Liverpool left needing miracle after Scamacca double for Atalanta

Estimated read time 5 min read

Anfield was shorn of its flags and Liverpool lost all of their powers. A thumping first home defeat in 34 matches, against a highly accomplished Atalanta, left the Europa League favourites needing another stirring comeback to resurrect Jürgen Klopp’s chances of signing off with a Dublin final. A manager responsible for so many unforgettable European nights during his Liverpool reign is at risk of exiting quietly.

Gianluca Scamacca, the former West Ham disappointment, scored twice as Atalanta displayed the cutting edge, tactical discipline, physical power and defensive might that Klopp’s subdued team lacked all night. It was Liverpool’s first loss at Anfield in 26 games this season and their joint heaviest home defeat in European competition. There were no excuses. Klopp admitted his side “lost the plot” tactically and the overall performance level represented a low point in the campaign.

Liverpool failed to come to terms with the Italians’ man-marking system and the visitors would have recorded a more comprehensive victory but for glaring second-half misses from Scamacca and Teun Koopmeiners. Not that Atalanta’s threats merited any criticism. Together with Charles De Ketelaere they ran the Liverpool defence ragged. Liverpool’s European pedigree, and greater resources compared to their Europa League rivals, ensures a recovery in Bergamo next Thursday cannot be discounted but that is a distant prospect on this evidence. Atalanta relished their defensive duties as much as Scamacca enjoyed proving a point. Liverpool had no answers.

Flags were conspicuous by their absence on the Kop as fans staged a simple but effective protest against Liverpool’s decision to raise ticket prices by 2% next season. The displays, organised by supporters group Spion Kop 1906, have become an established feature of European nights at Anfield and create an image that is a marketing dream for the club. This was an exception. Only one banner was unfurled before kick off after Spion Kop withheld its services for the night. It read: “No to ticket price increases”.

The lack of colour, but not noise, was not the only unusual aspect of a European quarter-final at Anfield. Liverpool were apprehensive and vulnerable throughout as Atalanta took them on at their own pressing game and prospered.

It was a performance that showed why Gian Piero Gasperini’s side are unbeaten in 11 Europa League away fixtures, a sequence stretching back six years.

Mario Pasalic should have put the visitors ahead in the opening minutes when Virgil van Dijk’s awkward clearance struck De Ketelaere and rebounded into his path. The midfielder was five yards out and unmarked in front of goal but his snap-shot struck Caoimhín Kelleher in the face and deflected out for a corner. A busy, mixed night for the Liverpool goalkeeper was under way.

Alexis Mac Allister swept a good chance over the bar from a Harvey Elliott pull back and Darwin Núñez, sent clean through by Curtis Jones, poked a clearer opportunity wide with only goalkeeper Juan Musso to beat. That was wasteful, but there was also misfortune for Liverpool when Kostas Tsimikas’s free-kick landed at Elliott’s feet on the far side of the penalty area. The attacking midfielder started in place of Mohamed Salah and produced a Salah-esque curler that sailed over Musso only to strike both the underside of the bar and the inside of the far post before bouncing clear.

Dominik Szoboszlai looks dejected after his mistake led to Mario Pasalic scoring Atalanta’s third goal.View image in fullscreen

The chances did not signify any Liverpool dominance, however. Atalanta continued to cut through with Davide Zappacosta a constant outlet. The right wing-back created the opener when released down the wing by Koopmeiners. With time and room to pick his spot, Zappacosta found Scamacca arriving unmarked in the area and the striker swept a low finish under Kelleher. The keeper appeared to have Scamacca’s shot covered only to allow the ball to slip under his arms.

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Kelleher atoned for his lapse by preventing Koopmeiners doubling Atalanta’s advantage on the stroke of half-time. Klopp delivered his judgment on Liverpool’s tame first half display at the interval. Tsimikas, Elliott and Jones did not reappear for the second half and were replaced by Andy Robertson, Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai respectively. The trio initially injected some much-needed urgency and bite into Liverpool’s game, with Salah forcing Musso into a sharp save from close range.

Atalanta were finally under a sustained spell of pressure but, just when it appeared another Liverpool recovery was on, the visitors struck again. Their second goal also came from creating space on the right and another precise cross. De Ketelaere was the provider with a first-time delivery that exposed the home defence. Scamacca, left completely alone by Ibrahima Konaté, cushioned a delightful finish into the bottom corner.

Klopp went for broke by introducing Diogo Jota into a four-man attack but a mistake by Szoboszlai presented Atalanta with their third. Scamacca seized on the midfielder’s loose pass and played in Ederson expertly. Kelleher saved from the midfielder but the rebound fell perfectly for former Chelsea player Pasalic to convert and point Liverpool towards an unexpected European exit.


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