Liverpool’s fourth Champions League group stage match ended in a dismal 2-0 defeat as Atalanta gained a measure of revenge for the game in Italy.
Liverpool 0-2 Atalanta
Champions League Group Stage (4), Anfield
November 25, 2020
Goals: Ilicic 60′, Gosens 64′
An unfamiliar defence
Someone tuning in for their first match in a while could be forgiven for thinking this was a midweek League Cup tie, judging by the defensive lineup.
Neco Williams, Rhys Williams and Kostas Tsimikas are all firmly in the backup status of squad player, while even Joel Matip wouldn’t have been considered a first-choice starter any more than a month or so ago.
But the quartet was thrust together to keep Atalanta at bay and, in the first half, largely did well, sticking to their task with a series of headed clearances, shuffles across to snuff out spaces – and an early thankyou to the big right paw of Alisson.
After the break, though, the lack of understanding perhaps played a part and the lack of consistency and sharpness certainly did.
Tsimikas was run off for the first goal, before the same happened to Rhys for the second minutes later.
Taki’s time will come…but when?
Well before kickoff, Jurgen Klopp had been singing the praises of Takumi Minamino, saying the energetic Japanese forward hasn’t had any kind of a drop-off in form, has been training well and that he’s still someone the boss is looking to for an impact.
“It’s not even form, it’s just a strong team, and offensively we don’t – thank god, I have to say – have the same problems we have in pretty much all the other positions,” he said.
“So it’s hard to get in this team, that’s how it is. But no dip in form, it’s just a challenge. That’s it.
“But Taki is a sensational boy and a great player, and he’s facing that challenge. He’s working hard and his time will come, no doubt.”
All great, all promising, all suggesting there’s lots to look forward to…but then where’s the reasoning for Divock Origi now apparently being ahead of him again?
The Belgian has offered largely nothing for quite some time and Minamino has far greater athleticism, endeavour, movement and technical quality.
His time might come, but it could perhaps do with coming a bit quicker if the alternative is another lifeless showing from our hero of Madrid.
Slow Euro nights
How much would Klopp pay to get fans back into Anfield (safely) on European nights?
Our Champions League displays against Ajax and Midtjylland were poor, really; functional and we got the win, but basically rubbish to watch from a footballing perspective for those used to what the Reds offer at their best.
At Atalanta we were superb, but then this much-changed side was again slow, sluggish and lacking intensity.
There’s no doubt that a lack of support and atmosphere contributes in part to this.
We’ve not been into the stadium since the night we exited this very competition last season, so imagine the levels of backing and adulation supporters would be giving the Reds who had since gone on to win the league?
We’ll get back there eventually, of course. But it’s nights like this where it’s all too apparent just how much is still missing from the game.
Klopp stuck between a rock and a hard place
The temptation is usually to pin a bad result on a poor performer or two, and there were certainly some of those on show in Red, but in truth, Klopp has only gone a step or two further here than he had to do anyway.
The same players cannot play every game, three times every seven or eight days, without risk.
Both full-backs, the striker, a new centre-back and a mixed midfield is excessive, but all those who came out have played a big majority of minutes for the Reds – and still came on as sub anyway.
We’re not the same without our full-backs. We’ve got an extra attacker or two now but still need the supply line. And while Curtis Jones did reasonably well on the night, all the creative midfielders are out too.
It was important that Gini didn’t play the whole game, Robbo the same, Matip the same.
How many subs were planned and how many Klopp wishes he could have made probably made no difference on this occasion – it all just seemed to catch up with the Reds against a good, determined and needing-to-win opponent.
No change to group or next challenge
We lost, but stay top. We’ve only got a two-point buffer but still need just one win.
The chances that Liverpool actually slip up and lose their last-16 spot is negligible, though of course top spot should bring with it a slightly more helpful knockout draw in the first instance, given the likes of Bayern et al are cruising their own groups.
So despite the disappointment here, the challenge is actually unchanged – just delayed, and it just means we can’t rest players for two games now.
In the more immediate term, it’s about focusing minds on the domestic challenge once more, with an improved Brighton side lying in wait.
As ever, defeats should serve as a timely reminder that the intensity, quality and mentality have to be spot-on each and every game to keep the relentless wins coming.
Anything less and a loss can be expected, so let’s get a reaction against the Seagulls.