It may not be easy after such an embarrassing defeat, but Atalanta must keep things in perspective. Although the 5-0 beatdown at the hands of Liverpool was historic for all the wrong reasons, La Dea can still recover in Europe. They can take heart from last season’s group stage campaign, which saw them rise from the dead to qualify for the Round of 16. This blowout will sting, but the Bergamo boys have the necessary mental fortitude to come back even stronger.
For the first half of their maiden Champions League experience, Atalanta seemed to be suffering from a bad case of stage fright. A favorable draw did not prevent them from losing their first three matches by a combined score of 11-2. The final encounter in that sequence was a 5-1 thrashing authored by another English powerhouse, then-Premier League champions Manchester City.
There are evident similarities between that game and Tuesday’s torrid evening. La Dea were overrun by a superior side, with their attacking instincts allowing their opponents far too much space to play in. The expectation was always that the Italians would struggle to contain a voracious visiting offence, but they would have certainly hoped to make life a little more difficult for their guests defensively.
An injury crisis at the back meant that 19-year old Rhys Williams received only his third Liverpool start, and the hosts surely had designs on testing the inexperienced academy graduate early and often. Colombian pair Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel were fielded together up top in an attempt to put the teen under as much pressure as possible, but Atalanta never got the requisite service into their dynamic duo. The former only flickered into life when the Reds were already home and hosed, while the lithe No 9 was largely peripheral outside of a couple of tame first half efforts.
It is unusual to see Gian Piero Gasperini’s men nullified so effectively, and a similar outcome is possible when they travel to Anfield in three weeks’ time. Yet, a heavy reverse there would still leave them with a rosier continental outlook than the one they were faced with 12 months ago. They should dispatch Midtjylland in Matchday 5, which would set up a decisive clash against Ajax. A win will likely be required in Amsterdam, but La Dea can summon the spirit of Kharkiv to secure another famous final day triumph.
Meanwhile, the panorama remains promising domestically. Despite suffering consecutive slip-ups against Napoli and Sampdoria, the Northerners sit only four points off the top of the table. Given the patchy form of heavy-hitters Juventus and Inter, the title is theirs for the taking if they can recapture the consistency that they displayed this past summer.
A serious Serie A challenge is plausible, and that reality should recalibrate Atalanta’s ambitions. The chase for continental glory must not be abandoned, especially given the succulent sums doled out to those who advance to the latter stages, but the Liverpool loss exposed the gulf in quality between the peninsula’s plucky upstarts and the European elite. As a result, both eyes should be firmly fixed on securing an unprecedented Scudetto.