After a rapid rise from also-rans to Champions League challengers, a new chapter will be written in Atalanta’s Cinderella story on Tuesday. La Dea have already duked it out with the likes of Manchester City and PSG over the past twelve months, but their upcoming duel with Liverpool could prove to be their toughest test yet. The reigning Premier League champions are European royalty and will travel to the Gewiss Stadium as clear favourites. Nevertheless, the Bergamo boys have the requisite tools to make life difficult for their illustrious rival, and a proactive approach will be key to their hopes of causing what would be a famous upset.
Atalanta only know one way of playing under manager Gian Piero Gasperini. Their high-octane brand of attacking football is high-risk, high-reward, but adopting a more conservative outlook against the Reds could represent a major mistake.
Attack truly is the best form of defense for La Dea, especially considering the makeshift nature of Liverpool’s backline. Injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho have left Joe Gomez as the only senior center-back, with the inexperienced Nathaniel Phillips thrown into the deep end this past Saturday against West Ham. The Bolton-born stopper turned in a man of the match performance on his Premier League debut but the likes of Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez will provide a stern examination of his credentials.
The latter is the beating heart of Serie A’s most potent attack and getting him on the ball as much as possible will be crucial for La Dea. Gasperini will have surely seen the havoc Aston Villa creator Jack Grealish wrought in his club’s recent 7-2 destruction of the Reds, and the diminutive Argentine possesses the necessary quality to do similar damage.
In order to put “Papu” in promising positions, Atalanta must first bypass a voracious visiting high press. That coordinated harrying is a hallmark of any Jurgen Klopp side, and the hosts must therefore keep their errors in possession to a minimum. If they can do so, their chances of neutralizing a fearsome attack trident of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will increase exponentially.
Those three are ably supported by full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and their constant ventures forward present a tactical dilemma for Gasperini. Instructing his wing-backs to push up at every opportunity could help to pen in that dynamic duo, but doing so would also leave plenty of space in behind. A balance has to be struck on the flanks.
The return of Robin Gosens would be a huge boost in that sense, but it is unclear if the marauding number eight can recover from a calf complaint that forced him to miss out against Crotone. Deputy Johan Mojica was shaky in the German’s stead, with his errant second half back-pass nearly gifting the division’s cellar dwellers what would have been an undeserved point.
Liverpool will surely capitalize on similar lapses in concentration, but Atalanta have nothing to lose and everything to gain against perhaps the continent’s top team. Even a stalemate would see them steal a march on Ajax in what promises to be a tight battle for second place in the group, while a positive result would raise confidence levels ahead of upcoming domestic commitments. La Dea are as good a bet as any to triumph in the most open title race in years, and a surprise success over the English giants could serve as the springboard for a Serie A shock.