A determined Atalanta side took advantage of an uncharacteristically disjointed display from Liverpool to register a 2-0 win over the Reds in their UEFA Champions League tie at Anfield on Wednesday.
Second-half goals in quick succession from Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens helped the Italians secure three precious points as they avenged the thumping 5-0 defeat that Liverpool inflicted on them three weeks ago.
The visitors dominated the first half in terms of possession and chances, while Liverpool struggled to find their rhythm and failed to register an effort of any sort until there was about a minute to go for half time. However, for all their positive play, Atalanta failed to test Alisson in goal for the hosts, and the two sides went in at the break all square.
Although Liverpool looked brighter in the second half, Atalanta continued to press in numbers and were rewarded for their efforts on the hour mark, with Ilicic turning Alejandro Gomez’s pin-point far-post cross into the net from close range.
The Italian side then doubled their lead four minutes later, with Gomez lofting another inviting cross towards the far post for Hans Hateboer to steer back across the box and Gosens to fire home.
The home side turned up their efforts to find a way back into the game but were thwarted at every turn by a resolute defence that refused to allow them any room to create chances.
Atalanta eventually wrapped up a deserved win and left Anfield with all three points. They are now level with Ajax on seven behind table-topping Liverpool on nine as the Champions League’s focus shifts to the next round of fixtures.
On that note, let’s take a look at the major talking points from Atalanta’s win over Liverpool at Anfield.
#1 Liverpool’s second-string unit get an opportunity in the Champions League
With several first-team players missing due to illness or injury, Jurgen Klopp has had to be very judicious with his team selection in recent matches, especially in terms of his defense.
However, three wins from three European fixtures with no goals conceded yet allowed Klopp the luxury of tinkering with his starting eleven for this one, with games coming thick and fast in this compressed season.
The Reds made no less than five alterations to the side that beat Leicester City at the weekend, with three of those coming at the back as Neco Williams, Rhys Williams, and Kostas Tsimikas were drafted in.
The versatile James Milner, who was deployed at right-back against the Foxes, took up a place in midfield for this fixture, showcasing his value in Liverpool’s squad.
The other two alterations came at the other end of the pitch, with Divock Origi given a run out and Mohamed Salah rushed back into the starting lineup after missing the Leicester game through illness.
As has been the case in previous European fixtures, Klopp switched his attackers on the hour mark. He took off Salah and Origi in favour of Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, later throwing on Andy Robertson, Fabinho, and even Takumi Minamino for good measure as his side chased the game.
#2 Atalanta dominate in the battle of the high press
One of the reasons Liverpool have emerged as one of the strongest sides in Europe has been the incessant and energetic high press they play under Jurgen Klopp. The style makes them a formidable attacking side, but they were up against a similar opponent.
In Serie A, Atlanta have made a name for themselves under Gian Piero Gasperini as a side that plays free-flowing attacking football, priding themselves on their energy levels and not giving opposition defenders a moment’s peace.
When these two sides met in Italy, it was Liverpool that came out on top, but the Italian side seemed to find another gear in this fixture, seemingly catching the Reds off guard.
Led by the sprightly Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta were all over Liverpool’s inexperienced defence from the first whistle. They created several promising chances, and forced Liverpool’s defenders into misplaced passes and hurried clearances.
The uncertainty in the Liverpool defence was replicated in their attack as well, with Klopp’s men being uncharacteristically passive in their build-up play and failing to threaten the opposition goal.
Atalanta reaped the rewards for their first-half efforts in the second half, scoring two quick-fire goals that Liverpool had simply no answer for.
#3 Cracks starting to appear in Liverpool's defense?
The long-term absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, coupled with the short-term absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, has understandably raised questions about their ability to maintain their usual high standards.
However, Klopp’s men, with their makeshift back-line, registered a commanding 3-0 win over Leicester City, who are said to be one of their biggest rivals this season, over the weekend. Liverpool seemed to have silenced some of the doubters.
As a result, the Reds were expected to replicate their resounding away win over the Italian side earlier on in the competition, but Atalanta had other ideas.
Incessant pressuring from the Italian side forced Liverpool’s young and inexperienced back-line into all sorts of mistakes as the visitors carved out a number of promising chances.
Although they were unable to convert any of their chances in the first half, Atalanta made the pressure count in the second, with two quick-fire goals just after the hour mark that exposed gaps in the Liverpool defense.
Although both of Atalanta’s goals featured excellent crosses into the box, Klopp would be worried about the ease with which the goals were scored. The second goal, in particular, saw Gosens arrive into the box unseen and steer his finish into the net unchallenged.
#4 Alejandro Gomez’s masterclass a fitting tribute to Maradona
A few hours before Liverpool and Atalanta took to the field, the football world was rocked by the news of the unfortunate demise of Diego Maradona, who was one of the game’s true greats.
The Argentine magician spent a large part of his illustrious career in the Serie A with Napoli, where he won multiple titles and enjoyed glorious success.
And it was perhaps fitting that on the sad day, a diminutive Argentine playmaker with the number 10 on his back would steal the show with a superb individual performance, the likes of which Maradona seemed to put on for fun during his playing career.
With a virtuoso display that would have hade his countryman proud, Alejandro Gomez ran the show in Atalanta’s impressive win. He pulled the strings from midfield, while also putting in the hard yards with several lung-bursting runs in an effort to hurry and harry the Liverpool defence.
Gomez set up Atalanta’s first goal with a pin-point cross for Ilicic to steer home, before finding Hans Hateboer with another excellent cross minutes later which led to the Italian side’s second.
In a game that was otherwise quite devoid of clear-cut chances, Gomez lit up Anfield with a couple of moments of quality that decided the game in his side’s favour.
#5 An intriguing battle developing in Group D of the Champions League
Having swept aside all previous challenges set before them in the tournament thus far, Liverpool were widely expected to rack up yet another win and secure passage through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
However, despite suffering a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Liverpool in the reverse fixture, Atalanta flipped the script on the Reds at Anfield by registering an unexpected, if thoroughly deserved, win.
With Ajax taking three points against Midtjylland in the other fixture in Group D, the Dutch champions sit level with Atalanta on seven points with four games played, two behind Liverpool.
Barring a sensational upset, the Reds still remain favourites to qualify from their group in top spot. Ajax and Atalanta are expected to be left to battle for the second spot, with the Danish side out of the running.
What makes this group even more intriguing is the fact that the Dutch side and the Italians face off in Holland in the final group game. They will fight it out for the right to continue in the competition, with the loser dropping down into the Europa League.