Atalanta have never reached a Champions League final before and so this feels like an occasion that should be given its own little spotlight. On the other hand, Liverpool have already played in 10 Champions League finals to this point in my save with a 70% success rate. Indeed, Klopp’s Livepool have actually won two out of the last four finals played (2019 in real life and 2022 in fiction).
THE ROAD TO THE FINAL
I have already spoken about Atalanta’s journey to this point but here is a short recap.
We somehow managed to, not only qualify from but, top our group containing Tottenham and Dortmund. Brenner’s 9 goals in 6 games unmatched by anyone across the 8 groups.
There’s no doubt that the knockout draws were kind to us this season considering the strength of teams we got against those we could have been given. Porto swept aside with ease, Gladbach were no match despite their attempted second leg heroics.
I expected a lot more of a test from English Premier League Runners Up Chelsea but consecutive 2-0 wins sealed an unprecedented Champions League final for Atalanta of Bergamo.
In some nice symmetry, while we faced an English side in our group, Liverpool were paired with an Italian side in their – a Juventus side that they made easy work of over two game. A 2-1 loss to Shakhtar (courtesy of a 90+3 minutes goal) the only blot on their copy book.
It could have been curtains for Liverpool at the earliest knockout stage – Malcom’s 90+4 minute winner (to seal his hattrick) in the second leg sparing the Reds from an away goals exit! Liverpool landed Juve again in the Quarter Finals and again notched up two victories.
Having all but sealed progression in the first half of the semi final, it seems Klopp’s men went to the Bernabeu without a care in the world. So much so that they allowed former teammate Mo Salah to grab a goal against them.
The referee for this final is José María Sánchez Martínez. The 39 year old Spaniard has an exceptional reputation and is one of the best from Spain’s La Liga. He has already refereed in 15 Champions League matches this season issuing 35 bookings and 3 dismissals. Just a few weeks ago he was the referee for the UEFA Europa Conference League final between FC Utrecht and Everton at Villa Park, garnering a personal rating of 7.7 for his performance in a match which ended in a 1-0 victory for Everton.
Neither side has any injury concerns or suspensions to be considered ahead of this showpiece game. Seven-time winners Liverpool are the bookmakers’ favourites at odds of 11/10 while Atalanta are priced at 9/4 for the victory.
There are no surprises in the Atalanta team selection. Livakovic remains the undisputed first choice in goal while Anel, Tapsoba and Palomino have made a formidable trio at the back. Pedro Porro has grown into his role as Dodo’s replacement while Matteo Ruggeri’s new contract extension has put all transfer speculation behind him. Çalhanoğlu and Camavinga’s continued growth as a central midfield pairing has seen the two become highly coveted around Europe. As Daniel Nachev and Søren Knudsen are not registered for European competition, Thiago Almada is the obvious choice for the position in behind Brenner and Hlozek who have a combined 51 goals so far this season.
The bench is filled with promise for the future with ambipedal wing back Yankuba Janneh one to particularly keep an eye on. Sergio Aguero makes the bench for his last match in his brief spell at Atalanta ahead of a move to Boca Juniors in the summer.
Liverpool’s goalkeeper and back line more or less pick themselves with this quintet that have become well acquainted with each other over the past two seasons since Söyüncü’s arrival from Leicester City. Fabinho, Gabriel Menino and Naby Keita make up a very mobile midfield three that would be the envy of most sides in Europe. 26-goal Sadio Mané and £103m record signing João Félix provide goal threats from wide positions while Roberto Firmino is the loan striker in his usual False Nine role.
Should they require it, Liverpool have a bench stacked with quality in all areas. Nuno Mendes, Florentino Luis and Curtis Jones have featured heavily in Liverpool’s play this season and will be disappointed to miss out on a starting place. While the reds also have the experience of Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner to count on they can also turn to the attacking ability of Malcom, Barbosa and Dembélé who have 33 goals between them in 2022/23.
Strangely the Stadion München attracted a capacity of just 69,344 – over 5,000 less than capacity. Perhaps the hefty proportion of UEFA Corporate sponsors weren’t included in the final attendance figures…
FIRST HALF KICK OFF
In any case, the crowd was not left waiting long for the game to spring into action. Liverpool took the lead after a mere 9 minutes of play. Sadio Mané doing well to find a pocket of space in the box to head home from Andrew Robertson’s cross.
Just five minutes later the scores were level. Atlanta broke quickly on the counter and Çalhanoğlu’s through pass from the right was fired home by Adam Hlozek, Alisson perhaps disappointed to have been beaten so easily at his near post.
The raucous cheering in Munich turned to stunned silence for a split second as Atalanta took the lead just before the half hour mark. Matteo Ruggeri’s delightfully disguised ‘no-look’ pass caught the Liverpool back line off guard and Brenner stole in to put the ball beyond the clutches of the scrambling Alisson.
Liverpool were level just a minute later as the fleet-footed Mané made easy work of the Atalanta defence to square the pass across goal for João Félix to tap in the equaliser. Dominik Livakovic will not look back kindly on this moment as the ball evaded his inexplicable attempts to slide feet first in an effort to stop the ball crossing his six yard box.
HALF TIME: ATALANTA 2-2 LIVERPOOL
The scores were level at the half but in truth, it was Liverpool who were looking the more dangerous.
SECOND HALF KICK OFF
Once again it was Mané central to everything Liverpool were doing as they took the lead for the second time in the game. With 53 minutes on the clock, some persistent attacking play paid off and Mané took his opportunity to put the ball under the stretching reach of Livakovic.
Twenty minutes later and Liverpool doubled their advantage. Yet again, Mané involved in the move as his cross for the right was headed in off the crosssbar by João Félix.
As Atalanta reached desperation zones in the game, it was the decision to move Edmond Tapsoba up front that paid dividends. Camavinga’s lofted ball into the box finding the Burkinabé in space behind his marker and Tapsoba glanced his header beyond the reach of Alisson.
FULL TIME: ATALANTA 3-4 LIVERPOOL
Sadly time ran out too quickly for Atalanta to find an opportunity to draw level. It’s been a great journey to this point of the competition and one I certainly didn’t expect. For that matter, it’s not one I expect to happen again in this save!
Adam Hlozek and Brenner scoring meant they finished 1st and 2nd respectively in the top goalscorer chart in the Champions League. Hlozek with 13 and Brenner with 11. Hlozek also took the most Player of the Match awards with 4 out his 11 games played while Livakovic’s 5 clean sheets was the third most in the competition, 2 behind Thibaut Courtois at the top.
As I move into my fourth season at the club I have a plan to review my transfers and squad composition – it’s something I want to delve into in more detail later. As for competitions – we need to be competitive at the top of Serie A again and should be aiming for at least the Quarter Finals of the Champions League. A Coppa Italia would go a long way to having this be deemed a successful save too…