Liverpool started their 2020/21 Champions League campaign in perfect fashion, taking maximum points from the Johan Cruyff ArenA. It was an impressive performance considering the fragile nature of the current squad, but exceeded expectations with this display.
The tie was seen as a difficult start for the Reds, but as the evening went on Klopp’s side looked more and more comfortable. The German will be particularly impressed with the defence who looked pretty solid throughout and performed admirably whenever called upon.
Even with an injury ravaged team, Klopp made a handful of surprise selections. Curtis Jones came into the starting line-up for his first Champions League appearance.
He would find himself alongside Wijnaldum and Milner, with Henderson on the bench. Thiago and Keïta missed out with a knock and fitness issues respectively. Whilst in defence, with van Dijk and Matip both out injured, Fabinho slotted in at centre back alongside Gomez.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
FabinhoEmbed from Getty Images
An absolute colossus at the back all night. He was perfect, giving the Ajax forwards nothing to pray on. Even with his previous impressive performances in defence, with van Dijk missing, the Dutch side will have seen the Brazilian as the weak spot in this backline. Within the first ten minutes they found out that this tactic would not work.
David Neres in particular went after his international colleague but found no success. At every contest he was out battled, out manoeuvred and out thought. Neres looked visibly frustrated after he was withdrawn. The lack of impact he was able to make during the game was written all over his demeanour. He wasn’t the only one to suffer at the hands of Liverpool’s number three. Every player in the red and white who came up against him were stopped immediately and sent running back towards their own goal.
The stand out moment for the former Monaco man was his outstanding clearance off the line. With Dušan Tadić bearing down on goal, he lofted the ball over the advancing Adrián. With the ball all but in the goal, Fabinho turned into Inspector Gadget to leave Erik ten Hag on the Ajax bench gobsmacked, as the ball was thumped clear.
This goal line denial was the cherry on the cake for the 26-year-old who was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch. With van Dijk out for a significant amount of time and Matip continually struggling with injury, many fans are happy to leave the midfielder at the heart of the Reds defence. After his performance tonight and previously against Chelsea, you can see why the confidence in him is there from fans.
Joe GomezEmbed from Getty Images
After a serious dip in form since the restart and the season ending injury to his regular centre back partner, this could have been a nightmare game for the England international. However, he rose to the challenge and put in a monstrous performance alongside Fabinho at the heart of the Reds defence.
You could see throughout the game he was looking to get on the front foot, forcibly ripping the ball away from the Ajax players. This approach proved extremely successful as he won pretty much every 50/50 and was a brick wall that Ajax struggled to penetrate. Gomez was visibly more vocal, taking the duty of leader in the rear guard. He looked confident and dependable throughout the duration of the game and took command in every situation, even when Adrián called for the ball.
This was the Joe Gomez Liverpool fans had seen for the best part of last season. It is a major boost to the defender moving forwards, with a first clean sheet of the season an extra bonus. If the 23-year-old can continue to perform in this manner alongside Fabinho, the Reds should perform admirably on the defensive front for the remainder of the season.
Gini WijnaldumEmbed from Getty Images
Another who has seen a recent dip in form. On top of this, the Dutchman has struggled for consistent game time with Thiago and Keïta preferred in the recent fixtures. However, he bounced back in the right way with a commanding performance in the centre if the park, that clearly went under the radar.
Wijnaldum kept the Liverpool midfield ticking in the testing first half. He was outstanding in his defensive midfield role, whilst providing perfect cover for the underperforming Curtis Jones. His link up play with Milner was tight and clean, distributing the ball quickly and perfectly to the players further up the pitch.
His influence on the game softened slightly in the second half with Jordan Henderson taking the defensive midfield pivot, whilst the Oranje international was pushed further forward. It wasn’t eye catching but he continued that distribution cycle moving forwards. Even when the front three completely changed, he continued to supply Jota, Shaqiri and Minamino in the same way.
It was a low-key impressive performance from the 29-year-old, who could do with a string of starts once again to regain his own impressive consistent form of last season. The comfortable nature in which he went about his business will fill Klopp with plenty of hope with the midfield options and formations available to him exciting to say the least.
Curtis JonesEmbed from Getty Images
The scouser looked slightly out of his depth. It was a big moment for the teenager, who had actively wanted more game at the end of last season. He was thrown in at the deep end on Wednesday, as he was handed his first Champions League appearance against the 2019 semi-finalists.
His evening never really got going as he struggled to get to grips with Davy Klaassen, who ran the show for Ajax in the centre during the first half. As Wijnaldum and Milner successfully pressed and regained possession on several occasions, Jones was consistently found in no man’s land doing nothing. He was pulled at half time for the skipper due to his inactivity.
This display should be taken in context though. It was his first Champions League game and it will take time to build up the experience to play within the European scene regularly. However, his start shows the faith Klopp has in him. In such a difficult game, the German thought he was the best player to deputise for the slightly fatigued Henderson. The u21 international will get plenty more chances at this level in the future no doubt about that.
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