Liverpool 0-2 Atalanta: 5 talking points as drab Reds suffer Champions League defeat

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Second-half goals by Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens saw Atalanta sink Liverpool to a 2-0 home defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

The Serie A side claimed their revenge for their 5-0 hammering by the Reds earlier this month with two quick-fire goals on the hour mark.

Papu Gomez played a key role in creating both chances, while Liverpool lacked a similar creative force in the absence of key personnel in midfield and at full-back.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah struggled to impact the match on his return from coronavirus, while Liverpool's front line as a whole failed to break down their visitors and the Reds did not manage a shot on target.

Here are five talking points from a game which leaves Group D in the balance.

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1. Quick-fire goals stun hosts

Gosens added Atalanta's second of the night four minutes after the first
(Image: Getty Images)

On a night where Liverpool failed to register a shot on target, the Reds were sliced open by two incisive Atalanta moves on 60 minutes.

Papu Gomez was the creative force behind both of the visitors' goals. For the first, he curled a sumptuous ball to the back post for Josip Ilicic to poke in.

And four minutes later, the Argentine once again lofted the ball to the back post, where Hans Hateboer was on hand to knock down for Robin Gosens to score.

The goals were moments of quality and cutting edge in a game which had lacked both up to that point, and they were enough to see the Italian club avenge their 5-0 thrashing last time round.

Remarkably, Atalanta outshot their hosts 8-4 and managed four shots on target. Not many sides come to Anfield and emerge with the lion's share of the chances.

2. Salah sloppy in Firmino absence

The Egyptian was not his usual lively self
(Image: Pool via REUTERS)

It's fair to say Mohamed Salah's first 45 minutes of football since returning from his fortnight sidelined with coronavirus weren't his best.

As is often the way when a superstar returns from injury or illness – however long or short a time they were out for – the spotlight was on the Egyptian at Anfield.

Salah's usual glue-like grip on the ball was missing in his opening touches, while he almost landed Liverpool in hot water with an underhit cross-defence pass in the early minutes.

The 28-year-old then ended the first half by blasting over the bar with his weak foot from a promising position.

Salah wasn't alone in his uncharacteristic sloppiness; an unusually-quiet Sadio Mane squandered a golden opportunity to play Salah in behind on the right flank by slicing his pass, while Divock Origi was too ponderous when he was presented with rare chances.

Perhaps Salah was shaking off the cobwebs after his spell in quarantine in his homeland. Perhaps it was an off day for Mane and back-up Origi.

But perhaps Liverpool were crying out for the man who so often knits their attack together and, to use Jurgen Klopp's phrase, plays "12 different instruments" in Liverpool's orchestra; Roberto Firmino.

It was no surprise to see Salah and Origi withdrawn and Firmino introduced on the hour mark, immediately after Atalanta took the lead, though a rapid-fire second goal knocked the stuffing out of the Reds.

3. How did youngsters fare?

Williams impressed in the first half but was caught out for Atalanta's second goal
(Image: Getty Images)

As noted by Opta, Liverpool became the first team since Arsenal in 2009 to name three British teenagers in their starting XI for a Champions League game.

Curtis Jones, Rhys Williams and Neco Williams – all 19 years of age – have each been thrust into first-team action sooner than they might have expected due to the Reds' well-publicised injury woes.

But how did they fare on a Champions League night at Anfield against a challenging Italian opposition?

Starting with Rhys Williams, the centre-back impressed with his distribution and largely looked comfortable between stand-in left-back Kostas Tsimikas and defensive partner Joel Matip. There were, however, multiple occasions where he was dragged out of position and he was caught napping as Atalanta scored their second of the night.

At right-back, Williams was solid enough defensively but, like Tsimikas, reluctant to commit to the marauding runs up the flank that Trent Alexander-Arnold so often embarks on. While no-one expects Williams to live up the England international's creative ability, Liverpool.

And in central midfield, Jones was industrious but, alongside Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner, failed to provide the spark needed to unlock a stubborn defence.

4. Minamino omitted

Minamino was only introduced in the 85th minute
(Image: Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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Takumi Minamino may be starting to wonder what he needs to do to earn a spot in Liverpool's starting XI.

The Japan forward started the season in promising fashion with a goal in the Community Shield and a double in the Carabao Cup.

But even as Roberto Firmino struggled for form and the injuries piled up, Minamino remained on the bench.

Against Atalanta, and with nine points already secured in Group D, many expected he would get the nod – especially as Jurgen Klopp promised that Minamino's "time would come" before the match.

But the 25-year-old – not introduced until the 85th minute – once again settled for a spot on the bench and his wait to fully make his mark at Anfield goes on.

5. Group D ramifications

Victory at Anfield would have been enough for Liverpool to wrap up qualification to the last 16.

But defeat combined with Ajax's victory over Midtjylland means Jurgen Klopp's men cannot lift off the pedal in Europe just yet.

They host Ajax next Tuesday after securing a 1-0 win away at the Dutch giants last month and travel to Midtjylland the week after.

While the one win needed to guarantee qualification still appears likely, Klopp will be frustrated not to have got the job done at Anfield – where Liverpool are unbeaten in 64 games in the Premier League – with the hectic festive schedule looming.

With the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Gini Wijnaldum starting, Klopp fielded an XI capable of getting the job done.

But a rare off day – combined with a resolute and impressive opposition – prevented the Reds booking their spot in the knock-out stages just yet.

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