James Milner speaks. “It was always important to start well. A tough away game, so that’s a bonus. They’re a very good team, well organised, who play good football. We’ve had an up and down week so it was important to bounce back. I expected nothing less from this group of players. Fabinho’s a top player, and top players can adapt. He made an unbelievable clearance. Conditions were tricky and it was a bit like an old-fashioned English game, and we managed to grind out the win. We’re disappointed not to have scored more, but it’s a big clean sheet.”
That all went to plan for Liverpool. They weren’t at their sparkling best, but given their recent travails, that isn’t really the point. Fabinho and Gomez were both excellent at centre-back. The famous front three all had their moments and were given half-an-hour’s rest. Replacements Jota and Minamino both looked sharp, Shaqiri less so but willing. Henderson got half-a-game’s breather. And Adrian is what he is, but there’s more pluses than minuses on his spreadsheet tonight. They deserved the win on balance, though Ajax will point out the Klaassen skreaamer that caromed off the post, and that Fabinho was forced into a stunning acrobatic clearance by Tadic. They’ll give Liverpool plenty to think about in the return fixture at Anfield.
Atalanta won the other fixture 4-0 at Midtjylland, so they’re top of the Group D standings after one round of fixtures. Liverpool are in second, like the Italians on three points, but with an inferior goal difference. Ajax and Midtjylland are in third and fourth respectively after their opening-day defeats.
FULL TIME: Ajax 0-1 Liverpool
And that’s that! Three points and a clean sheet for Liverpool. Klopp’s broad smile says it all. A hard-fought, but deserved, victory.
90 min +5: Time for one last Ajax chance, as Adrian comes to punch a high left-wing cross clear under pressure from Traore. The ball drops to Ekkelenkamp on the edge of the box. He shoots towards the unguarded net … but wildly over. Adrian gets away with one!
90 min +4: Jota and Minamino combine marvellously in a tight space down the left, the former releasing the latter. Minamino enters the box and looks up, finding Shaqiri in the middle. Like Tagliafico before him, Shaqiri can’t sort his feet out. Unlike Tagliafico, the ball doesn’t squirt into the net.
90 min +3: Wijnaldum latches onto a loose ball in the middle of the park. He draws a foul from a desperate Promes, who is booked for his late lunge.
90 min +2: Milner takes the ball to the corner flag. It’s his last act of the match as he’s replaced by young centre-back Rhys Williams.
90 min +1: The first of five extra minutes. Liverpool’s corner is no good.
90 min: Liverpool waste another fine chance to finish this. Jota tears off down the left and slips the ball inside for Wijnaldum, who kills the ball brilliantly while in full flight, but then tries to pass the ball past Onana and into the bottom right. It’s parried by the keeper. Liverpool come again, Minamino trying to dink home from a tight angle on the right. Onana turns out for a corner.
89 min: Milner is down getting treatment for the second time in a few minutes. A clock-management masterclass by the old boy.
88 min: Jota, in space down the left, tries to rake a diagonal ball towards Shaqiri, in acres on the right. Wijnaldum intercepts the pass, unaware of the scheme, and swiftly ships possession.
87 min: Tagliafico and Huntelaar work the ball in from the left. Traore sends a header goalwards, but it’s weak and high and easy for Adrian.
86 min: Tadic scoops into a packed Liverpool box from the right. Adrian does extremely well to claim under extreme pressure from Traore.
85 min: Ajax throw everyone forward for a free kick. Liverpool break. Henderson works his way down the right and loops for Jota, who dallies over a shot while in a pocket of space, ten yards out. His effort is blocked. Big chance to put this game to bed for Liverpool. Can Ajax make them pay?
84 min: Ajax go for broke, taking off a couple of defenders in Blind and Schuurs, and sending on strikers in 19-year-old Lassina Traore and 37-year-old Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
83 min: Shaqiri takes. It doesn’t beat the first man. He’s been very quiet since coming on.
82 min: Mazraoui winds himself after falling awkwardly upon contesting a header. Milner and Minamino play on and earn a corner.
80 min: Alexander-Arnold is booked for taking his sweet time over a throw. Klopp isn’t happy about it, discussing the matter in depth with the fourth official. Meanwhile some admin re 1966: Bas Hendrikse points out that “the name of the goalkeeper of Ajax that time was not Willie Bols but Gert Bals.”
78 min: Minamino works cleverly down the left and rolls the ball across the face of the Ajax goal. Robertson tries his level best to poke home from six yards, but can’t connect. So close to the clincher.
77 min: Jota charges down Onana, who was miles from his box playing sweeper. But the deflection favours Ajax, allowing Schuurs to shepherd the ball away from danger on the left with the goal unguarded.
75 min: Martinez swings a couple of dangerous balls in from the left. Gomez heads the first powerfully clear, Robertson swipes the second back upfield. Ajax trying to turn up the heat as time runs out.
74 min: Wijnaldum meets the corner, ten yards out, but can only send his header over the bar. Ajax then make a double change, replacing Klaassen and Neres with Ekkelenkamp and Labyad.
73 min: Jota glides in from the left and tries to make himself enough space to shoot. He’s about to pull the trigger when Schuurs extends a leg and deflects out for a corner on the right.
71 min: Schuurs tries his luck from distance. He really gives his rising shot plenty, the ball only just clearing the bar. Adrian had it covered, but take nothing away from the sweetness of the connection.
