Atalanta vs. Liverpool: Europa League Quarterfinal Second Leg Preview

One last time Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool are facing tremendous odds in Europe. Can they find magic once more, or will the gaffer's last European campaign as a Red end in Bergamo?
Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Well, it certainly feels like we've been here before, even if there are a few twists. This time, Liverpool are on the road, but it is of course the Europa League, and Lionel Messi's Barcelona aren't on the other side.

Still, given Liverpool's recent form, the 3-0 deficit they're facing feels borderline insurmountable.

However, as desperate as the moment may feel, this is an Atalanta team that currently sits in sixth in Serie A, by a solid margin at that.

Their last three matches other than the shock win at Anfield include a draw against 16th-place Verona, and losses against 14th-place Cagliari and and 10th-place Fiorentina.

This squad can be beaten, and it can be done in resounding fashion- which is exactly what Liverpool will need this Thursday, so let's take a look at how Klopp's Reds can beat the odds one more time.

Top of the Pitch

With plenty of healthy options, Liverpool needs to shake things up. Chance creation has been excellent in recent weeks, but conversion has been unbelievably poor, and it all starts with the man in the middle: Darwin Nunez.

Darwin's big chance conversion rate of 20% is one of the worst you'll ever see, and he simply cannot continue to be the beneficiary of some top-notch progressive passes.

The two options for Darwin are move to the left wing, or sit down for awhile. The former is likely only an option if Liverpool shift to a four-man front line for these unique circumstances, as Mo Salah could join Diogo Jota in the middle, and Luis Díaz could shift over to the right.

However, even in that scenario, or if Klopp sticks with his usual 4-3-3 formation, Cody Gakpo could slot in at his natural left wing position, as he's looked much better there in recent weeks.

Atalanta are an above-average side in Italy in terms of both xG and actual goal scoring conceded, but they didn't really slow down Liverpool last time out; the Reds racked up three big chances and 2.60 xG, but failed to capitalize on any of the opportunities.

Hopefully, a lineup change will preserve the goal scoring opportunity creation, but put the ball at the feet of more capable finishers, namely Jota, who only appeared for a short while in the first leg.

The Midfield

As good as the midfield has been in recent weeks, change is needed, as fatigue is setting in. Alexis Mac Allister will stay in the lineup, as his excellent play simply cannot be spared, but Wataru Endō is showing plenty of signs of wear and tear and will need a day off.

He could be replaced by the likes of Harvey Elliott, or if it does end up being an attack-heavy 4-2-4 formation for this game, we could see Mac Allister joined by only Dominik Szoboszlai in midfield, as the Hungarian's progressive passing acumen will be absolutely vital.

With 70% possession and 84% pass accuracy, compared to 63% for Atalanta, it's tough to say that this group didn't do their job in the first leg.

The big challenge for Klopp here is managing fitness, as he needs this group to stay fit and firing for a few more weeks, especially if the comeback is successful and Liverpool have more continental matches to play.

The Back End

The biggest thing Liverpool can hope for at the back is simple; positive regression. It's incredibly rare that Virgil van Dijk will play so poorly, and other than him, it doesn't seem that any of the defensive starters from the last Atalanta match will be in this XI.

Expect Kostas Tsimikas and Joe Gomez to be replaced by the customary pairing of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while Ibrahima Konaté is due for a rest day, and Jarell Quansah should enter the lineup in his place.

Lastly, Caoimhin Kelleher, who had an uncharacteristically poor day as well, has given way to Alisson, a move that should surely provide a boost on a night like this one.

The last leg was a total defensive meltdown, as Atalanta generated 3.22 xG and a staggering seven big chances, five of which were missed.

Liverpool will need tremendous improvement in this part of the pitch against this top attacking side, which ranks near the top of Serie A in goal scoring and chance creation metrics, as even a single goal conceded would be extremely harmful to the comeback effort.