Champions League 2020/21: Atalanta vs Liverpool – tactical analysis


Another week, another Champions League group stage match. This is the third consecutive week in which we are having a Champions League match in midweek. This week there was an interesting match in group D. Atalanta faced Liverpool for their third fixture in their group stage. Both the teams are an attacking team and also with no such defensive record. Liverpool has won both the matches in their group whereas Atalanta won one match and drew the other one. Atalanta is currently sitting in the fourth position in their league, Serie A. Liverpool is at the top of their table in the Premier League.

This is the second time when Atalanta have qualified for the Champions League. They lost to Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals last year. Liverpool on the other hand has won six Champions League titles in their club history. The recent one was in the 2018/19 season when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs by two goals. This was the first time in history this fixture is being played. Atalanta made an early statement with a 4-0 win over Midtjylland but looked set for disappointment as they trailed 2-0 at the hands of Ajax last time around, only to fight back for a 2-2 draw that serves as a warning to Liverpool.

Liverpool on the other hand is having a long list of injured players in their squad. They managed to win. Atalanta is set to face their third different English opponent, having previously met Everton in the 2017/18 UEFA Europa League and Manchester City in the Champions League last season. Liverpool has lost all three of their away UEFA Champions League matches in Italy under manager Jürgen Klopp, losing to Roma in May 2018 and Napoli in October 2018 and September 2019. Liverpool thrashed Atalanta by scoring five goals. The man of the hour Diogo Jota scored a hattrick and he was the man of the match. Alison Becker kept a clean sheet. It was a devastating game for the Italian giants and Liverpool was the better team during the match.


Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

The home side is played a formation of 3-4-2-1. Marco Sportiello is in the goal which is been unchanged since the start of the campaign. The back three have also been the same except for one change, Mattia Caldara has been injured so they have a new center back which is José Luis Palomino. Robin Gosens is been injured so he is replaced with a player who is on loan, Johan Mojica. The attacking players are Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel. Zapata scored twice against Ajax FC last week.

The Premier League champions are playing their basic formation which is 4-3-3. Liverpool has gone through an injury crisis. They had a lot of players injured. Surprisingly some players are on the bench and declared fit to be in the substitution. To start with the goal. Alisson Becker is on the goal. The four defenders are the same except for a few changes in the central defender. Their start defender, Virgil Van Dijk is probably out for the season because of an ACL injury. Rhys Williams had a good amount of time in the previous match against FC Midtjylland. Fabinho was subbed out within 30 mins. Today Williams is gonna get his first Champions League start. He is gonna start alongside Joseph Gomez. The midfield has been shuffled by Jürgen Klopp.  Jordan Henderson is playing from the center with Curtis Jones on the right and Georginio Wijnaldum on the left. Every Liverpool fan wanted the attacking trio which was last year.  Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino. For the second time, Firmino is on the bench and Diogo Jota is starting alongside Salah and Mané. Joel Matip and Naby Keita are on the bench as they were injured and not included in the squad for the previous Premier League match.

Tactical Analysis 

Liverpool had a pretty good game. They had more possession than Atalanta. They had 53% whereas the Italian team had only 43%. Liverpool had 15 shots in the whole match were as Atalanta only had eight shots. Liverpool was attacking a lot in the whole game. Atalanta was playing a high pitch game. The number of duels of both the teams was the same. Both the team had 189 duels in the whole match, Atalanta had a much more successful percentage as compared to Liverpool They had 57% whereas Liverpool only had 39%. The passing of both the teams was fluent and it was most of the time in the opponents half. Liverpool had 590 passes in the whole game where are Atalanta had 438 passes. The successful passing percentage was 90% for Liverpool and 82% for Atalanta. 

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

The above image shows the percentage of attacks from each side. It clearly shows that Liverpool had a maximum attack from the center. 51% of the attack was from the center. Henderson and Jones were an important part of the attack. They even had sufficient attacks from the left as well as right wings. The center backs, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have always been the player to give exquisite crosses from the wings. Atalanta on the other hand has a different analysis. Most of the attack was from the center and none was from the right side. Atalanta attacked from the center because they were playing high pitch game. At a time they used to only have three defenders to defend against the counter-attack by Liverpool. Let’s start with the tactical analysis of each team

Atalanta changing side to create more chance and playing a high pitch game

Atalanta played their basic game, high pressing in the opponents half. They also have tactics to use the wing and also to change sides to have more space. In the starting minutes, Atalanta used this strategy to exploit the space. They changed their side by giving the long ball. Their captain was playing in the center. He used to be the player to use this strategy to make space for Atalanta.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here you can see, there are around six Liverpool on one side. The Atalanta captain is well aware of his player on the opposite side. He then passes him from one side to another to get more space. Atalanta would always try to make the ground big from both sides. Atalanta plays a high pitch game. They always commit bodies in front and the opponents half. They had 15 crosses in the match. Liverpool only had nine.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here is an example of their high pressing game. Atalanta has seven players in the Liverpool half. They all are scattered everywhere and they are pressing them in their half. This would give an advantage of counter-attacking. Liverpool fullbacks would be in the attacking phase. If Atalanta would press more and they get the possession, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold would find it difficult to come back. Atalanta tactics and strategies didn’t work because Liverpool had bodies behind whenever they attacked. They couldn’t score a single goal on their home ground.

