Josip Ilicic stuns Liverpool as Atalanta grab shock Anfield win to reignite hopes of qualification

Melissa Reddy
·3-min read
Josip Ilicic of Atalanta scores (Getty)
Josip Ilicic of Atalanta scores (Getty)

It was 4:13pm when the words you didn’t want to read dropped, circling the world and jolting everyone it reached. Argentina’s largest newspaper, Clarin, had tweeted that Diego Maradona was no more after suffering cardiac arrest.

Everything stopped. Surely not? Sadly so. Then everything raced.

It seems off track to talk, write about or analyse football so quickly after the game losing a man who decorated it, mastered it and inspired multitudes - not least Lionel Messi.

The show must go on, but sometimes it does so as background noise. Yes, even an important Champions League game at Anfield. Tributes flowed pre-match from Liverpool and their visitors Atalanta.

Jurgen Klopp was asked about Maradona’s passing before kick off. “I’m 53 years old and it feels like my entire life, he was part of it,” the German said.

“When I was very, very young, I saw him for the first time. In any video, juggling the ball, from that moment on he was the player for me.

“I saw his documentary not too long ago; Diego was a sensational guy, Maradona had some struggles, let me say it like this. I will miss both.”

<p>Ilicic stabs home past Alisson</p>Getty

Ilicic stabs home past Alisson

Getty

There was a minute’s silence before the first whistle and when it went, Atalanta were quicker out of the blocks.

Alisson was forced into action when Robin Gosens ran onto a pass down the left an unleashed an unexpected shot from an acute angle. Packed with power, Liverpool’s keeper did well to meet with a strong wrist at his near post and palm it away.

The hosts, fielding three British teenagers in their starting XI for a Champions League match since Arsenal last did so against Olympiakos in December 2009, were disjointed.

In an effort to manage injuries and ensure fresh legs from the weekend, Klopp made five changes to his 11. There were run-outs from the off for Neco Williams, Rhys Williams, Kostas Tsimikas and Divock Origi, with Mohamed Salah returning following a Covid-enforced absence.

“I’m a big fan of just focusing on one one game,” the Liverpool manager explained. “But in a week with games on Saturday, Wednesday and Saturday 12.30, you can’t. So you have to make changes and in the game we will make changes too.”

<p>Ilicic celebrates his goal at Anfield</p>Pool via REUTERS

Ilicic celebrates his goal at Anfield

Pool via REUTERS

Liverpool’s rejigged line-up were careless in possession and failed to create anything of note in the first half. They managed one shot in total, which wasn’t on target, with Atalanta the superior side.

It was not a shock to see the Italian fired up for the occasion, given it was an opportunity to erase some of the humiliation from their 5-0 hammering in the reverse fixture.

Klopp was incensed with the display from his charges in the first half and his fume from the technical area didn’t dissipate after the break.

Atalanta finally received their reward for being sharper after a superb ball from Alejandro Gomez, which Josip Ilicic connected with and converted.

<p>Alejandro Gomez vies with James Milner</p>POOL/AFP

Alejandro Gomez vies with James Milner

POOL/AFP

Directly after the goal, substitutes that Liverpool were waiting to bring on were introduced: Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino replacing Tsimikas, Gini Wijnaldum, Origi and Salah.

Their presence didn’t immediately change much. A floated ball from the left was headed back across goal to Gosens, who had space and time to sidefoot an effort into the net.

Liverpool found themselves two goals behind in a Champions League fixture at Anfield for the first time since October 2014.

Klopp replaced Joel Matip with Takumi Minamino late on, but there was still to be no shot on target and no troubling of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.

And so, the background noise faded.

Rest in peace, Diego Maradona.