Fabinho and collective spirit give Reds a winning start
The clock showed 43 minutes and 26 seconds, as Tadic chipped the ball over the onrushing Adrian. At that moment, time stood still as the ball seemed destined for the unguarded net. Liverpool had only taken the lead 10 minutes back and it seemed that they were on the way to concede another equaliser this week.
But the play had not stopped and Fabinho, playing at centre-half, having anticipated the state of affairs intervened acrobatically to scissor a clearance as the ball was about to cross the line.
Before one could even gasp, Liverpool was on the charge, turning this moment of adversity into one of advantage. The men in Red and black are swarming towards the opposition goal and are moments away from doubling the lead. But luck is with Ajax, as thankfully the backtracking Schuurs interception bobbles inches away wide of the left-hand post.
It may be too early to reach a conclusion basis the result of the opening matchday of the UEFA Champions League but Liverpool managed to answer most of the questions asked of its defence. The defensive pairing of Gomez and Fabinho had been outstanding and the collective pressing was there for all to see.
Aided by the experienced Milner, Klopp’s men showed that they are ready to shoulder the responsibility and make sure Van Dijk’s absence is not a detriment to their ambitions.
Liverpool’s clean sheet leaves Klopp elated
Coming into this game, Klopp had been a bit edgy at times. The German had expressed his displeasure about VAR earlier in the week and minced no words on the Van Dijk injury, calling the decision not punish Jordan Pickford as ludicrous. However, the victory and most importantly the clean-sheet left the German elated and soothed his nerves to a certain extent.
Klopp was quick to commend the performance of his central defenders, especially that of Fabinho. He was quick to add that it was his team’s collective performance that helped seal the victory describing some moments of the game as being wild. Instead of viewing the result through the prism of victory, Klopp focussed on the fight that his wards had shown during the entirety of the game.
Having shaded the game barely in terms of possession, Liverpool did well to restrict their fiery opponents. Conscious of not conceding any fouls near the box or a position which may result in an advantageous set piece seemed a primary requirement for Klopp’s men.
A second clean sheet since last season’s Champions League is not a good statistic but Klopp will take it nevertheless. Instead, the German could focus on the players he enlisted for the task. At one end, at 34 years and 291 days, James Milner became the third-oldest player to appear for Liverpool in the European Cup/Champions League, contrastingly, Curtis Jones became the 5th youngest Champions League outfielder to start for Liverpool (19y 265d).
Ajax’s Champions League campaign confounded by misfortune
European nights at the Johan Cruyff Arena have often been deceptive for this Ajax side. For the past few seasons, just as it seems that this side they are able to make a breakthrough, they have been shot down or have shot themselves in the foot.
And that misfortune was compounded after a ludicrous opener for Liverpool via an own goal by Tagliafico. The Argentine, a subject of interest in the recently closed transfer window was unable to direct a low cross from Liverpool’s Mane away from his goal. Instead, he could only look on in horror as the ball crept past his own keeper to give Liverpool the lead.
Further, their night was hampered when Kudus, the Ghanaian forward had to be replaced as early as the 14th minute after an innocuous 50-50 challenge with Fabinho. That thought didn’t deter the fabled Ajax spirit as they continued to attack the Reds, testing the defences temerity and Quincy Promes should have put them ahead from six yards out.
An open encounter which was hampered more by a stodgy pitch than spirit made for an excellent watch. Klassen, a former Everton player unleashed a screamer, moments into the second half only to see his shot bounce off the inside of the right-hand post. Despite being the sharper side in the second half, the Dutch side was unable to breach the Liverpool defence.
And it was not until the stoppage time of the second half when Adrian went AWOL that the ball dropped to Ajax’s Ekkelenkamp as he shot uncontrollably over. Group D’s next set of matches, will see Ajax travel to Italy as they take on Atalanta, while Liverpool will welcome Danish champions Midtjylland.