In-form Diogo Jota scored a terrific hat-trick as Liverpool made a big Champions League statement of intent with a stunning win at Atalanta.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have won all three Group D games without conceding a goal, and victory in one of their remaining fixtures should be enough to take them through to the knockout stages.
Portugal international Jota showed why he was given a start ahead of Roberto Firmino by scoring for a fourth consecutive game, dinking in a delightful opener before doubling the lead with a thumping strike at the near post.
He completed his triple in the second period, collecting Sadio Mane’s pass before going round goalkeeper Marco Sportiello and slotting into an open net.
In between Jota’s third, the Reds netted two quick-fire goals at the start of the second half as Mohamed Salah took full advantage of an exposed backline to run clear and curl home and Mane clipped in the fourth.
The Serie A side had sniffs of goal, but Duvan Zapata’s strike from the angle hit the post, while two efforts from Luis Muriel were comfortable for goalkeeper Alisson to deal with.
In the group’s other game, Dutch side Ajax picked up their first of the campaign by beating Midtjylland 2-1, as the Danish team remain bottom of the group and without a point.
This is different class from Jurgen Klopp 👏
Making sure to praise Diogo Jota AND Roberto Firmino… pic.twitter.com/I0SxJeVUYm
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) November 4, 2020
Joyous Jota stakes his claim
Alongside Mane and Salah, Firmino has been an automatic choice in Liverpool’s front three during the club’s period of success in recent years.
But the Brazil international has been off-colour this season, scoring just once in 10 games, and so Jota was given an opportunity in Bergamo which he grabbed in sublime fashion.
Some eyebrows were raised at the £41m fee paid to sign the player from Wolves, but the 23-year-old looks every bit a Liverpool player as he took his tally to seven goals in 10 games this term.
Buzzing around in the final third, he latched on to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defence-splitting pass before warding off the attentions of defender Jose Luis Palomino and chipping in a cool finish.
He took his second with aplomb, bringing down Joe Gomez’s raking pass and firing in at the near post, before rolling in the third on 54 minutes to take home the match ball.
Jota’s goals have been crucial this season, scoring winners against Sheffield United and West Ham and another superb performance has given boss Klopp a pleasant selection dilemma, with a colossal trip to rivals Manchester City coming up on Sunday (kick-off 16:30 GMT).
🎥 FT thoughts from Diogo Jota 👇
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) November 3, 2020
Ruthless Reds expose Atalanta
There was a feeling of doom for Premier League champions Liverpool at the start of October when they went three games without victory – losing on penalties to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, humiliated 7-2 by Aston Villa and drawing 2-2 at Everton.
Further gloom followed at Goodison Park when key centre-back Virgil van Dijk suffered a knee injury which will keep him out for much of the season.
But the trouncing at Villa Park has proved to be merely a blip as they have responded in style by claiming victory in their last five consecutive games, with this display in Europe their most devastating of the season so far.
With a defence featuring England Under-21 international Rhys Williams, Liverpool blunted a much-lauded Atalanta side that had reached the quarter-finals last season and scored 40 goals in their previous 19 games in Europe.
At the other end of the pitch, they kept Sportiello busy, with the Atalanta goalkeeper making a stunning full-stretch save to stop Mane’s curler, as well as keeping out a drive from the Senegal international.
They may well have had more goals late on but Salah screwed wide after darting clear again and Mane’s free header from six yards out was straight at Sportiello.
Ultimately, all three of the attacking trident brutally exposed a high Atalanta backline, as Mane and Salah served a reminder that despite Jota taking the plaudits, they too are still very much a menacing prospect to deal with.
Liverpool have reached two of the past three Champions League finals – finishing runners-up in 2018 and lifting the trophy for the sixth time a year later – and the early signs are they will take some stopping in their bid to reach the showpiece once more.
Super scorer Salah – the stats
Liverpool’s 5-0 win was the biggest ever by an English club away to Italian opposition in European competition.
Atalanta’s defeat was the second-biggest ever by an Italian side on home soil in European competition, after Roma’s 7-1 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich in October 2014.
Liverpool have won each of their past four away games in the Champions League group stage, after losing four in a row before this between October 2018 and September 2019 (all under Jurgen Klopp).
Liverpool boss Klopp finally won away in Italy in the Champions League after losing on each of his five previous visits in the competition, courtesy of three defeats by Napoli, and one each by Juventus and Roma.
This was only the second time in Champions League history that Liverpool started with two teenagers, fielding Rhys Williams and Curtis Jones (Danny Guthrie and Lee Peltier played against Galatasaray in December 2006).
Diogo Jota is only the second player to score in his first two starts in the Champions League for Liverpool, following Robbie Keane back in 2008.
Since his debut for Liverpool in October 2016, Trent Alexander-Arnold has registered 36 assists in all competitions, more than any other defender for a Premier League club in that time (Andrew Robertson is next on 35).
Jota has hit six goals in his past four games for Liverpool in all competitions (after just one in his first six for the Reds), with only Mohamed Salah (nine) getting more goals than the Portuguese (seven) for the club this season.
Salah is now the joint-highest European Cup/Champions League goalscorer in Liverpool history, along with Steven Gerrard (21).