by Priyasha Bhowmik (@lfcpriya11)
It is safe to say that the footballing world was stunned when Alvaro Morata slid the ball past Liverpool goalkeeper Adrián – for Atlético’s third goal of the night – after a quick-fire extra-time comeback from the Spanish giants which ultimately eliminated the 2019 champions of Europe from last season’s competition.
This was in mid-March 2020, the last time Liverpool played in front of fans.
And so – from a Liverpool point of view – it stung to watch Bayern Munich lift the Champions League trophy, a trophy we were once favourites for and, had it not been for a bizarre turn of events at Anfield in March (and some luck), could have won.
But, alas, the German champions sealed the trophy, taking the club’s Champions League tally to six – equal with Liverpool.
The fallen champions begin this year’s European tour with an away trip to Ajax Amsterdam, another side who exited the competition last season earlier than many would have expected – at the first hurdle (the group stages).
This will only be the third time Liverpool and Ajax have faced eachother competitively; the last time being 54 years ago – during the reign of Bill Shankly.
It was the 1966/67 season, Ajax’s third season in Europe’s most prestigious tournament, and Liverpool’s second. Infamously known as “De Mistwedstrijd” ( Dutch for “The Fog Match”) due to the dense fog in which the game was played (in fact, the fog was so thick the spectators couldn’t really see the match and could only make out if a goal was scored by the sounds of celebration from the scoring team), Liverpool went into the match as favourites, with Ajax relatively unknown at the time.
Well, football fans of the 60s were in for quite a surprise…
Ajax debutant Cees de Woof scored inside three minutes. The legendary Johan Cruyff, at the start of his career then, scored Ajax’s second just moments later, with Klaas Nuninga making it three in the 39th minute.
And then, in a bizarre sequence of events, Ajax defender Jesaia Swart mistakedly wondered off the field thinking it was halftime after hearing the referee’s whistle (remember, it was foggy) but was subsequently diverted back onto the field by a match offical. Soon after re-entering the field, Swart received the ball, crossed it to Nuninga, and all of of a sudden it was 4-0
Henk Groot sealed the win late on, confirming Liverpool’s worst defeat in European competition – 5-1.
In the return fixture at Anfield, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was confident of a turnaroud, reportedly saying: “This tie is by no means over yet. We will win easily. We will smash in at least seven goals. This was ridiculous. Ajax played defensive football on their own ground. We never play well against defensive teams.”
Liverpool bowed out, 7-2 Ajax on aggregate. A young Cruyff scored a brace, with Roger Hunt scoring a couple for the home side at Anfield.
Liverpool travel to Amsterdam on Wednesday night without talisman Virgil van Dijk. The 2019 UEFA Player of The Year was on the receiving end of what appeared to be a reckless, dangerous (and at the time of writing, unpunished) Jordan Pickford tackle during Saturday’s Merseyside Derby which tore the Dutchman’s ACL.
Thiago Alcantara is also set to miss out this tomorrow night with a knee injury he picked up after a foreful challenge from Richarlison.
Liverpool are also still without first choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker, midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and new signing Kostas Tsimikas. Naby Keita has returned to training after a false-positive Covid test, but, presumedly, is unlikely to start this one.
Ajax, on the other hand, are in fine fettle, having thrashed Heerenveen 5-1 in the Dutch Eredevisie at the weekend, with captian Dusan Tadic scoring two.
We may well have a close affair on our hands. Ajax may not be that revolutionary 2018/19 side that took the Champions League by storm anymore, but with the likes of Dušan Tadić, Quincy Promes, André Onana and Nico Tagliafico in their ranks, the Dutch club will not go down without a fight, especially at home. Liverpool, however, are Liverpool. Still very much one of the best in Europe. Should be a cracker.