Liverpool’s dream of Dublin Europa League final in tatters after defeat to Atalanta

Jurgen Klopp’s side loses at home for the first time this season in what is likely the manager’s last European match at Anfield

Europa League: Liverpool 0 Atalanta 3

Anfield was shorn of its flags and Liverpool lost all of their powers. A comprehensive first home defeat of the season, against a highly accomplished and effective Atalanta, has left the Europa League favourites with an almighty task to ensure Jürgen Klopp’s reign ends with a final in Dublin. A manager responsible for so many unforgettable European nights with Liverpool is at risk of exiting quietly.

Gianluca Scamacca, the former West Ham disappointment, scored twice as the Italians displayed the cutting edge and defensive fortitude that Liverpool sorely lacked all night. It was Liverpool’s first home defeat in 26 matches this season and they will need another famous comeback to preserve their hopes of bidding farewell to Klopp at the Aviva Stadium next month.

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 two per cent 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 in the first half against an Atalanta team that took them on at their own pressing game. The Italians, unbeaten in their previous 10 Europa League away fixtures, a sequence stretching back six years, were the more dangerous side from the start. With midfielders Mario Pasalic and Teun Koopmeiners fixing on Alexis Mac Allister and Wataru Endo respectively, the visitors disrupted Liverpool’s attempts to play out from the back and starved Klopp’s forward line of service as a result. The frequency and ease with which Atalanta exploited gaps in the home defence added to Liverpool’s worries.


Pasalic should have put Gian Piero Gasperini’s side ahead in the opening minutes when Virgil van Dijk’s awkward clearance struck Charles 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.

Liverpool responded immediately with Darwin Núñez testing Atalanta keeper Juan Musso on a counter-attack from the resulting corner. Mac Allister sent a good chance over the bar from a Harvey Elliott pull back and Núñez, sent clean through by Curtis Jones, poked an even clearer opportunity wide with only Musso to beat. That was wasteful, but there was also misfortune for Liverpool when Kostas Tsimikas’ 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 the Atalanta keeper only to strike both the underside of the bar and the inside of the far post before bouncing clear.

The chances did not signify any Liverpool dominance, however. Atalanta continued to cut through with wing back Davide Zappacosta a constant outlet on the right. Having created a decent opening for De Ketelaere, which the forward squandered with an unnecessary back-heel towards Koopmeiners when he should have shot, Zappacosta found himself in acres of space again following a cute pass from Koopmeiners. With time and room to pick his spot, the wing back found Gianluca Scamacca arriving unmarked in the Liverpool penalty area and the former West Ham 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.

Kelleher atoned for his lapse with a crucial save to prevent Koopmeiners doubling Atalanta’s advantage when played through on goal by Scamacca on the stroke of half-time. Klopp delivered his judgement 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 instantly injected some much-needed urgency and bite into Liverpool’s game. Salah forced Musso into a sharp save from close range after Núñez kept the ball alive on the by-line. The Uruguay international, soon to be replaced himself by Luis Díaz, lofted another effort over as Atalanta finally came under exerted pressure.

Just as it appeared another Liverpool recovery was on the way, Atalanta struck again. Their second goal, like the first, came from creating space on the right and another precise cross. This time De Ketelaere was the provider with a first time delivery that exposed the home defence. Scamacca, left completely alone by Ibrahima Konaté inside the area, cushioned a delightful finish into the bottom corner.

Koopmeiners could have put the game and perhaps the tie beyond Liverpool when released inside the box moments later by De Ketelaere. He dragged a shot wide with Scamacca, unmarked yet again, pleading to be set up for his hat-trick. Klopp went for broke when introducing Diogo Jota into a four-man attack but a mistake by Szoboszlai presented Atalanta with a third late on. Scamacca seized on the midfielder’s loose pass and played in Ederson. Kelleher saved the midfielder’s first time shot but the rebound fell perfectly for former Chelsea midfielder Pasalic to convert and point Liverpool towards an unexpected European exit.

- Guardian