There’s a certain fluidity that’s obvious when Liverpool are on their game. As Caley Graphics (the people I usually get the xG diagrams from) noted, this was the return of “fun Liverpool” because the ball moved well throughout the game and it looked like the plays that were there to be made were often made (albeit not in the 6-yard box.) One thing that certainly helped that was our opponent, Ajax, who usually have one way to play and stick to it. That way is forward, which means that there’s all kinds of space at the back for us to chase and exploit. In the reverse fixture, they actually changed to try to play on the counter and all it got them was a grindy loss where we scored and then proceeded to sit on the ball. Today, they came to play as Ajax, which meant that, for the first time in ages, we were the side absorbing the pressure for much of the game and bursting forward whenever they would lose possession. I saw at least one estimation that showed Ajax winning possession 56-44%, which is really unusual for a Liverpool opponent. Even in our games against City in recent times, led by Pep “possession is the most important thing in the game” Guardiola, we’ve often been the one controlling the ball. The likelihood of that lack of control was something you could have been forgiven for expecting, given the lineup that was rolled out. We still had Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson set to control the middle third, but we included Curtis Jones, the oft-maligned Neco Williams, and Caomhin Kelleher between the sticks.
Now, I’ve cited Curtis multiple times as a regular rotation player and he should be regarded as such, even at 19. Likewise, although Neco has had some issues in recent times, he’s still quite talented and shouldn’t be considered a weakness, even if he’s not Trent Alexander-Arnold. But Kelleher was a genuine surprise. With Alisson Becker going down with an injury (surprise!), the automatic expectation is to include Adrián in his place. But this time, Jürgen Klopp brought in the 22-year-old, citing his “natural footballing ability”, and the choice paid off remarkably well; just like the other two. Not only did Neco and Curtis combine for the only goal of the match, but Kelleher preserved that 1-0 margin with four really excellent saves. These three all came through the academy, which shows what Kirkby has become: a reliable source of genuine top division players. How appropriate that this game would come only a couple days after the leading candidate for the presidency at Barcelona suggested that the famed La Masia should be reformed under the slogan “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” (Copyright taken quickly-!)
Again, part of the reason this game was so entertaining was that both teams like to play the beautiful game, which only serves to enhance what each other try to do on the offensive end, but also makes for great defensive efforts, as well, since defenders of both sides are expected to get back despite holding such a high line. You’d often associate a 1-0 result with the grindy affair that the last encounter turned out to be. But not this time, as anyone who actually appreciates the game could easily have been left spellbound by watching the ball fire back and forth across the entire length of the pitch, instead of bogging down somewhere in the middle third or watching one side carry out artillery practice against 10 men packed in behind the ball, as is often the case in PL matchups. All of that said, this wasn’t entirely sweetness and light, since you could’ve still seen Liverpool walking away with a 4-0 win, except that our finishing, just like against Brighton, was often lacking. Mo Salah especially could be forgiven for his expressions of frustration, given that he was wide open on André Onana three times if only Sadio Mané or Diogo Jota had seen fit to feed him the ball. Then he was in on Onana a couple more times solo and still couldn’t convert, as was Mané. Give credit where it’s due, as the Cameroonian is a really solid keeper who is not likely to be in Amsterdam much longer, despite Curtis’ goal being the direct result of the goalie’s lone error.
Regardless, this game was a fine example of that depth that I’ve been ranting about, as every Red did their job and looked good doing it, from the increasingly-familiar Joel/Fab pairing to the everpresent attacking trio, with Jota and without. It’s also good to know that we have greater depth at the keeper spot since- given Andy Robertson’s apparent foot injury and Jordan Henderson’s stiff back -you never know when Adrián might be drafted into playing holding mid as we wait for weeks longer than expected for Alisson to return. The injury nightmare has not abated, but at least we have the energy of youth to carry us through.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Ajax
So, yeah. I guess the best thing that can be said about the actual finishing is that… we finished worse against our xG than they did? Of course, the positive way to look at it is that both keepers had excellent nights… except that most of our chances weren’t missed because of great saves by Onana, but slow takes that other defenders got in front of. In contrast, Kelleher was forced into making some genuinely great saves, like this:
That latter one was off a perfect cross into the box that ended up square on the head of former Liverpool target Klaas Jan Huntelaar. It was a two-handed reaction save of serious difficulty and Kelleher played it like he’s been here for years which, of course, he has. Leave it to Jon Champion to point out how he’d given up 7 to the Man City U23s the last time he was here, but putting in an Alisson-like performance on short notice is some good. But let’s talk about all da youts:
All of the above was done on 53 touches and there were four ground duels won, as well. Again, he’s a regular rotation player. Once the rest of our midfielders are actually able to, you know, play the game (fingers crossed, Naby), we have depth to be envied around the world, not just in England. Likewise:
That was on 59 touches, with a key pass and 7 long passes in there, as well. He’s not Trent, but he’s a capable defender, contributes to the offense, understands our game, and is only improving. And, as we’ve now come to expect, by rote:
The Athletic did a piece on Liverpool’s scouting system yesterday that cited the combination of data and personal observation that the club now employs. One of the hallmarks for players they have an eye on is versatility. Fabinho was noted for not only playing DM for Monaco, but also CB and RB. He’s been brilliant everywhere he’s been on the pitch and he’s going to continue to have to be, given the news about Thiago not being expected back until January and Liverpool’s ongoing injury travails; most notably Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk being lost for the season.
Speaking of the injury crisis. Klopp is now taking stick from many sources for his regular complaints about the schedule and its impact on the players. His joust with a BT reporter in the aftermath of the Brighton game was the signal for defenders of the rough-and-tumble English game to come forth and dismiss the whines of the foreign coach as being extraordinary and weak. Cue the past (there’s always a tweet…):
So, not Jürgen Klopp, not Pep Guardiola, not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, not Mikel Arteta, not José Mourinho, none’a them foreigners, but good, old tough guy himself: Fergie. A decade ago, just in case anyone missed the date and how long this has been going on in the PL, even in years when we didn’t have a once-in-a-century pandemic occurring. Yeah. Wait-! You mean… Kloppo is right again? Shocker.
In five(!) days (FIVE whole days!), we meet Wolves at Anfield with 2000 lucky souls allowed in (1500 in The Kop, 500 in the Main Stand.) No telling what the injury situation and consequent lineup will look like (Trent is rumored to be ready to start full practices again.) Wolves are also depleted by a rather horrifying accident in their match with the Gunners on Sunday, so who knows how this’ll turn out. But I’m betting that the injury-riddled squad that just won their CL group and is tied atop the Premier League will come out ready to play after their lengthy vacation.