Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Liverpool 0-3 Atalanta: Talking points as La Dea stun Anfield to take big step towards Europa League semifinals

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Having been undefeated at Anfield this season, Liverpool fell to a shocking defeat at their iconic stadium to Atalanta in the first leg of their meeting in the quarterfinals of the Europa League on Thursday.

There were danger signs in front of Caoimhin Kelleher’s goal early on, but things really started rolling downhill when Gianluca Scamacca fired past the Irish goalkeeper in the 38th minute to break the deadlock. The Atalanta striker added another one to his tally on the hour mark, and Mario Pasalic put his team practically a step away from the semifinals with a fine finish in the 83rd minute.

The woes of Liverpool

Nothing should be taken away from the performance of the Serie A side. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men were obviously up for the fight, inspired rather than scared by the prospect of facing true European giants. They pressed hard from the first to the final whistle and fought for every ball in every area of the pitch, keeping things rather tight at the back while threatening time and again at the other end.

Still, the main factor that contributed to this surprising outcome was Liverpool’s woeful performance. Despite the 71% of possession, Klopp’s team absolutely deserved to lose, arguably with an even worse scoreline. Almost every man which wore the home shirt on the pitch will have plenty to reflect on.

Kelleher made two fantastic saves in one-on-one situation, but he was pretty culpable for the opening goal. Virgil van Dijk was among the responsible ones for both those chances which Kelleher stopped. Ibrahima Konate was far too casual on the ball and misplaced several passes towards the middle of the park, always putting his team in danger. The defensive flanks, the areas Joe Gomez and Kostas Tsimikas were supposed to be covering from the start, were far too exposed throughout.

Wataru Endo, as the midfield anchor, frequently looked like he had never played football before and was lucky not to concede a penalty for a clumsy handball which happened a few inches outside the box. Curtis Jones was practically invisible, and in such circumstances, there was nothing Alexis Mac Allister, Liverpool’s indisputably best player in recent matches, was able to do. Upfront, Darwin Nunez looked lively for the first 20 minutes or so, and then he gradually faded out of the game. The ball simply wouldn’t do what Harvey Elliot wanted, and the same goes for Cody Gakpo who really isn’t playing well these days.

Klopp unsurprisingly used up all five substitutions, and while Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah did bring a dose of quality into their side, Luis Diaz, Dominik Szoboszlai and Diogo Jota simply blended into the general performance of the team. To be fair, Jota can probably be forgiven as he had just returned after almost two months out with a knee injury to play the last 15 minutes.

Klopp will probably want most of all to show the three goals conceded to his defenders and ask his defenders for an explanation.

On the other hand, Atalanta did everything they were supposed to do, how they were supposed to do it, with perfect timing. There were no brilliant moments on the ball from their players, and they obviously didn’t need them at all. All they had to do was to run, fight, press, force mistakes, and keep cool in front of goal. And that’s exactly what they did for most of the time.

Game over?

Liverpool have shown on numerous occasions this season, as well as throughout their glorious European past, that they have the ability and the mentality to defy the odds. Well, their trip to Bergamo next week will certainly be a challenge as they seek to overturn this deficit.

And what makes this task even more daunting and their success less likely is that their performances seem to be going the wrong way. They played very well in the first half of their Premier League blockbuster clash with Manchester United a couple of days ago, but they were notably poorer in the second, which left them scrambling for a point in a game they should’ve settled before the break. This time they were poor for the whole game.

There’s just seven days before the second leg, and Klopp will have little time to find a way to inspire his players to stop the rot and deliver, if they’re to have any chance at all of going through. They’ll need a quick goal too, and there’s no doubt that Atalanta will be prepared for their desperate charge.

As they raced towards Champions League glory in 2018/19, Liverpool were beaten 3-0 by Barcelona and defied the odds by winning 4-0 at Anfield in the semifinals – obviously nothing is impossible in this game. But while they were beaten by bad luck and the brilliance of Lionel Messi & Co. at the Camp Nou, this time they were beaten 3-0 in the first leg at Anfield mostly through fault of their own, and let’s face it, they don’t really have such quality in their ranks anymore.

Make no mistake, the Merseysiders won’t give up. They’ll go to Italy to fight, but in all honesty, while they’re more than likely to play a lot better and maybe even win on the evening, their chances of reaching the semifinals are bordering on non-existent. Atalanta are one foot there already.

To make things worse for the Reds, they will soon be saying goodbye to Klopp, and though they dreamed of a quadruple when the German announced his departure at the end of the season and then won the Carabao Cup, they’ve already left the FA Cup, they’ve lost ground in the Premier League title race, and their Europa League campaign is all but over.

Unless he wants his final months at the club to be full of nothing but disappointment, Klopp will have to find solutions to his team’s problems very quickly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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