Champions League Preview: Ajax vs Liverpool
When: Wednesday 21 October 15:00 EDT
Location: Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Where to Watch: CBS All Access and fuboTV (free trial)
This is the first time Liverpool have faced Ajax in 54 years, with the last matches coming in the 1966/67 season for the European Cup. On that occasion, the Reds experienced “total football” for the first time when they played an Ajax team containing Johan Cruyff himself. Bill Shankly’s Liverpool were hammered 5-1 in Antwerp in early December before managing a 2-2 draw the following week in the return fixture. Since then, the two European giants have managed to avoid each other in UEFA competitions.
If you are a history buff, you’ll be happy to hear that Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 13 games against Dutch opposition since their last meeting with Ajax. In contrast, Ajax have only managed a single win out of their last six meetings with English clubs, as well as just one win in their last seven home games against any opposition in this competition.
Recent League Form
W (SPR) – W (WAA) – W (VIT) – L (GRO) – W (HEE)
W (LEE) – W (CHE) – W (ARS) – L (AVL) – D* (EVE)
*VAR credited with the win… fucking Coote (AGAIN)
Injuries & Suspensions
Where to begin? The Pickford horror tackle sees Virgil Van Dijk out for what may be the rest of the season. Alisson (shoulder) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) remain out for this game, though Klopp has been optimistic on their progress. Thiago also received a “proper knock” on his knee in the game last weekend, so he is tentative for this game, as is Joel Matip, who received treatment on his leg for some discomfort after returning from a hamstring injury and completing his first full 90 minutes of the season. Naby Keita has been cleared with a negative COVID-19 test and has been training at Melwood, so it looks hopeful that he will play.
Ajax have no known injuries, and manager Erik ten Hag is expected to have a fully fit squad at his disposal.
With the injuries restricting Klopp’s selection, we know there will be some shakeup in this lineup. Adrian will start in place of Alisson. The back line will remain largely unchanged, though I see Fabinho deputizing at centre back as Klopp takes precaution with Matip after his discomfort following the last match. Henderson and Wijnaldum are locks to start, and as all three of the preferred rotating midfielders are either injured (Thiago, Ox) or used elsewhere (Fabinho), I think Klopp’s only choice is Keita to resume his partnership with Salah on the right side. If Keita is still not fully fit, I expect to see Curtis Jones handed his first European start, though Milner could also fill in here. Up top, the choice will be easy, as the trio of Mane-Firmino-Salah should be the preferred attacking options. Expect to see Jota come off the bench in this one, as well as Jones, Milner, and Minamino, as we take advantage of the ability to make up to five substitutions in UEFA competitions this year.
Ajax also play a 4-3-3 which looks more like a 4-2-3-1 at times. We may expect to see Quincy Promes and Antony come back in up top for Ajax, after they were named on the bench for the Sundays’ 5-1 victory over SC Heerenveen.
Ajax have lost two key players in Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) and Donny van de Beek (Manchester United) this past summer, but have started the season with four wins out of their opening five games. Young stars Ryan Gravenberch (18 years old, NED) and Mohammed Kudus (20, GHA) have started their Ajax careers brightly, and will look to continue their form on the biggest stage. With a five-goal outing this past Sunday, the Dutch attack has goals in it.
On the other side of the pitch, Liverpool are reeling from a painful derby experience, following an equally painful loss to a surprising Aston Villa squad. The Reds now face the possibility of losing three successive Champions League matches for the first time since 2014… and their October, winless in all competitions, will not do much to ease supporters’ fears.
Ajax will be the underdogs here – despite their unbeaten record at home this term, it is fair to say that none of their opponents have posed quite the same threat as Liverpool. While the biggest doubts surround the injury setbacks and how Liverpool will respond, we must not count out the other in-form stars – Mane, Salah, Robertson, and Henderson are all all playing at the highest level.
I say: Ajax 1-3 Liverpool. While the result column may not reflect it, there was little wrong with their performance against Everton. If they can manage to replicate a similar display (especially with Henderson driving them from the middle of the pitch) we should see a win for the Reds.