Liverpool’s Joel Matip rises to see Ajax and ease Anfield anxiety | Champions League

Jürgen Klopp could barely bear to watch. Another night of Champions League Torment beckoned to Liverpool when Joel Matip sent an imposing 89th-minute header past Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer only for Dusan Tadic to slip off the line. Or from behind the line, as confirmed by a signal on the referee’s watch. Klopp was facing the pitch when the referee pointed the center circle and steered Liverpool’s campaign in a completely different direction.

It was late, scruffy and liverpool still have plenty of room for improvement, but it was a precious win after Napoli’s trough and with their season already at a crucial stage. Mohamed Salah opened the scoring before Kudus struck a superb equalizer for Ajax. Liverpool were beginning to regret several missed chances when Matip finally converted from a Kostas Tsimikas corner.

After days of hammering his players with the “absolute truth”, Klopp made four changes to the squad responsible for what he called the worst display of his reign at Liverpool. in Naples last week. One was imposed, Kostas Tsimikas replacing the injured Andy Robertson, and three were a direct response to the calamity in Italy with Joe Gomez, James Milner and Roberto Firmino all benched. Diogo Jota was selected ahead of the summer signing of Darwin Núñez as Klopp sought a more compact and pressing unit to revive Liverpool’s Champions League campaign. The inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold made him the youngest player in Liverpool history to make 50 European appearances for the club, at 23 years and 341 days.

There was no Champions League anthem before kick-off and the traditional You’ll Never Walk Alone sound was dropped after just a few notes as UEFA and Liverpool commemorated the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II. Anfield was asked to observe a period of silence for the late monarch and overall it was respectfully observed. A shout of “Liverpool” and a few boos were greeted with immediate instructions to be quiet from others in the crowd as the majority silently paid their respects.

Joel Matip dominates the Ajax defense to make the difference. Photography: Visionhaus/Getty Images

Klopp’s call for Liverpool to ‘reinvent’ himself post-Napoli did not lead to a radically different approach, although an improvement was noticeable and instantaneous. Both recalled and fit Thiago Alcântara and Jota made an early impact, while Matip’s lack of defense helped break Ajax’s lines and put the Dutch champions under sustained pressure early on. the beginning. It paid off when the hosts claimed an early lead which should have eased some of the anxiety at Anfield.

Luis Díaz, one of the few to escape criticism in Napoli, won an imposing header from a clearance by Alisson and headed it towards Jota. Of them Ajax the defenders swarmed the Liverpool striker but he held them off with ease before releasing Salah inside the penalty area. After seven Champions League games without a goal, his longest drought in the competition, Salah couldn’t have dreamed of a better opportunity to end the unwanted streak and beat Pasveer with a convincing finish in the corner.

All the Liverpool players joined in the celebrations and it appeared the self-doubt of the past week had been released as they bombarded Pasveer’s goal in search of a second. Díaz fired a great chance just wide after Virgil van Dijk nodded from a Tsimikas free-kick near the penalty spot. Jota tested the Ajax keeper from distance and then set up Salah again after he was found in space on the left by the still alert Alisson. The goalscorer pushed wide at the near post.

Liverpool’s work rate off the ball was also improved and Klopp roared with approval when Tsimikas, Díaz and Thiago pressed Ajax so successfully they were forced to play Dusan Tadic’s ball in attack against Pasveer in goal. But just as Liverpool enjoyed their most dominant spell, they were prized by Ajax’s speed and intelligence in a rare foray forward.

Trouble piled up from the moment right-back Devyne Rensch beat the Liverpool press with an accurate pass through Díaz and Tsimikas. Edson Álvarez found Daley Blind hugging the opposite flank and the former Manchester United defender sent Steven Berghuis sprinting into the space vacated by Alexander-Arnold. Berghuis brought a cross between Matip’s legs to Steven Bergwijn who stood unmarked inside the Liverpool penalty area. Mohammed Kudus, also unmarked, got to the ball first, pulled away from Van Dijk and fired an unstoppable left-footed shot under Alisson’s crossbar. It was clear why Ajax refused to sell Kudus to Everton in the recent transfer window after losing Antony to United.

Liverpool continued to create good openings but, whether from set pieces or open play, a clinical touch proved elusive. Both Van Dijk and Matip sent several inviting headers over the bar or straight to Pasveer while the Ajax keeper saved Alexander-Arnold and Salah well. The latter, after Fabinho’s lob found Salah free in the box, bounced off Harvey Elliott but he could only hit the side netting from a difficult angle.

The visitors were a clear threat on the block and should have taken the lead when Tadic spotted Blind with a measured cross at the far post. Blind had time and space to pick his spot only to place a header inches from the far post, causing coach Alfred Schreuder to drop to his knees in anguish.

Núñez had the perfect chance to seal the win late when Salah ran into the striker in the box. The Uruguay international saved his shot but Matip would save Liverpool the night.

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