Liverpool romped to an exceptional 5-0 win over Atalanta as Diogo Jota netted a hat-trick to take his tally to six from four games.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were expected to face a stern test against an Atalanta side that came within moments of knocking Paris Saint-Germain out of last season’s Champions League quarterfinals. However, Jota, Sadio Mane and Salah were in devastating form — the latter two also scoring — as Liverpool sent out an imposing message to the rest of Europe.
Catch up with the key talking points from the game below:
Jota more than just depth option for Klopp
Almost as soon as it became apparent that Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah were a formidable strikeforce capable of propelling Liverpool to the highest level of the European game, a question emerged: What happens if any of them go down for an extended spell? At various stages Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri have stepped up at key moments but Klopp would not have wanted to rely on any of his reserves for months on end.
Equally, when your attacking trident is so well defined it can be hard to recruit quality depth when there is a strong possibility they might be on the bench for the biggest games. Timo Werner might have been tempted but at the time that Chelsea activated his $70 million release clause Liverpool felt they were unable to go so high. Still they may not regret missing out on the former RB Leipzig striker with Jota seeming to be such a perfect fit for Klopp’s plans.
Nominally he began the game as Liverpool’s center forward but the Portuguese international fizzed across the frontline and deeper, switching positions with Mane and dropping deep to create avenues for Salah to dart into. When he did find himself in central positions his eye was only for goal, he should have scored as early as the third minute after a fine dart past Hans Hatebor.
Atalanta didn’t heed the lesson and all too often Jota seemed to be the free man in space for Liverpool, well-placed to strike home.
His hat-trick will doubtless prompt questions over whether Jota has now usurped Roberto Firmino as the third piece of Klopp’s attack. Certainly it is a debate worth having when the new man already has more Liverpool goals than Firmino.
In the biggest games, starting with the clash with Manchester City on Sunday, the Brazilian’s diligence and all-round game is still good enough to earn him the nod from the outset. But the gulf in class that was once existed between Liverpool’s front three and the reserves is no longer there.
Inhibited Atalanta a shadow of themselves
There have been few games quite as eagerly awaited in the Champions League so far as this one. Even Klopp seemed a little excited to see how his team fared against these new tyros of European football.
“I actually enjoyed the analysis, I enjoyed watching them because it’s really interesting,” he said in his prematch press conference. “Always in life, if you see something interesting you should try to learn a little bit of it.”
And yet it would be unwise to take much from this game for this was a freak result where Atalanta were concerned, albeit not one without precedent this season. Gianpiero Gasperini’s side had been hammered 4-1 by Napoli earlier this season and on both occasions they were without a key central midfielder, Remo Freuler in Naples and Marten de Roon Tuesday night. Mario Pasalic did not prove to be one the latter’s level tonight.
Still there was something altogether more indefinable about Atalanta’s difficulties, a sense that they were just off their game somewhat. There was no great aggression to their pressing and they were all too willing to allow Liverpool midfielders time on the ball in the final third. Sitting in a low block can be effective against Liverpool but the Italians’ back three did not seem sufficiently switched on and the midfield allowed too much time for the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold to pick passes.
Perhaps this was only Atalanta at 95% and even at that level there were moments late in the game where they created promising chances for Duvan Zapata. But for a team defined by their intensity and energy a small dip in output can have a major impact.
The quiet excellence of Salah
Had you noticed that this was the best start to a Liverpool season that Mohamed Salah has ever had? Me neither. Out of nowhere he has nine goals from 12 games, in previous campaigns he has needed 16, 18 and 15. He is scoring at a rate of one every 96 minutes.
On the break he was a terrifying force for Atalanta, exploding away from an opposition corner earlier in the second half before checking back to leave Rafael Toloi on his feet and curling the ball into the top right corner of Marco Sportiello’s goal. This looked like the simplest of strikes but to move at such pace and retain the control and composure to score is the sign of an exceptional striker.
Salah has been that for some time and while no one needs telling how good he is it can’t hurt to get the odd reminder.
Source: James Benge