Liverpool 1-0 Ajax: Six Observations

[Anfield, Liverpool] The Reds secure the top spot Group D and progress to the knockout stage with a win over the Dutch champions.

Credit: @emiliosansolini (IG)

1) In… Kelleher? We Trust

When Previewing this match, there was no way I would have expected that Caiominh (pronounced “KWEE-ven”) Kelleher would be starting between the sticks.  For starters, I would not have anticipated Alisson getting hurt yet again in practice.  Depending on your sources, he was rested either just as a precaution or due to a tight leg muscle.  Alisson’s importance to the team and their confidence cannot be understated, but I am shocked that he gets injured more than some outfield players.  Even with Alisson out for the match, I would not have expected Klopp to choose Kelleher.  Adrian has played as second string, and kept a clean sheet in the reverse fixture.  Then again, if you watch that game, you notice how out of position he was for a few key plays, and how fortunate Adrian was to have a back line that put in a stellar performance (i.e. Fabinho’s goal-line clearance).

But enough about the setup.  What a game Kelleher had!  The 22-year-old goalkeeper from Cork was handed his Champions League debut, and boy did he take that chance. He demonstrated some great footwork and fine reaction saves throughout the 90 minutes, including the stop on a strong Davy Klaasen header in the 21st minute.  Although that one was pulled back for offside, the stop set the tone for the rest of the match.  10 minutes later, Mazraoui was afforded a good deal of time and space, and lashed a shot at goal.  The Reds’ netminder beautifully tipped the shot around the post.  He stood strong in goal the whole game, sealing the three points with a fantastic reaction save against veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the latter’s 88th-minute strike.  Overall, a very confident performance form a young lad with little first-team experience who was thrown in the lineup at the 13th hour.  We cannot be much happier with result!

Courtesy Irish Examiner

2) Curtis Jones’ Star Performance

If not for Kelleher, Curtis Jones would have received the Man of the Match award.  The ‘Scouser in our team’ had an extremely bright and energetic performance, and has evolved from a fringe player to a mainstay in the team over recent weeks.  Understandably, he has been given these opportunities due to the ever-growing injury crisis, but he has taken them by the scruff of the neck and made a strong statement about his belonging in the lineup every matchday.

To be fair, Curtis should have scored more.  In the opening two minutes, he was teed up by Jota for a clear shot on goal from right outside the box, only to fire it straight at Onana.  Again in the sixth minute, Salah gave Jones the ball in the same area, only for the midfielder to unluckily hit the woodwork.  The game had the feeling that it wouldn’t be scoreless for long, but it took until the second half to break the deadlock.

It was worth the wait though – for a brilliant goal by Jones.  A great finish with the outside of his right boot saw the Reds go up in the 58th minute.  This came on the end of a great cross from Neco Williams.  It is worth mentioning that though Onana made a huge error in judgment by finding himself caught out so far under the ball, but Jones was intelligent enough to continue his run and assume the Dutch keeper would miss the cross.  It was a well-deserved goal, and he now has me expecting much more of him – including finishing those other chances in future games!

3) Klopp’s Gambles Pay Off

Jurgen Klopp says Caoimhin Kelleher‘s “natural footballing ability” saw him come in for the injured Alisson instead of Adrian against Ajax on Tuesday.  I tend to agree.  While Adrian is a decent shot-stopper, Kelleher seems more confident with the ball at his feet.  His presence allows Liverpool to maintain their high line and play-out-from-the-back tactics.

“Yeah [Kelleher was fabulous]. I really think Adrian did for us an incredible job when he came in late last season,” Klopp told BT Sport.

“I don’t know how many clean sheets, Super Cup final, Champions League, played everywhere. But now, in this game we needed the football playing ability, the natural football playing ability of Kweev.

“And because he’s a really good shot-stopper as well, we made that decision. They are all calm in the moment when they get the information but there’s a difference to be that on the pitch.

“I’m really happy how he dealt with it and how calm he was and how good he was. It was a good game!”

Also worth noting is that Klopp chose to play senior DM Fabinho over natural CB Rhys Williams in the back line.  Klopp relied on Fabinho’s experience and leadership, and it paid off.  Some of the Brazilian’s stats from Tuesday:

  • Clean sheet
  • 0 times dribbled past
  • 8 clearances – most in game
  • 51/57 passes (89%) – Most for LFC
  • 2 interceptions
  • 2/2 tackles
  • 1 chance created

4) The Future Is Bright

There are only so many ways I can keep saying this.  Our youth coaches and our academy products deserve so much credit for their players’ performances this year.  Maybe it is the way Klopp manges his team that allows players to slot in seamlessly when the starters are absent.  But these youngsters are taking full advantages of the opportunities given to them.  It is really exciting to watch, and we should consider how lucky we are that Liverpool have still managed to stay at the top of their group and top of the league – even with four points stolen from us in the Everton and Brighton matches.

Fun fact:  Neco’s assist to Curtis Jones was first time teenagers have combined for a UCL goal (OptaJoe).  History!

Group D standings after match week 5

5) Now We Can Rest (Especially Gini!)

The win, along with a lucky result in the Atalanta-Midtjylland match, sees the Reds clear through at the top of the Group to progress to the Knockout stage.  This is important because of the congested fixture list for the rest of the month.  I would not being surprised if Klopp ran out the U23 team next week against Midtjylland just to give the starters’ legs some rest.  While the defense looked reassured and the midfield pressed emphatically, those corps have already been depleted via injuries.  I noticed the fatigue up top the most, where the front three were able to get into good spaces, and even create good runs, but the final pass or ball seemed just a bit off.  Whether it was mental of physical fatigue, some time off to recharge would be good for the lads tasked with scoring.

I have to point out that Gini Wijnaldum, in the final year of his contract, has been an absolute beast for Liverpool.

Through ten league matches, Gini has played 811/900 minutes (90.1%) – every minute of every game except a 1-minute appearance off the bench against Everton.

Through five Champions league matches, he has clocked 368/450 minutes (81.8%).

He has also featured in 623/720 (86.5%) minutes for the Netherlands.

Considering Gini’s 90 minutes during the Community Shield and 15 minutes during the EFL cup game, the flying Dutchman has clocked over 1900 minutes of football in just over three months.  It is miraculous he has made it through unscathed.  Let’s pray to the football gods that he receives a break soon and can stay fit for the rest of the season!

Courtesy This Is Anfield

6) Firmino Cameo Shows How Important He Still Is

So many people seemed convinced Firmino is out, Jota is in.  This game is a perfect demonstration of exactly what it is Bobby brings to the team that so many others seem unable to see.

Until the Onana mistake gifted Jones his goal, Liverpool were fairly blunt up top. Even with Diogo Jota, inarguably in fine form, Liverpool’s attackers were not linking with their usual panache and style.

Firmino was not a game-changer in his appearance against Ajax – especially considering he was brought on after the goal, with Liverpool trying to keep the lead instead of chase more goals.

My opinion on Bobby can be summed up in this great piece from The Guardian:

 “He was not overtly spectacular or swashbuckling, but enough to show what his manager sees in him and add a little style to an otherwise subdued evening …[]… Considering he was on the pitch for just 22 minutes, it was quite an impressive cameo. Even in such a short space of time, Firmino was able to cover most areas of the pitch and form productive links with teammates. Klopp keeps saying he should not have to explain what his forward brings to the team and this was certainly an indication that Firmino can speak for himself on the pitch.”