latest side to face the wrath of Anfield on a European night in today's Champions League semi-final, first leg, as he has blossomed into a 41-goal machine few saw coming at the start of the season.
After receiving the most prized individual accolade in English football, the Egyptian said there was more to come from him.
"It's a big honour. I've worked hard and I'm very happy to win it," he added.
Salah's then club-record move was questioned at the time of the deal coming just two years after he had failed to make an impression in the Premier League with Chelsea.
Now, though, it looks like an incredible bargain as top scorer Salah has been instrumental in taking Liverpool back into the last four of Europe's premier club competition for the first time in a decade, and given the inflated transfer market with the likes of Neymar going to Paris Saint-Germain for €222 million (S$359 million) last summer .
"It wasn't like a lot of other teams than Liverpool were banging down the door," Roma's American co-owner James Pallotta told the BBC's World Football programme.
Mohamed Salah is the fifth player to be involved in 40 Premier League goals (31 goals, nine assists) in a season.
Goals Roma striker Edin Dzeko has scored in the Champions League this season. He also netted three times against Liverpool in Man City colours.
"Today a lot of teams are kicking themselves in the head that they didn't take a closer look at him."
Pallotta agrees that Jurgen Klopp's system of a fluid front three with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane alongside Salah has freed up the 25-year-old, who in Italy, had to feed off the target-man figure of Edin Dzeko.
But the Serie A side have an unenviable record of losing their last three Champions League games on the road - conceding eight goals in the process - which does not bode well ahead of their visit.
Salah matched Luis Suarez's 31-goal league record on Saturday against West Bromwich Albion, and stopping their former team-mate over two legs will prove to be a tough task for Roma in their first appearance in the last four since 1984, when they lost to Liverpool in the European Cup final.
That has not stopped Roma from developing a game plan to nullify his threat with Bruno Peres jokingly telling Italy's Mediaset that defensive team-mate Kostas Manolas has warned Salah "not to try anything or he's getting beaten up".
Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman also revealed in an interview with The Independent that they planned to limit Salah with "special tactics" in the form of catenaccio.
Salah himself has admitted that he still holds a soft spot for his former club, saying on Sky Sports that the tie came "with more emotion".
"It's not easy for me, I love the club, love the city, and I know they (Roma players) love me," he said.
At his pre-match press conference yesterday, Klopp sought to downplay Liverpool's tag as favourites.
"Both teams deserve it. Roma have all my respect. We both have the chance to go to the final - and that's all I need. Let's try everything to do it," the German, who also highlighted Dzeko as the opposition's danger man, said.
He praised Salah for winning the PFA award, but added the "season is not finished yet" and warned Roma they would be facing "one of the most special atmospheres in world football".
However, Merseyside Police yesterday issued a statement that they will not tolerate a repeat of the crowd disturbances that marred the home leg of Liverpool's quarter-final against Manchester City.
Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush believes the stars are aligning for the Reds. "It's strange Liverpool drew Roma as there are similarities with the team in '84," the club ambassador said.
"In Europe, Liverpool are playing extremely well. The spirit in that 1984 team was massive and it is something I see in Liverpool now."
And with Salah just six goals away from equalling Rush's goals record in a season for Liverpool, the Welshman will be surely be among his loudest supporters today if he can fire his beloved club one step closer to their first Champions League final since 2007 and their sixth European Cup.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
LIVERPOOL V ROMA
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