70 min: So having pressed the button to publish that, Minamino glides in from the left and sends a swerver towards the left-hand side of goal. Onana makes a nine-course tasting menu of parrying it around the post. Ajax hearts in mouths for a split second there. But he’s kept it out, and nothing comes of the resulting corner.
69 min: All a wee bit scrappy at the minute. Liverpool’s all-new front three haven’t managed to click together yet.
67 min: Klaassen slips a lovely pass down the inside-left for Tadic, who for a second looks like breaking clear into the box. But he lets Alexander-Arnold chase him down, and runs the ball out of play. A suggestion it twanged off the Liverpool defender’s arm, but after a VAR check, we play on.
65 min: A lull. Liverpool will be happy enough with that. “I was at the second leg in 1966,” writes Rhys Davies. “I have three clear memories. A piece in the programme by Ajax (written before the first leg) saying how they hoped their team of part-timers wouldn’t be embarrassed by the English champions. Cruyff making monkeys of the Liverpool defence for his goals. The Ajax goalie, incredible performance. Name as I recall was Willi Bols. Been a fan of Dutch football ever since.”
63 min: Jota is quickly into the action, dribbling down the left. He’s unable to find anyone in the middle with a weak cross. Liverpool come again through Jota, but his ball inside finds Minamino taking a fresh-air swipe from an ambitious distance.
61 min: Mind you, having said that, Mane’s right leg is now wrapped in ice. He doesn’t look in too much discomfort, though. A precautionary measure? Liverpool will certainly hope so.
60 min: Liverpool make a triple substitution. The famous front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino are replaced by Jota, Shaqiri and Minamino. A reminder that teams can make up to five changes, in up to three batches. This all feels very pre-planned.
58 min: Robertson takes. It’s inviting for Firmino, but he can’t connect properly. Ajax stream up the other end, Neres cutting back from the right, Mazraoui sending a fine volley towards the bottom right. Adrian turns it around the post for a corner that leads to nothing.
57 min: Robertson turns on the jets in an attempt to beat Klaassen down the left. The ball clips off the Ajax man and out for a corner. From the set piece, Fabinho nearly gets a head onto the ball, ten yards out, but Onana slaps it away. Corner take two leads to a third.
53 min: They’ve also shown a replay of Adrian gathering that long pass under pressure. A suggestion that while claiming amid the melee, he knocked the ball onto Fabinho’s hand, but it would have been a ludicrous decision to give a penalty.
52 min: Ajax have been the much sharper side since the break. Schuurs tries to beat Adrian from the halfway line, which shows ambition if nothing else, but his effort sails miles wide. Speaking of Adrian, it’s not clear, but he might have got the lightest of fingertips to that Klaassen shot. Whether it was enough to deflect it onto the post, even if he did, would be a moot point. But credit where/if it’s due.
50 min: Adrian comes to the edge of his box to successfully claim a long pass. With plenty of players from both teams crowding around him, there was potential for that to go horribly wrong, but the oft-criticised keeper dealt with that well.
48 min: And they nearly get a penalty up the other end, Firmino spinning past a flat-footed Schuurs and feeling a hand on his shoulder. He goes down, but there wasn’t enough in it to pique the ref’s interest.
47 min: Nothing comes of the corner. But what an effort that was. You could have had Alisson in there as well as Adrian and neither of them would have been able to get to that. But Klaassen doesn’t get the luck his shot deserves. Liverpool breathe again.
46 min: Ajax are inches away from equalising! Tadic tees up Klaassen, just to the left of the D. Klaassen sends an absolute screamer across a helpless Adrian and off the inside of the right-hand post. It flies across the face of goal before being bundled out for a corner. What a shot!
Here we go again! Ajax get the second half underway. Liverpool have made a change at the break, sending on captain Jordan Henderson in place of Curtis Jones. Incidentally, in the other match in Group D, Atalanta are up to their free-scoring antics once again. They’re 3-0 up in Midtjylland.
HALF TIME: Ajax 0-1 Liverpool
Tadic and Neres nearly open Liverpool up down the right, but Alexander-Arnold clears. And that’s the end of an increasingly action-packed half of football. That took a while to get going, but by the end of the half, both teams were looking extremely dangerous in attack. The second half could be a blast!
45 min: From the resulting corner, Firmino plants a header straight into the arms of Onana. There will be two added minutes.
44 min: Astonishing end-to-end action, as Tadic chases a bouncing ball down the left and chips the outrushing Adrian. The ball’s about to cross the line when Fabinho acrobatically scissors it away! Then Liverpool head straight up the other end, Mane’s low cross from the left nearly poked into his own net by Schuurs! The ball bobbles inches wide of the left-hand post.
43 min: Liverpool are beginning to look dangerous every time they attack. Mane spins cleverly again down the left and sprays a pass down the channel for Salah. Onana comes to the edge of his box to claim just in time, though Salah claims Tagliafico was holding him back a little. He’s not getting any decision, though he might have been flagged offside had he got there first anyway.
42 min: Liverpool were 4-0 down by this stage in 1966, so all’s going very much to plan tonight by comparison.
40 min: Robertson drives forward and slips wide right for Salah, who sashays into the box and looks to plant a power curler into the top left. Mazraoui extends a leg to block spectacularly. Onana was diving that way too, but there’s no guarantee he’d have got a hand to the shot, so that’s a fine intervention by the Ajax defender.
39 min: Firmino is this close to quarterbacking Salah free down the inside-right channel, but his long sliderule pass from deep is intercepted brilliantly by Tagliafico. Salah would have been clean through, so that’s made up a fair bit for his own goal.