By @hasib-afzal (@LFCTalk7)
Liverpool managed to scrape a 1-0 victory over Ajax, in their opening Champions League Group game. The Reds were without the imperious Virgil Van Dijk and were tested throughout, but managed to hold on for a valuable three points to go second in the group.
Visitors Nervous Early On
In a highly anticipated match, the Reds started off in a cagey fashion. In the 2nd minute, a collision between Gomez and Adrian resulted in the goalkeeper hacking the ball clear. Defensive frailties were noticeable early on, as Virgil Van Dijk’s absence was visible.
The game continued in the same vein. This time a crunching tackle from the excellent Fabinho halted an Ajax attack as the hosts pressed forward. The Reds, undeterred, responded by breaking away quickly. Sadio Mane cut in from the left and fired an effort towards goal, only to be blocked by Lisandro Martinez.
Reds Continue To Be Sloppy
Despite Liverpool dominating possession, the visitors continued to make needless errors. On the 16th minute with Adrian in possession, he somehow hit the onrushing Quincy Promes. Thankfully, the error went unpunished.
It was a warning sign for Liverpool who were living dangerously. With the Reds still looking to settle into the game, Ajax came closest to fashioning an opening. From a corner, Dusan Tadic swung the ball to the far post where it was met by the head of Martinez only for Adrian to snuff it out.
Ajax continued to capitalise on Liverpool’s indecision at the back. This time Ryan Gravenberch got in behind the Liverpool high line and fired just wide of the near post. The home-side were impressive and excellent interplay opened up Liverpool once again. Nicolas Tagliafico, picked out Promes, who exchanged passes with David Neres, before firing a shot at Adrian, who stood firm to deny the Dutchman. The Reds were holding on.
Liverpool Lead Against The Run Of Play
After soaking up the pressure, it was Liverpool who took the lead rather fortuitously. On the 35th minute, Mane spun away on the left before a mishit shot was prodded in by Tagliafico. It was a decisive few minutes with Adrian denying Promes minutes earlier.
The game, as a consequence, began to open up. On the 41st minute, Andrew Robertson surged through the Liverpool midfield. Ajax continued to drop off the Scotsman who laid it off to Salah only for the Egyptian’s effort to be blocked by Martinez.
Ajax responded immediately at the other end. Daily Blind, cut Liverpool open with a fine through ball to pick out Dusan Tadic. Tadic clipped a wonderful effort over Adrian, only for the retreating Fabinho to hook it off the line. Ajax seemed certain to level but for the brilliance of the Brazilian. Liverpool led luckily at the break, with the game firmly in the balance.
Ajax Fight Back
The Dutch-side dominated the start of the second half proceedings. From the kick off, the ball worked its way to the edge of the box where Davy Klaassen let fly with a 25 yard shot, that cannoned off the inside of the post. Adrian’s fingertip save kept Ajax at bay. The home-side continued to dominate possession and took the game to Liverpool.
However, the Reds responded well and came close to a second goal. On the 57th minute a corner, swung in by Robertson, was missed by the onrushing Andre Onana. Luckily for the goalkeeper, Fabinho’s header was touched wide with the keeper managing to redeem himself. Ajax, nevertheless, countered upfield. The lively Promes was picked out by Noussair Mazraoui, whose low shot was kept out by Adrian. Both sides continued to press but the pace of the game began to take its toll.
With Klopp sensing a pivotal turning point, a triple substitution followed. Salah, Mane and Firmino, made way for Jota, Shaqiri and Minamino. There was an immediate shift in tempo. The Reds pressed quicker and forced Ajax back into their own half. Of the three substitutes, it was the Japanese who made the first contribution. After finding space of the edge of the box, Minamino drilled a shot towards the near post, that was beaten away by Onana.
Reds Finish Strongly
With fresh legs in the side, Liverpool continued to press for a second goal. On the 73rd minute, a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross was headed just over by Gini Wijnaldum. As the Reds continued to turn the screw, it was time for the Ajax goalkeeper to feel the pressure. Jota, having dispossessed Perr Schuurs, continued to drive forward towards goal. In a chase for the ball, the oncoming goalkeeper’s clearance, however, cannoned off Jota and landed to safety.
With the hosts becoming increasingly desperate for a leveller, the spaces began to open up further. On the 86th minute, Ajax failed to capitalise on a free kick which allowed Liverpool to counter-attack. The Reds broke away, and Alexander Arnold’s cross found it’s way to Jota whose shot was blocked by Martinez.
Liverpool should have killed off. Another opportunity presented itself in the 90th minute. The impressive Jota, once again, raced forward before picking out Wijnaldum with a raking cross field ball. The Dutchman’s effort was kept out well by Onana. Shaqiri then found Minamino, with his shot from a narrow angle saved again by Onana. The Ajax keeper continued to deny Liverpool.
With the game entering into the final few moments, Adrian was under the microscope again. Tagliafico whipped a devilish ball into the box, with the Liverpool goalkeeper only managing to punch it into the path of Jurgen Ekkelenkamp. The midfielder’s resulting, first time shot flew over the bar. The miss, ultimately, proved to be vital. Liverpool survived the scare, and held on to secure a 1-0 victory.
Liverpool move up to second behind Atlanta who won 4-0 away at FC Midtjylland. Ajax remained third in the group following their 1-0 defeat.
Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Jurgen Klopp said:
“It was good enough to win the game. That’s what you need. I think both teams could play better football. At moments it was wild. The pitch was deep and muddy. Three days ago it looked completely different and in training yesterday it looked different.
“But we did not take our chances which was a shame. Ajax had a big one which hit the post. When you’re 1-0 up, these things can happen. But overall I’m happy with the game. It was not sunshine football but we wanted three points and we got it.”