Liverpool fell to a 2-0 defeat to Atalanta at Anfield in the Champions League.
Goals from Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens sealed a deserved win for the Italians in a drab affair, marshalled by a referee, Carlos del Cerro from Spain, who was lax when it came to punishing overly physical play.
The Reds, meanwhile, who made a host for changes to their team from the comfortable victory over Leicester City were abject throughout. All the personnel alterations lead to a lack of fluency and their play was disjointed throughout. Pierluigi Gollini in the La Dia goal didn’t have to make a save all night as the tired hosts fell to a defeat that could yet prove irrelevant in the context of who wins group D.
With nine points already on the board, Liverpool — who still sit atop the group — can qualify with one win from their remaining games and their team selection seemed to suggest the priority was Saturday’s stupidly scheduled 12:30 kick-0ff away to Brighton and not this clash, which they could afford to lose.
The two Williams, Neco and Rhys, formed the right-hand side of the 2019 Champions’ defence, with James Milner — somehow playing his third game in seven days — Curtis Jones and Georginio Wijnaldum ahead of them in midfield. Mohamed Salah, fresh back from his positive covid diagnosis in Egypt, started in attack alongside the maddingly ineffectual Divock Origi and a jaded looking Sadio Mane.
The visitors, who were no doubt stung by the Reds’ thumping 5-0 win in the reverse fixture, started the brightest and had the better opening of the first half. Although their chances — which only forced Alisson into one save — were borne out of Liverpool’s sloppiness, Salah, N.Williams, and Joel Matip all giving away the ball, then any kind of ingenuity on their behalf.
The half time whistle was a welcome sound to everyone who had endured such a boring half of football.
Atalanta, to their credit, started the second half in a sharper, speedier fashion. Papu Gomez, their talismanic Argentinian playmaker, began to grow in stature — not literally, he’s tiny — and started to pull the strings.
And it was through the 32 year old that the Italians manufactured their opening on the hour mark. Pulling wide into the left channel, Gomez — whose cross wasn’t blocked by Williams at right-back — deftly found Ilicic’s clever run with an angled ball and the Slovenian — only recently returning to football after a brief sabbatical to look after his mental wellbeing — cooly slid a finish past Alisson. Liverpool will feel hard done by that a blatant on Wijnaldum wasn’t punished just before the goal, but not even the most partisan Reds fan could deny Atalanta deserved the lead.
With their tails up, the Serie A side scored their second four minutes later and killed the game as a contest. Once again, Gomez was integral to the crafting of the goal. The Argentinian hung up a long ball to the back post and Hans Hateboar rose above Andrew Robertson — who had replaced Tsimikas as one of four substitutions — to nod the cross back into the direction of Gosens. From there, the German international showed great composure to hit the ball first time beyond Alisson.
With Roberto Firmino, Robertson, Fabinho, and Diogo Jota all on the pitch and, latterly, Takumi Minamino Liverpool rolled the dice in search of a route back into the game, but it was for nowt and Atalanta deservedly sealed the three points. Given his selection, and the fact Liverpool are still in the driving seat in the group, it is hard to envision Jurgen Klopp being too upset.
Focus now turns to Brighton away.
Liverpool team: Alisson; N.Williams, R.Williams, Matip, Tsimikas; Wijnaldum, Milner, Jones; Salah, Origi, Mane.
Replacements: Robertson for Tsimikas, Fabinho for Wijnaldum, Jota for Origi, Firmino for Salah, Minamino for Matip.