A four minute one-two hit by Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens earned Atalanta an exceptional 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield that raises the stakes in Champions League Group D with two games to go.
Jurgen Klopp's side had drubbed Atalanta in brutal fashion when these two met in matchday three, Diogo Jota scoring a hat-trick in a 5-0 win in Bergamo, but today's impressive display of defensive organization and high pressing from Atalanta was far more reflective of the excellent play that has won the hearts of European football in recent months.
A recap of the key talking points below.
Freewheeling Atalanta leave Liverpool without a focal point
Without Luis Muriel or Duvan Zapata there was a free-wheeling style to Atalanta's attacks. You never quite knew where Josip Ilicic, Matteo Pessina or Alejandro Gomez might pop up but it seemed that whichever central midfielder fancied it could have their own brief go at center forward when the nominal attackers drifted into space.
For a newly assembled pairing of Joel Matip and Rhys Williams - the 10th tandem Liverpool have put out in central defense this season - it seemed to be an almighty challenge, defending without a true point of reference.
That allowed the likes of Robin Gosens to ghost into attacks unnoticed as he did when he hammered a shot off the post in the ninth minute, a thunderous effort from a tight angle that took Alisson by surprise. However he probably hit it from the left wing position not because he liked his chances of scoring but because there was no real option in the area.
By the second half that changed with Ilicic increasingly taking on that central role, still dropping deep and trying to maneuver the defense out of position, whilst all around him was a hive of movement and quick passes. The string of movement that brought the ball to Gomez wide on the left was Atalanta at their best and left Liverpool bedazzled as Ilicic ghosted in to convert his first goal of the season.
Liverpool's irreplaceable duo
One of the triumphs of Liverpool over the past 18 or so months has been how they have quietly built depth across key positions even with a relatively small squad. Some of those have been headline external additions such as Thiago and Diogo Jota whilst Fabinho has emerged as an excellent central defensive option and Curtis Jones has fitted in like a veteran in midfield.
Yet finding an alternative to Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, still out with a calf injury, is just too difficult. No wonder, they are the best left back and right back in the world after all. And without both of them Liverpool struggle to put the stranglehold on sides, to cause panic in defenses who have to deal with Mane on their inside and Robertson on their outside.
Kostas Tsimikas, handed a start as the Scotland left-back rested on the bench, does his best to bomb on and at Olympiacos certainly did a decent impression of Robertson's swashbuckling darts down the flank. His delivery looked very good on occasion but it is not at the level of Liverpool's first choice. That meant Atalanta were far more willing to let him have the ball high up the pitch, the equivalent of an NBA defense sagging off a below average three-point shooter and clogging the lane for others around them.
That went some way to explaining why Liverpool took until the 44th minute to register a shot on goal, notably from a Tsimikas cross that was cleared only as far as Mohamed Salah. Does it matter? Likely not when with one of Robertson or Alexander-Arnold this team can be as devastating as they were against Leicester City on Sunday. Meanwhile it's hard to envisage an important game where Klopp would not deploy both if they are available.
Still much of this game served as a healthy reminder of how impactful this dynamic duo are on their team.
Did Klopp err in his selection?
It was eminently understandable that Klopp felt compelled to bench a string of senior players, including Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Robertson. His side had worked hard to dispose of Leicester on Sunday and come midday Saturday they will be back in action, away to a Brighton and Hove Albion side they ought to beat comfortably even with a reserve side.
That final point does rather beg the question whether this game might have been the one to go full strength in. This team played like a side that believed qualification was effectively in the bag, not really waking up until Ilicic's opener.
A further three points would have opened up welcome wriggle room over Ajax as well as Atalanta, Klopp could probably have gone with a more or less fringe side both in Amsterdam and certainly in Midtjylland.
Next week Klopp will now have to ensure his side is strong enough to do the job away to Ajax while also planning for a tough game at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers a few days later. In not going all out today Liverpool may have to ask more of their top players in the weeks ahead.
Cristian Romero: The Juventus loanee was strong in the air and disciplined when the ball was on the deck. That Divock Origi had to abandon his central berth early in the half was a tribute to how well Romero had shackled him. RATING: 7
Alisson: These are the sorts of games where a cool reading of the game by your goalkeeper can save you a string of dangerous opportunities. Liverpool's No.1 was superb in that regard, notably appearing out of nowhere to pluck a ball off Ilicic's feet after Gomez's through ball. RATING: 8
Alejandro Gomez: On a day like today there was something utterly joyous about seeing a diminutive Argentine No.10 drifting around to create nuisance for opponents and joy for any neutrals watching on. RATING: 8
Liverpool will travel to Ajax next week with a lead of just two points over the Dutch side and Atalanta, who will be hosting Midtjylland in Bergamo. Defeat for Klopp's side at the Johan Cruyff Arena would not take their hopes of qualifying out of their hands but it would certainly make for an unwelcome challenge for the Premier League winners.