Liverpool collapse to nightmare Atalanta defeat to leave Europa League dream hanging by a thread

Liverpool collapse to nightmare Atalanta defeat to leave Europa League dream hanging by a thread

Atalanta stunned Liverpool at Anfield to open up a three-goal lead in their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night.

Jurgen Klopp made six changes to his starting line-up but even his star-studded bench was without an answer to Gian Piero Gasperini’s superior gameplan as the Italians punished slack defending and tame attacking through a Gianluca Scamacca brace and Mario Pasalic’s late goal.

Gasperini’s team were set up to disrupt Liverpool and that was certainly on display inside the first three minutes, when Pasalic latched onto a loose ball in the box after some hesitant defending and was only denied by the face of the diving Caoimhin Kelleher.

Up the other end, the hosts perhaps found more space than they expected to given Atalanta’s high press and chances came and went for Darwin Nunez and Alexis Mac Allister.

Harvey Elliott came closest to breaking the deadlock with a superb curling effort which hit both the crossbar and post before bouncing out.

The game and home crowd regularly drifted into lulls and Liverpool’s lack of initiative was punished when Davide Zappacosta found space down the right wing. His cross was met by Scamacca’s low finish which looked easy enough for Kelleher to gather, but it somehow squeezed through his body in front of a stunned Kop.

Teun Koopmeiners was denied a second in a one-on-one in first-half stoppage time and Klopp, unsurprisingly, reached for his bench at the first opportunity. Mohamed Salah, Dominik Szoboszlai and Andrew Robertson entered to liven up a tame display and the Egyptian soon tested Juan Musso with a snapshot after his initial effort was blocked.

Luis Diaz was next on, for the energetic but wayward Nunez, and yet Liverpool went two goals down on the hour mark. Charles De Ketelaere was allowed to drag the defence out of shape with a run down the right flank and Scamacca ghosted in completely unnoticed to fire home the Belgian’s cross.

Koopmeiners and Scamacca both shot off-target from good openings while the hosts were denied by the offside flag after Salah thought he had cut the deficit.

Just one goal would have given Liverpool a fighting chance of overturning the deficit in Bergamo but a two-goal lead for Atalanta looked a big hill to climb. It then became a mountain.

The defence fell asleep again as Scamacca ambled forward before slipping in Ederson. His shot was denied by Kelleher but Pasalic was first to the rebound and slammed home to spark wild scenes in the away end, with some fans spilling onto the pitch as a moment beyond their wildest dreams unfolded before them.

Next week in Italy, Liverpool must pull off the mother of all comebacks to keep their dream of a perfect Dublin send-off for Klopp alive.