Curtis Jones sent Liverpool into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League after he scored the only goal in a 1-0 Anfield victory over Ajax.
Jürgen Klopp made five changes from the side that picked up a sole point at the Amex at the weekend with Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones and Sadio Mane all returning to the starting XI. The fifth and final change saw a surprise start for Caoimhin Kelleher between the sticks following late news that Alisson Becker had picked up an expected hamstring injury against Brighton.
Immidiatley from the get go the flow of the game was clear to see as neither side looked like they were going to sit back with both Liverpool and their opponents looking to move the ball about and take advantage of the openness and space.
Although Ajax advanced well with the ball, Liverpool did look the more threatening of the two sides with Jones almost opening the scoring in the opening exchanges as he struck Andre Onana’s post with a long range curling effort.
The balance of the game did shift sharply towards Ajax as the Dutch side visually increased in confidence as they began bossing possession and knocking the ball past the Liverpool press.
Despite their control of the game Ajax were unable to properly test the inexperienced Kelleher in the Liverpool net until the half hour mark when the Irishman was called upon to make a diving save to his left to deny a long-range effort from Noussair Mazraoui.
Mazraoui’s attempt proved to be the last of the half for either side as the referee blew the whistle and brought to an end a half which for Liverpool started with much promise but slowly fizzled out.
The second half saw Ajax almost take the lead within minutes as former Evertonian Davy Klaassen was left unmarked at the near post. Fortunately for the Reds the midfielder powered his near post header past the wrong side of the post and the score remained 0-0.
Liverpool again had another scare moments later as David Neres struck the woodwork after Kelleher parried yet another Mazraoui effort.
Despite Ajax’s dominance in the half Liverpool managed to take the lead in the 58th minute through Jones after Onana seemed to lose his bearings in the box.
Linking up well with skipper Henderson down the right flank, Neco Williams shifted the ball onto his weaker left foot before curling in an in-swinging cross towards the back post. Onana came off his line looking to claim the cross but decided to let it pass over his head and out for goal kick, however, to his horror Jones had snuck in behind and managed to tap the ball into the vacant net leaving the goalkeeper with his head in his hands. 1-0.
Liverpool had a chance to double their lead minutes later through the usually reliable Mohamed Salah who was put through one-on-one against the keeper. Rather than shooting first time, the Egyptian looked to round Onana, however, the keeper stayed on his feet and made up for his earlier blunder as he smothered the ball to deny the Liverpool number 11.
Following the goal Liverpool took control of the game, bossing possession and looking the more threatening of the two sides with both Williams and Andy Robertson giving the Reds an added attacking presence down the flanks that the Dutch side were struggling to deal with.
Liverpool had a chance to seal the result in the final 10 minutes of the game through Roberto Firmino as he was sent through on goal by Salah, but Onana yet again made amends for his earlier error as he tipped the Brazilian’s effort onto the post and out for a corner.
Despite the late missed attempts, the Reds were able to hold out and claim all three points as well as a debut UEFA Champions League clean sheet for Kelleher as the youngster again was called into action late on to deny Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from point blank range.
Liverpool are next in action on Sunday when they travel to the West Midlands to take on Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux in the Premier League.
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