Giant-killers Atalanta ready to deal fatal blow to Liverpool

Published April 18, 2024
BERGAMO: Atalanta players attend a practice session at the Bortolotti Training Centre on Wednesday.—Reuters
BERGAMO: Atalanta players attend a practice session at the Bortolotti Training Centre on Wednesday.—Reuters

MILAN: Atalanta have a chance to make history on Thursday as they welcome Liverpool to Bergamo with one foot in the Europa League semi-finals thanks to a stunning first-leg win at Anfield.

Atalanta once again punched way above their weight last week by dishing out a 3-0 hammering to Liverpool and are on the verge of reaching the last four of a European competition for the first time since 1988.

Back then Atalanta were a Serie B team and knocked out of the Cup Winners’ Cup by Belgian outfit Mechelen, but nowadays the Italians are competing with and beating an altogether higher class of opposition.

Last week’s win in England was probably the greatest European night in Atalanta’s history as their run to 2020 Champions League quarter-finals — where they were desperately unlucky to lose to Paris Saint-Germain — came at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which devastated Bergamo.

It was also unexpected as Atalanta’s recent form has been patchy with three wins in 11 matches, and manager Gian Piero Gasperini said on Wednesday that the return game at home against Liverpool is still probably the most important match in their history.

“We are happy to play a match of this value in front of our fans, finally with the stadium taking shape,” Gasperini told a press conference. “We know that it will be one of the most important games in our history, if not the most important, but these are things that are said on the eve of the game, then comes the moment when we will have to know how to isolate ourselves.”

Gasperini does not want his players resting on their laurels and thinking that the work is already done when they face Juergen Klopp’s side.

“We know the difficulty, for us they are still the same team, despite us winning the first leg,” he said. “Tomorrow we start from 0-0, our ability will have to be not thinking about the result of the first leg. I expect the best Liverpool possible, with a team that will come here to play all its chances, we will have to play a great game to get a result.”

Liverpool have won just three of their last eight games in all competitions and are showing clear signs of fatigue after already having played 51 games this season.

Jurgen Klopp was headed for a glorious send-off in his final season at Liverpool just a few weeks ago, but talk of a potential quadruple is now long forgotten as the Reds have come off the rails.

Klopp’s men were dumped out the FA Cup by Manchester United last month as the Red Devils edged a thrilling tie 4-3 at Old Trafford.

Liverpool failed to learn their lesson from that defeat as they were held 2-2 by United three weeks later and then stunned 1-0 at home by Crystal Palace in their last two Premier League games to fall two points behind Manchester City in the title race and now have a mountain to climb if they are to make the Europa League semi-finals.

The winners of the tie face either Benfica or Olympique de Marseille in the semi-finals.

On the other side of the draw, Liverpool’s Premier League rivals West Ham United face a massive task to overturn their quarter-final first leg defeat by Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen.

West Ham lost 2-0 away to Leverkusen, who won their first Bundesliga title on Sunday, and manager David Moyes is hoping their celebrations have taken their toll.

“It’s fantastic they won the league and they should celebrate something like that,” Moyes told a press conference on Wednesday. “Let’s hope that they have had a few of those big German beers.”

In the other last-eight tie, AS Roma are at home to AC Milan, holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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