Liverpool kicked off their Champions League campaign with a 1-0 victory over Ajax.
In their first game since losing Virgil van Dijk to a season-ending injury, the Premier League winners were resolute, solid – and claimed the win thanks to an absolute freak own goal.
Sadio Mane, Liverpool’s best attacker in the first half, drove at the Ajax defence just after the half hour mark, advanced across the penalty area, only to get his shot completely wrong.
Thankfully for the Senegalese however, it was somehow turned into his own net by Nicolas Tagliafico, with that error ultimately proving enough for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
They weren’t at their best in attack, but had opportunities to kill off the Amsterdammers in the second half.
But defensively, they were excellent, and a clean sheet will have left Klopp delighted, with Fabinho terrific at the heart of the backline, where he partnered Joe Gomez.
Here are five talking points from Amsterdam…
1. Fabinho and Gomez in tandem
There seems to have been this big suggestion that, without Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool ’s defence would suddenly become a giant, flustered mess.
That simply doesn’t really reckon for Fabinho or Joe Gomez though; the Brazilian just doesn’t do flustered, while Gomez is England’s best centre-back and, despite a somewhat rocky start to the season, is a fine defender in his own right.
The one slight on Gomez is that perhaps he is happy being the ‘junior’ partner; can he lead a defensive line?
Well alongside Van Dijk he would never get that opportunity, but now there is greater onus on him.
In Amsterdam, he showed that perhaps he is more ready to lead then previously he’s been given credit for.
Fabinho meanwhile was his usual calm, composed and powerful self, his positioning mostly excellent throughout, including one fine clearance off the line. He’s really just an outstanding footballer.
2. The full Adrian experience
It’s a question which simply, is difficult to answer: How good should your backup ‘keeper be?
Because obviously, when your No.1 is arguably the world’s best, your second choice is going to be a level down (at least).
Which brings us to Adrian, continuing to deputise for Alisson. After the 7-2 loss to Aston Villa he’s been backed by his manager – who didn’t want to sanction a move for Jack Butland – and he repaid him with a clean sheet here.
It wasn’t always comfortable, and there were some moments in the first period where he looked downright shaky. But he stood up, ending up making a couple of smart stops and being unbeaten.
3. That treble substitution
With five subs allowed to be used in the Champions League – you can only use three in the Premier League – Klopp showed he’s ready to trust his second string.
Just before the hour mark, Firmino, Salah and Mane were all replaced, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota entering the fray.
Yes it was a pre-planned switch, with the Reds entering a busy period; Mane strapped ice to his leg, while Salah and Firmino were handed a little extra rest.
But what it also does is keep their deputies involved and, importantly, interested. This season, more than any other perhaps, is one where rotating and doing it well, will be crucial.
4. Davy’s struggles
When Davy Klaassen left Ajax in 2017, he joined Everton in a £26million deal.
This summer, after struggling at Goodison Park and not exactly pulling up any trees at Werder Bremen, he returned to Amsterdam to replace Donny van de Beek in the attacking midfield role.
Unfortunately for Erik ten Hag the sheer speed of this game proving too much for him.
At just 27, he looks like yesterday’s man.
5. Wijnaldum’s steady showing
One man who will have probably been pleased by the lack of spectators in the Johan Cruyff Arena will have been Gini Wijnaldum.
The Dutchman might have been back in his homeland, but he’d have been made to remember his Feyenoord and PSV roots if fans were in attendance.
As it was, the 29-year-old produced a typically understated performance in midfield.
It’s easy to see why, even as his contract dwindles, he retains Klopp’s trust.
Who will win the Champions League? Have your say in the comments below
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