The diamond shape of Atalanta

Atalanta high press game also included a general shape that they could use to get a flow of passes. The shape would also help to move the ball by playing a one-touch game more like tiki-taka. In some situations, they created a diamond shape on one of the sides. The center back as well as the central midfielder would be in that shape.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here is an example of the diamond shape. They played it on the left flank. Again the captain was heavily involved in that and he also guided his players to get in that space. 

Defensive mishap

Even if Atalanta had great strategies, they conceded five goals and were not able to score a single goal. Atalanta high pressing game became a major key issue for them this time. They had a minimum of seven players to press them and take the ball. Liverpool used that to attack from the space which was left by them. Liverpool mainly attacked from wings as well as from the center. Atalanta committed all the bodies in front which in the case made the defense weak when Liverpool used to attack. In many chances, Atalanta players couldn’t come from the attacking phase to the defensive. This gave Liverpool a lot of space and also helped them to score five goals.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

As you can see in this pic, There are only two Atalanta defenders in the last line of defense. The fullbacks need to be in front of the Liverpool players but they are chasing behind. This was a really big mistake from their side. Liverpool had all the space on each side. This situation was later improved when they had already conceded four goals. In the second half of the game, they did not commit bodies in the front. They were defending more rather than attacking.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here you can see, after conceding four goals, they started keeping more players behind. They wanted to be saved by the trashing but the damage was already done. Liverpool played an exquisite match and was the better team all along. Here is the tactical analysis and tactics of the team who were able to score five goals in front of the Italian team who has the second season in the Champions League.

Liverpool Exploiting space 

Liverpool was playing its basic formation of 4-3-3. They were able to hold on to the high pressing Atalanta very easily. They also were exploiting space from all sides even from the center. The man of the match, Jota was exploiting space and he was getting in front of the defenders very easily. Atalanta committing bodies in the front was one of the advantages of the attack for Liverpool.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here is an example of Jota exploiting the space. Alexander Arnold is with the ball and he sees space in the front as well as Jota getting ready to run. The Atalanta player was marking Mané so Jota used that and he ran in the space in front of him and he received the through ball in front of him which was given by Alexander Arnold. Henderson and Jones, the midfield had a combination of 146 passes in the whole game. The success percentage of both the players was more than 90%. Jones was also coming in front of the attacking. He also was exploiting the space on his side and was quite successful in doing that.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Henderson has the ball and there is a lot of space between the players and also Jones and Salah are near that space. Jones exploit the spaces in front of him. He sees Henderson having the ball and he makes the run in the center which created a chance. Jones passing accuracy of short passes to long passes has been more than 95% throughout the game. The central midfielder was heavily involved in the attack as well as the full-backs. 

Defensive Strategy

There were four players behind. They played the same formation throughout the game which was 4-3-3.  The duel win rate was 34% in the first half and 45% in the second half. Liverpool didn’t have the same issue as Atalanta had. Liverpool played a high attacking game also like the opponents. The only thing which was better in their tactics was that while changing the phase from attacking to defending, there would e a sufficient number of players behind to defend. Atalanta couldn’t get the players back but Liverpool didn’t do that mistake and they always had bodies in the defense also.

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

Here is an example of the strategy. When Atalanta was attacking Liverpool had three players pressing a single player of Atalanta. There are a total of nine Liverpool players to defend and this defensive strategy had a major impact on Liverpool to get a clean sheet in the match where both the teams are an attacking team. Sadio used to get back to defend. 


It was a thrilling match of the Champions League. Liverpool is at the top of the table with winning all the games in this campaign. Atalanta is in third position with four points. Liverpool would be very likely to get qualified for the next round and it would be a task for Atalanta to get to the next stage. Ajax is one of the contenders in the group to get to the next stage. Atalanta tactics need to be changed so that there is no big difference in the goals. Liverpool is well off and they are stable with so many injuries. The defense is surprisingly not been affected that much as it was expected. Both the teams will have their league matches at the weekend and then there would be a two-week international break. The next Champions League match will be on 25 November. Atalanta would face Liverpool in their fortress, Anfield. That match would be the one to watch. Atalanta would hopefully come back stronger and give Liverpool a tough competition.