LIVERPOOL: Liverpool face a huge battle to stay in the Europa League after suffering a shock home defeat to Atalanta in the quarter-final first leg at Anfield; Atalanta had also won at Anfield in the Champions League during the Covid pandemic.

Former West Ham forward Gianluca Scamacca scored in each half, before ex-Chelsea player Mario Pasalic added a late third goal to ensure the Italians start as strong favourites to reach the semi-finals when the sides meet in next Thursday’s return in Bergamo.

Scamacca broke the deadlock in the 38th minute after Caoimhin Kelleher allowed his low drive to creep under him.

On a deeply frustrating night for below-par Liverpool, Darwin Nunez missed two big chances, while Harvey Elliott’s curling attempt struck the bar before dropping on to the post.

Mohamed Salah, who started on the bench, forced a fine save from visiting keeper Juan Musso after Kelleher had atoned for his error to stop the unmarked Teun Koopmeiners from doubling Atalanta’s lead.

The Reds were flat and lacked urgency in their play, and punished for some dreadful defending.

Scamacca took advantage of being left unmarked by doubling the lead with a crisp finish on the hour, while Pasalic’s 83rd-minute strike came after Ederson was afforded too much space to shoot and, when Kelleher made a save, the Croatian snapped up the rebound.

Jurgen Klopp looked bewildered at the final whistle after seeing his side comprehensively beaten by Atalanta, who sit sixth in Serie A and trail leaders Inter Milan by 32 points.

The Liverpool boss, who made six changes to the side that drew 2-2 at Manchester United on Sunday, has enjoyed some incredible European nights under the lights at Anfield during his nine years in charge.

But this could well be the last time he experiences a European home game after his side were a poor second-best to Atalanta, whose players and management team celebrated in front of their jubilant travelling fans long after the final whistle.

Liverpool had been looking to put the disappointment of Old Trafford, and dropping two points in the title race, behind them.

Instead they are now fighting to stay in Europe after one of their poorest performances of the season – and a first home loss since a Champions League last-16 tie in February 2023 when Real Madrid beat them 5-2.

Even the return of Diogo Jota from injury after a two-month absence could not inspire the Reds, who were looking to establish a comfortable cushion to take to Italy before three successive Premier League away games inside a week.

But they never got going and Klopp’s hope of ending his Liverpool reign at the Europa League final in Dublin on 22 May looks a distant dream.