Liverpool started their European campaign with a hard fought win against Ajax, as the Reds kept a clean sheet in the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.
Virgil van-Dijk, Matip and Thiago were absent from the Liverpool squad due to injuries as Gomez, Jones and Milner returned to the starting lineup, with Wijnaldum as the holding midfielder. There was only one change for Ajax from the team that beat Heerenveen at the weekend, with Martinez returned to the starting lineup.
The home side were forced into a substitution as early in the 6th minute when Kudus injured twisted his ankle, and was replaced by Quincy Promes. Ajax enjoyed plenty of space on the left-side as Tagliafico started popping up in dangerous positions, only for Gomez and Adrian to clear the danger. The home side came close to scoring the opening goal when Gravernberch’s fierce drive flew inches wide of the post. Liverpool struggled to cope with Ajax’s pressure as they couldn’t create much chances going forward. Adrian was called into action when Neres played Promes through for a one on one chance, but the goalkeeper stood his ground to thwart away the goal bound effort.
For much of Ajax’s dominance in the first half, it was Liverpool who took the lead in the 35th minute when Tagliafico diverted the ball into his own net after the ball had deflected off Blind’s knee. Milner was the first to be booked for a cynical tug on Neres to prevent a counter-attack. Ajax nearly equalised in the 44th minute when Tadic chipped the outrushing Adrian, only to see his effort cleared off the line acrobatically by Fabinho.
Jurgen Klopp introduced Henderson in place of Curtis Jones as Liverpool tried to control the midfield in the second half. However, it was the hosts who started the half brightly and came close to the equaliser when Klaassen’s screamer thundered off the inside of the right-hand post. Liverpool struggled to maintain possession as Mazraoui tested Adrian again with a volley, which was turned around the post by the goalkeeper. Liverpool made a triple substitution by replacing their front three – Mane, Salah and Firmino with Jota, Shaqiri and Minamino. Ajax responded by replacing Klaassen and Neres with Ekkelenkamp and Labyad. Both teams created a couple of half-decent chances, but couldn’t take any of them. As the final roll of the dice, Ajax replaced Blind and Schuurs with Lassina Traore and Klaas Jan Huntelaar in search of an equaliser. Liverpool could have finished off the game in the 90th minute when Wijnaldum’s tried to roll the ball past Onana, only for the goalkeeper to parry it away. Ajax couldn’t create any further chances in the five extra minutes, as Liverpool held on to win the opening game of their European campaign.
Group D standings
Jurgen Kloop claimed his team’s performance was good enough to win the game. He added “Though both teams can play better football. It was in moments pretty wild. The pitch was really tricky, deep and muddy, and both teams looked exhausted pretty early. We didn’t use our chances, which is a bit of a shame. Ajax had a big one with the post. But all over I am really fine with the game. It was not our sunny-shine world-class football day, but in a tournament like the Champions League, you need the result and we got it. [Fabinho’s acrobatic line clearance] was a good example of how the boys played today: not perfect but they fought like crazy. The fresh legs up front helped. The medical team told me no Henderson for 90 minutes so we said, OK, 45. Curtis for his first appearance, Rhys Williams played last season non-league football, now he has Champions League, he will not forget that. So a lot of nice stories, and three points. Shame that Diogo didn’t score, Shaq was lively and Taki is a machine, he defends like the devil and is really involved. When you can make five changes in midweek games, most of the time we will have to do that“