The biggest challenge in Liverpool’s Champions League group – as Jürgen Klopp had described an away trip to Atalanta – proved no challenge at all. The Premier League leaders routed Gian Piero Gasperini’s team with a hat-trick from Diogo Jota the individual highlight of a collective statement.
Jota became the third Liverpool player after Michael Owen and Sadio Mané to score a hat-trick in a European away tie as he maintained the outstanding start to his career with Klopp’s team. Mané scored too, as did Mohamed Salah on a night when Liverpool took complete control of their group with a third consecutive victory and clean sheet.
Atalanta’s reputation for free-scoring, open football is well-founded but only the latter was evident in the first half in Bergamo as Liverpool dictated proceedings and curbed the threat from their hosts. Klopp’s team stretched the Italian side with long, first-time balls and were given so much space to dominate in midfield by a passive, clumsy opponent.
Curtis Jones took full advantage and played with the composure and intelligence of the two more experienced midfielders alongside him, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. But the night belonged to the confident, clinical Jota.
It was no great surprise that the Liverpool manager started the £41m signing from Wolves at the expense of Roberto Firmino, who has been almost ever-present for Klopp in European competition but has looked jaded of late.
Jota’s form has been a stark contrast, and he was almost on the scoresheet again after merely 86 seconds in Italy when he collected Jones’s pass, sliced his way into the Atalanta area past two defenders and drew a low save from Marco Sportiello. He did not wait too much longer to score for the fourth game in succession for Liverpool.
Jota’s fifth goal for his new club, and second in the Champions League, demonstrated the understanding he has quickly developed with his team-mates and his prowess in front of goal.
Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted the striker peeling off the shoulder of José Luis Palomino and pierced the home defence with a superb first-time ball. Jota took it in his stride and, shrugging off Palomino’s attempts to haul him back inside the area, clipped an impudent left-foot finish over the advancing Sportiello and inside the far corner.
His second of the night was equally eye-catching. This time Joe Gomez was the provider with a sweeping pass over Hans Hateboer into the Atalanta penalty area. Jota controlled first time with his left foot, turning the ball back across the midfielder in the process, before driving an unstoppable finish inside Sportiello’s near post with his right.
The prolific Atalanta side that scored 98 goals in Serie A last season and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League never showed. Liverpool did not allow it, and the Italians’ were made to resemble European novices as the visitors cruised through the contest and sliced them apart almost at will.
Sportiello saved from Mané and Jones before the interval while Alisson’s only duties involved stopping two tame efforts from Luis Muriel. Within minutes of the restart, Liverpool’s dominance turned into a rout.
Salah scored his ninth goal of the season when Andy Robertson and Jones cleared a poorly-taken corner by Alejandro Gómez and the striker found himself bearing down on goal with only Hateboer for company. The Egypt international stepped inside the midfielder on to his left foot and beat the Atalanta keeper with an emphatic finish.
Mané completed the set of Liverpool’s starting strikers getting on the scoresheet when Salah, seizing on a loose Atalanta throw-in, sent him sprinting clear on the left. Sportiello effectively showed the striker where to shoot by rushing from his goal-line and diving early, and Mané duly clipped the ball over the advancing keeper.
Jota claimed a deserved hat-trick, and Liverpool’s fifth goal, with 36 minutes left on the clock. The Portugal international timed his run behind Palomino to perfection to meet Mané’s inviting pass.
Sportiello was out quickly again, and beaten again as Jota touched the ball past the keeper before rolling into an empty net. Liverpool’s superiority was so vast that Klopp started thinking ahead to Sunday’s Premier League visit to Manchester City, withdrawing Jota, Henderson and Robertson with 25 minutes remaining.
Duván Zapata, the Atalanta striker, finally came to life after Liverpool’s raft of substitutions but was denied by the inside of a post and two strong saves from Alisson.