Football Features

Klopp’s kids save the day as Liverpool secure Champions League progression by beating Ajax 1-0

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:11, 1 December 2020

In an open game of football, Liverpool beat Ajax 1-0 at Anfield to win their Champions League group.

The Reds went toe-to-toe against Ajax at Anfield in an even and open contest. The Dutch side had more of the play, Liverpool had more of the chances. It was just a fun open game that was ironically settled by one moment of madness from Andre Onana.

However even though Onana’s mistake was the reason for Liverpool winning, it was the identity of the goalscorer that, in many ways, summed up the game: Curtis Jones. The teenage midfielder who has already scored a Merseyside Derby winner and is currently wearing Steven Gerrard’s old no. 17.

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Jones is a local lad and he plays like it, full of bubbling passion and boundless ambition. You get the impression that he’d run all day for the club if asked to, but what he adds is something that no other Liverpool midfielder can really say: a goal threat.

Jones is just constantly on the verge of scoring. In many ways he’s much more like Frank Lampard, an intelligent and hard-working midfielder with a sharp eye for goal, than Steven Gerrard, a physical bull of a player who could do literally anything if he put his mind to it.

The only reason he scored the goal, the only reason Onana’s mistake was punished, was because Jones was making a follow-up run. He was darting in behind the defence, anticipating a mistake from the goalkeeper much like good strikers do. And he was rewarded with a goal.

If it sounds like the finish was routine, it was anything but. Jones’ shooting skill has been on display since the start of the year in the Merseyside Derby, and it was on full display here. Raising his right boot he flicked the ball gently towards goal with the outside of his right-boot. It seemed simple, it was not. An astounding bit of technique and a superb goal.

That goal capped a night where he was Liverpool’s most realistic goal threat, taking more shots than any of his team-mates (hitting the post early on with a rasping shot). But he wasn’t the only youngster to shine at Anfield.

Jones’ protagonist status at one end was matched by Caoimhin Kelleher at the other. The 22-year-old Irish goalkeeper was being handed his debut as the Reds gave Alisson some rest, and the young lad responded with a confident and assured display.

He made routine saves, he commanded his area, came for crosses, he even made a stunning save to deny Klaas-Jan Huntelaar a late equaliser. The scruffy-haired goalie looks a safer pair of hands than Adrian and given the way results have gone tonight has probably played himself into a second start next week against Midtjylland. He even got a big bearhug from Klopp at full-time!

Kelleher might never start for Liverpool as long as Alisson is around, but he can become their back-up keeper with no problems. And given how Alisson seems to be a goalkeeper that picks up injuries here and there, that mean there will always be games for him at Anfield.

A minor mention for Neco Williams, who put in a solid display at right-back. He’s no Trent Alexander-Arnold, but he’s a ferocious competitor, making a team-high 3 tackles and always giving David Neres and Nico Tagliafico hell whenever they attacked him.

Williams also created the winning goal, albeit it was a searcher of a cross on his weak-foot that only got through because of Onana’s error (the goalkeeper was otherwise great, to be fair). But it did get through, which coupled with the off-nights from Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino means that in almost every single way (shoutout Fabinho and his game-high 8 clearances), it really was Klopp’s kids who saved the day.

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