Football Features

Ajax 0-1 Liverpool: Five things learned as Reds pass first test since Van Dijk injury

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:24, 21 October 2020

Liverpool got their Champions League campaign underway with a narrow 1-0 victory at Ajax this evening.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was forced to make several changes from the side that drew against Everton over the weekend, most notably Virgil van Dijk sitting out the first of many games after sustaining a serious knee injury.

In what turned out to be a close affair, both teams having roughly the same amount of shots on goal, the six-time European champions ultimately settled it after Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico accidentally put the ball into his own net.

The Amsterdammers will rue several opportunities, but in the end Liverpool return home with three valuable points and in the process begin life without their leader at the back on the right footing.

As the dust begins to settle, here are five things we learned from this encounter.

1. Early blow for Ajax’s Van de Beek replacement

It’s not rare to see a summer recruit make an immediate impact on a team’s fortune. Mohammed Kudus, who’s replaced Donny van de Beek (now of Manchester United) in Erik ten Hag’s starting lineup, has had that effect on Ajax this season. The 20-year-old Ghanaian was highly thought-of during a brief stay at Danish outfit Nordsjælland, with many observers tipping him for big things. A subsequent move to Amsterdam represented that prophecy starting to come true, and the box-to-box midfielder is starting to fulfil that promise through incredible domestic performances, further accelerating the excitement of going toe-to-toe with Europe’s best this evening.

However, that dream Champions League debut cruelly ended in the ninth minute after he sustained a serious knock. Having started in an unfamiliar ‘false nine’ position it seemed Ten Hag’s tactic was to utilise him as the Amsterdammers’ first line of defence and someone who could hustle Fabinho into potentially making a mistake. Plus, he was on a high following a first league goal against Heerenveen over the weekend. The hosts would struggle in his absence. In a short space of time he’s become their tempo setter, which isn’t a new feeling as they looked bereft of ideas against FC Groningen recently, a game Kudus missed out and saw them fall to a 1-0 defeat.

2. What a difference 180 seconds make

Today’s game illustrated a case of two wide forwards. Quincy Promes, who finished last term on a high note, has yet to find his groove this season. He was a second-half substitute in Ajax’s big 5-1 win over Heerenveen last Saturday before starting on the bench this evening. A similar role was expected (though one wonders if that would be the case if Brazilian winger Antony had been match fit). However, plans changed when Kudus went down early. He could have gone from zero to hero in the 33rd minute after David Neres brilliantly played him in, but Promes spurned this golden opportunity by firing straight at Adrián from point-blank range, a chance the Amsterdammers would immediately rue.

Because Sadio Mane, on the other hand, remains as irresistible as ever. He still has fond memories of this stadium. Back in back in February 2014 during a European League second round second leg tie, the Senegalese international scored and assisted as Red Bull Salzburg (now managed by the current PSV Eindhoven boss Roger Schmidt) ran out 3-1 winners.

And Mane played a significant role in Liverpool’s go-ahead goal. Two minutes after Promes got his bearings wrong, his shot was unfortunately met by left-back Nicolás Tagliafico, whose own goal ensured another failed shutout by Ten Hag’s men at home this season.

3. Test passed

It’s hard to put into words how much Van Dijk means to Liverpool and the defensive side of their game. So, when the colossus Dutch centre-back went down against Everton before revealing he needed knee surgery, you can imagine the nervousness of supporters and management going forward.

Alisson’s concurrent absence has not helped matters. Heading into this game, the Reds shipped in nine goals across two matches, thus very few banked on them leaving Amsterdam with a clean sheet.

At times manager Klopp was going berserk, as Ajax regularly threatened Adrián’s goal. But the Spaniard and his makeshift centre-back pairing of Fabinho (who pulled off a stunning goal line clearance to deny Dusan Tadic) and Joe Gomez passed this stern examination. In doing so, Liverpool kept a rare ‘0’ on the road. Before tonight’s showdown, they managed to secure just one clean sheet in their last 12 Champions League away games.

4. Klopp’s statement

Present unprecedented circumstances mean games will be coming thick and fast especially with the Champions League resuming. Liverpool, as touched upon, are using the extent of their first team with a number of players absent either through injury or coming back from a knock.

With three more games remaining this month (including Midtjylland next week), you can forgive Klopp for looking at the bigger picture and resting his key men whenever possible. But who could have foreseen his triple change on the hour mark when their dangerous front-three were all hauled off with the game still hanging in the balance?

Images would show Mane had ice wrapped around his knee in the stands after his withdrawal, and if there’s one individual the defending Premier League champions can ill afford to lose, it’s him.

However, Klopp allayed concerns with his post-match update.

“Sadio has still for a few days had a dead leg,” he told reporters.

“He deals with it in that area, that’s the only thing.

“It is still painful but it’s not a problem. When he doesn’t play, he puts ice on it. That’s it.”

5. A predictable outcome

A scrappy affair ended how many predicted it would. Yes, the early loss of Kudus shook the hosts and played a significant role, but the gulf in class, especially in possession, was laid bare for all to see. Ajax, try as they might, were unable to conjure the spirit of 2018/19 and must now swallow yet another loss to English opposition at home.

It’s now just one victory against someone from the Premier League in eight European matches, and that was a stunning 3-1 win over Manchester City in the 2012/13 group stage. As for the Reds, since losing in Amsterdam in 1966 they’ve left the Netherlands with four successes and three draws. More worrying for Ten Hag’s side it’s now one win across their last seven Champions League home games.

Other 8pm results: 

Inter 2-2 Gladbach: An entertaining affair that saw Romelu Lukau score either side of Ramy Bensebaini and Jonas Hofmann.

Man City 3-1 Porto: After falling behind, Pep Guardiola’s side displayed grit with Sergio Aguero back on the goal trail.

Midtylland 0-4 Atalanta: Serie A’s most exciting team picked up from where they left off by humbling Denmark’s champions; Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez and Luis Muriel all got on the scoresheet. Ajax have been warned.

Olympiacos 1-0 Marseille: A tight contest was decided in 90th minute stoppage time when Koka gave the Greeks all three points.

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