Liverpool handed quiet Europa League hope as Atalanta complaints made

Liverpool have it all to do to turn around a three-goal deficit when they travel to Atalanta for their Europa League quarter-final second leg on Thursday night.

The Reds put in a dismal performance as they fell to a shock 3-0 defeat at Anfield last week to leave them on the verge of a premature exit, having previously been the favourites to win the competition.

Had they suffered such a defeat away from home with the second leg instead taking place at Anfield, those of a Reds persuasion would be feeling a lot more confident regarding the possibility of an unlikely comeback. Liverpool have done it countless times before, after all, with a ‘corner taken quickly’ against Barcelona in 2019 the most famous example.

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But having to travel to Italy and win by three goals just to force extra-time is a lot more daunting.

Atalanta have lost just three of their 20 matches at the Gewiss Stadium this season, keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding only 15 goals. Meanwhile, they only lost by one goal in each of those three defeats to Bologna, Napoli, and Inter Milan.

You have to go back to November 2022 for the last time they conceded three times at home, in a 3-2 defeat to Inter Milan, while they haven't lost by three goals in front of their home fans since a 4-1 loss to AS Roma in December 2021. That is the only time they have suffered such a hefty loss since Liverpool's own 5-0 victory at the Gewiss Stadium behind closed doors back in November 2020.

But before you get ready to wave the white flag, all is not lost. Atalanta have perhaps given the Reds a glimmer of hope with their most recent showings in front of their home fans. Only three of their last 11 matches have taken place at the Gewiss Stadium, with them defeating Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in the Europa League round-of-16 last month.

However, they have dropped points in both of their Serie A games at home during this run. Conceding a 1-0 lead in their defeat to Bologna at the start of March, two goals in four second half minutes saw them fall to a 2-1 loss.

And while Thiago Motta’s side are a surprise package in Italy this season, sitting fourth in the table and on course to clinch surprise qualification for next season’s Champions League, Atalanta’s most recent showing off the back of humbling Liverpool is arguably more concerning.

The Italians raced into a 2-0 lead after just 18 minutes at home to strugglers Hellas Verona on Monday night, only to again concede two goals in just four minutes after the break as they were held to a 2-2 draw.

While the stalemate left Atalanta in sixth place in the Serie A, a draw took their opponents just a point above the relegation zone. And before travelling to Bergamo, Hellas Verona were the lowest scorers on the road in the division.

Admittedly, such results would not be enough for the Reds to progress in the Europa League. But Atalanta’s uncharacteristic leaky defence can give them hope. After all, if they can score two goals in quick succession at the Gewiss Stadium, following in the footsteps of both Bologna and Hellas Verona in recent weeks, the Serie A outfit will have a tie on their hands.

And their manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, has warned his side that despite their hefty lead, they aren’t in the semi-finals just yet.

“We saw tonight that Verona were able to score two goals in four minutes,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “I’ve seen Liverpool score three in six minutes in a Champions League final against Milan!

“We knew after Anfield it wasn’t over, but Thursday will be an historic appointment for the city, the club and our players. We know another great performance is needed, but the objective is so prestigious that we’ll find the energy.”

Gasperini surprisingly named an unchanged starting XI against Hellas Verona from the side that defeated Liverpool, given that he made a point of highlighting just how intense their recent run of fixtures has been for his side after their latest game.

“I don’t think Atalanta expected to be in all three tournaments in April,” he said. “We started with a squad that expected to have a good season, but this one has gone beyond expectations in every competition.

“It is also worth noting that in our last 12 games, eight of them have been away from home. It has been a very intense period with a lot of travel, we also had a run of seeing Inter, Milan, Juventus, Bologna, Napoli, so we hoped to improve our tally today against Verona, but it didn’t work out like that.

“We decided not to favour one tournament over another, we will try to do our best in them all. We’ll see how it goes, but some of our players are like Highlander, they keep going.”

Whether they can 'keep going' on Thursday remains to be seen, with his latest team selection certainly a gamble if Atalanta's schedules starts to take its toll on his player.

Of course, Liverpool need to ‘find the energy’ themselves after following up their 3-0 defeat last week with another underwhelming display in a 1-0 home loss to Crystal Palace. But if the Reds can find a way to respond positively in Italy, a previously seemingly unassailable deficit might not prove to be so impregnable after all.