Diogo Jota took his tally to six goals in 10 days with a Champions League hat-trick as Liverpool hammered Atalanta 5-0 to put themselves within touching distance of the knockout stages already.
The Portugal international’s recent scoring spree persuaded Jurgen Klopp to start him ahead of Roberto Firmino in Bergamo and he fully justified the manager’s decision with only the club’s fourth European treble away from Anfield.
He is in elevated company as Michael Owen (two) and Sadio Mane scored the others and what he has achieved already since his move from Wolves in mid-September suggests there could be more to come.
Jota, who could have had a first-half hat-trick but squandered possibly his easiest chance in the second minute, has now scored for a fourth successive match.
He is only the second man to find the net in his first two Champions League appearances for the club, after Robbie Keane in 2008, and already has more goals for the club in 2020 (seven) than Firmino (five) despite having arrived less than two months ago.
Finally Klopp has someone to not only challenge his established front three of Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Mane – the latter pair also both scoring within a couple of minutes of each other at the start of the second half – but to improve the much-vaunted unit and his £41-million transfer already looks good value.
Jota’s impressive performance allowed Liverpool to win their opening three group matches for the first time and they have already established a five-point lead at the halfway stage with two home matches to come next.
Early qualification would be a major boost for Klopp in this most congested of seasons as it would give him the chance to offer some much-needed respite to his major players.
With Manchester City up next in the Premier League on Sunday he even took the opportunity here, removing Jota, who sparked an injury scare by hobbling off, Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson from the fray with 25 minutes to go and later resting Trent Alexander-Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum – all likely to be key figures at the Etihad Stadium.
Joel Matip returned to the squad after a four-match absence but Klopp opted to hand 19-year-old Rhys Williams – who a year ago was playing for Kidderminster against Curzon Ashton in National League North – his full Champions League debut at centre back with Joe Gomez against a side featuring eight players who reached last season’s quarter-finals.
It was the 36th different central defensive partnership Klopp has started during his five years at the club but there were no concerns in defence, even against a side who scored 98 goals in Serie A last season, with Jota running the hosts ragged at the other end.
Having shot too close to Marco Sportiello in only the second minute Jota did not make the same mistake twice in the 16th minute, dinking a shot past the goalkeeper after blindsiding Jose Luis Palomino chasing Alexander-Arnold’s through-ball.
Mane and Curtis Jones had already been denied by Sportiello but he was no match for Jota in the 33rd minute when Gomez picked out his teammate with a long diagonal ball.
The first touch with his left foot brought the ball inside on to his right and he dispatched a shot inside Sportiello’s right-hand post, prompting Klopp to bellow ‘What a finish, Diogo!’ from the technical area.
Mane saw his goalbound shot tipped around the post but two goals within four minutes of the start of the second half killed the hosts’ comeback hopes.
Salah’s half-pitch run to score from Jones’ pass when an Atalanta corner broke down was reminiscent of the one he scored against Arsenal in August 2019 and his 22nd European goal in 38 appearances drew him level with Owen in the club’s all-time list – only Steven Gerrard (41) has more.
Salah then turned provider for Mane to chip over Sportiello but Jota was in no mood to see his limelight stolen and ran onto Mane’s pass to round Sportiello and roll a shot into an empty net.
Duvan Zapata hit the inside of the post and forced Alisson Becker into two good saves but that sort of attacking threat was needed in the first half as the rookie Williams and Gomez had an unexpectedly comfortable night.
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