Atalanta’s Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens scored quickfire second-half goals to give them a comfortable 2-0 win over a toothless Liverpool, who barely managed a shot on target, in their Champions League Group D clash at Anfield on Wednesday.
Having recently complained about fixture congestion and its effect on his injury-hit squad, Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp made a number of changes but the result was a flat performance as the home side struggled to get out of second gear.
Atalanta, who had been mauled 5-0 by Liverpool in Italy, took full advantage, punishing the hosts’ sloppiness with two goals in four minutes after the break.
Though Liverpool still lead the group on nine points, both Atalanta and Ajax Amsterdam, who beat bottom side Midtjylland 3-1, are now two points behind with two games left to play.
“My only interest at the moment is that we got the thumbs-up, nobody injured, recover immediately ... the boys are completely disappointed, frustrated, but really, we don’t have time for it, to be honest, just get fresh legs as quick as possible and go again,” Klopp told BT Sport.
The German welcomed back Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah, who had missed their Premier League win over Leicester City after testing positive for COVID-19 while on international duty, but also fielded three teenagers in a much-changed side.
Rhys Williams and Neco Williams were deployed in defence with fellow 19-year-old Curtis Jones just in front of them, and Atalanta exploited their lack of experience early on to create several half-chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Atalanta were far better in defence than they had been when Liverpool took them apart in their previous Champions League outing.
The hosts, meanwhile, struggled to get the ball up to their attacking trio of Salah, Sadio Mane and Divock Origi, and it took until the 44th minute for Salah to threaten with a shot that flew just wide.
Klopp looked set to reshuffle his pack on the hour mark by bringing on Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Diogo Jota and Andy Robertson, but his side went behind before he could make the switches as Ilicic scored with a deft volley from an inswinging cross from Alejandro Gomez.
Liverpool made their changes but they were soon two goals down as Gosens was left unmarked to volley home Hans Hateboer’s knockdown from close range in the 63rd minute.
With their attack still misfiring, Liverpool could not rebound though as Atalanta became the first Italian side to win at Anfield since Udinese in the Europa League in October 2012.
“We had a great game tonight, we managed to play our football,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini told Italian TV. “We played better this time and we played quality football as well as being solid throughout.”
Foden strike sends City into Champions League knockouts
Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden finished off a brilliant team move as his side saw off Olympiakos Piraeus 1-0 away from home on Wednesday to book their place in the Champions League’s last 16.
After dominating possession with little reward, City found a breakthrough in the 36th minute when Gabriel Jesus trapped a crossfield ball and fed Raheem Sterling, who produced a sublime backheel pass for Foden to slam the ball into the net.
The Greek side stayed in the game and were not far from finding a late equaliser when Konstantinos Fortounis pulled his shot just wide of the far post from a tight angle, while defender Pape Cisse headed over the bar in added time.
City’s fourth consecutive win in Europe’s elite competition left them top of Group C with 12 points, while Olympiakos are third with three.
Bayern reach knockout stage with 3-1 win over Salzburg
Holders Bayern Munich failed to hit top form but did enough for a 3-1 win over visitors Salzburg on Wednesday to book their spot in the Champions League knockout stage with two games to spare.
The German champions stretched their record run to 15 straight wins in the competition, with Robert Lewandowski firing in on the rebound in the 43rd minute after the hosts had struggled with Salzburg’s high-intensity pressing during the first half.
Lewandowski now has 71 goals in the competition and is joint third-best scorer of all time, along with Spaniard Raul, behind Lionel Messi and leader Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Austrians had started much stronger, putting the hosts on the back foot, and would have been ahead in the 16th minute were it not for keeper Manuel Neuer’s superb double save.
“It is very important that we are already now confirmed group winners,” Neuer said. “It is a clear step in the right direction.”
Bayern, who slipped up in the Bundesliga with a draw against Werder Bremen on Saturday, were lacking their usual spark and got lucky in the 52nd minute when Salzburg defender Maximilian Woeber deflected Kingsley Coman’s shot into his own net.
Bayern were left with 10 men in the 66th following the dismissal of Marc Roca with a second booking but two minutes later Leroy Sane settled their nerves, heading in their third goal.
Salzburg cut the deficit through Mergim Berisha in the 73rd after Neuer had pulled off another sensational double save minutes earlier.
The Bavarians, who have now scored two or more goals in all four of their group games, top Group A on 12 points, with Salzburg in last place on one. Atletico Madrid are second on five following their goalless draw with Lokomotiv Moscow, who have three.