Liverpool 1-0 Ajax: Winners and losers as Reds youngsters shine bright at Anfield

Klopp’s youngsters took their opportunities on a testing night that saw Liverpool qualify for the round of 16 as group winners. OLIVER LAWRENSON picks out the Reds’ winners and losers from the game.

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The Reds finalised their place in the knockout stages of this seasons Champions League with an important win over Erik ten Hag’s side on Tuesday evening.

After the less than convincing displays in the last two fixtures, this was a nice return to form that – even with many changes – looked like the normal Liverpool we expect to see. 

It was a night where the younger players in the squad stepped up and impressed with displays that are great to see considering the injury problems the club currently find themselves in. Unfortunately, the injury list had a new addition before the game as Klopp confirmed Alisson will be out for a fortnight with a hamstring injury. 


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Even with this bad news putting a dampener on the team before the game, an exciting and driven Reds side came out to book there place in the next round of this year’s premier European club competition, as group winners. This result now gives Klopp a little breathing room as the first team can now concentrate on the Premier League campaign, with the FC Midtjylland game now a dead rubber and chance for rotation. 

The German made five changes from the side who drew against Brighton on Saturday lunchtime. Alisson (hamstring), Nat Phillips, James Milner (hamstring), Takumi Minamino and Roberto Firmino dropping out. Caoimhín Kelleher, Joël Matip, Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones and Sadio Mané all returned to the starting eleven. 

Here are my winners and losers from the game:

Winners

Caoimhín Kelleher

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Not a bad way to perform in your first Champions League appearance for the Reds. He was absolutely outstanding. With the news that Alisson had injured his hamstring in training and would be out for a couple of weeks, I imagine that most Liverpool fans expected the worst and became extremely nervous.  

Since coming to Anfield, Adrián had performed well for the Reds until that fateful night against Atletico Madrid. Since then, when called upon, he has been extremely poor. He has lost all confidence and the fans have completely lost all faith in him. The drop off between Alisson and the Spanish goalkeeper is massive and Klopp clearly knew this going into this pivotal game. So as a shock, selected third choice Irish shot stopper Kelleher. 

Whenever the best goalkeeper in the world gets injured it is always going to be extremely hard to replace him. However, the young man from Cork performed extraordinarily well in such an intense affair and surprised everyone during the evening. 

His performance was calm and composed, at no point did he look troubled by the situation he was in. What stood out during this display was his footwork. His ability with both feet and distribution to his colleagues was truly amazing. He has clearly developed under Alisson and has picked up traits from training with Liverpool’s number one every day. 

His stand out moment was clearly his save from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with five minutes remaining. With the Reds settling for the single goal, the Dutch side came out of there shell in the final few minutes to find that equaliser. A ball in from Mazraoui from the right found the Dutch striker five yards out. His glanced header was perfectly directed at pace towards the Reds net, but the young Irishman reacted amazingly as he sprang into action and pushed the ball over the bar. 

This save had shades of Alisson v Napoli a couple of years ago. His save to deny Arkadiusz Milik in the final moments is now written into club folklore during the successful sixth European crown campaign. We can hope that the 22-year-olds save against Ajax is just as important for the Reds this season. 

With this performance now in the books, it is safe to assume that the Irishman has grasped the number two shirt away from Adrián. With Alisson out for the Wolves and Midtjylland fixtures, expect Kelleher between the sticks for both games.

Curtis Jones

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Stand up and deliver the message was before the game. My goodness the young man did. Jones has had an up and down start to the new season now he is seeing regular game time in the first team. With so many injuries in midfield, he has become and imperative player in the run up to Christmas. Against Ajax he showed the ability we knew he had and what will be expected from him going forwards. 

His communication with Henderson and Wijnaldum was perfect, whilst he took it upon himself to be the vocal attacking presence in that midfield trio. His runs to support the front three caused havoc, with the overload confusing the Dutch sides back four on who to take man to man. 

This overload saw the teenager get two early opportunities to open his account. His first effort was dealt with comfortably by Onana as his shot was straight at the keeper. His second was inches from being perfect. After being laid off by Salah on the edge of the area, Jones opened his body out and curled the ball towards the top right corner. Unfortunately, it didn’t curl enough and met the right post with some serious force.  

He continued pushing throughout the game, pressing Davy Klaasen every time he had the ball. In the first meeting between the sides, Jones didn’t do this enough as Klaasen was able to control the game in Amsterdam. This was completely different as the Dutchman struggled throughout the game to get any momentum and was consistently tracking the Englishman towards his own goal. 

His display deserved a goal and luckily in the 58 minute he made the decisive breakthrough. After a curling ball into the box by fellow academy graduate Neco Williams, Jones found himself drifting towards the back post. When Onana inexplicably left the ball, thinking it was going to go out for a goal kick, the England u21 international pounced upon the gift and expertly placed it into the empty net from an acute angle. 

His confidence grew after the goal as he put in several decisive tackles in the middle to deny attacks from developing for Ajax. At the final whistle he deservedly, alongside Kelleher and Williams, received a massive hug from his manager showing what he thought of the displays by the youngsters. 

It is another positive display by the young man and with so many midfield injuries, he will now get a consistent run of starts under his belt. He needs to replicate this performance several times over the coming weeks if Liverpool are going to continue to challenge for major honours.

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Neco Williams

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Outstanding. He has had a difficult time as of late, but against Ajax he showed why Liverpool gave him the new contract at the start of the season. This was a much-improved display, looking comfortable alongside a more experienced defence with Matip clearly coaching the young man through the game. It was great to see from a fan’s perspective. 

Williams did have his moments in the first half which he found difficult after Neres got some early joy against him. From the 25 minute onwards, the Welshman grew into the game and looked like he belonged. In the second half he completely silenced Neres before the Brazilian went off through injury. His battling nature really came out during the second 45, with him flying into tackles and showing the hunger he has to succeed. 

His major contribution came when his delivery into the box found his good friend Curtis Jones at the back post, who tucked the ball home to spark wild celebrations from the Reds bench. The contribution was a significant boost to his confidence and Wijnaldum recognised this by running over and celebrating first with the right back. 

This was a major display by the young man, with his performance silencing some of the people who doubted him over the last couple of weeks. It is important now that with Alexander-Arnold a couple of weeks away, that Klopp keeps this settled back four in the Premier League so Neco can continue his development alongside the experienced backline. 

He will have a tough test next up against Wolves with winger Daniel Podence in some seriously good form. However, I believe that Neco is up to the challenge and put in another impressive performance.

Losers

Diogo Jota

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The Portuguese star has had a whirlwind start to his career at Anfield, but against Ajax he had an off night. With Firmino rested, it was a chance for the summer acquisition to play in the 4-3-3 formation that has made Liverpool so dominant over the last few seasons. The formation suited him; however, he personally didn’t have a performance to remember. 

He found himself instigating counter attacks with Liverpool finding themselves several times four on four, but Jota would either take the wrong option or under hit a pass to a colleague ending a promising move. 

He didn’t drop short at all for the ball, like he has in previous games, deciding to sit on the shoulder on the defenders and rely on balls over the top. This tactic was there with the Ajax defence playing with a high line but poor balls over the top, mixed with his lack of diversity in his play, saw him have a quite night. He was pulled just after the hour mark for Firmino with Klopp looking at resting his new star forward. 

It was just one of those nights for Jota were nothing went to plan for him. He will have felt weird considering everything he has touched has turned to gold since arriving on Merseyside. Hopefully he can get back to his normal form when he comes up against his former employers Wolves at the weekend.


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