Five things learned as Liverpool seal UCL round of 16 spot with Ajax victory
Liverpool produced a thoroughly impressive display to beat Ajax 3-0 at the Johan Cruijff Arena and seal their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Jurgen Klopp’s side were under pressure for the first half hour of play but took control of the tie after goals from Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez and Harvey Elliott secured a memorable win in Amsterdam.
Mohamed Salah gave the Reds the lead against the course of the game after 35 minutes, cleverly beating Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer, who was off his line and made a questionable decision to come out.
Darwin Nunez was guilty of a shocking miss just before the break, but made amends with a precise header to double his lead, before Harvey Elliott secured victory in the 52nd minute.
Express Sport looks at five things we learned as Klopp’s men secured their place in the round of 16 knockout round.
Salah leads the way
When he’s in the mood, there are few players in Europe more influential than Salah. Ajax would have been furious that they were allowed to come in unmarked behind Calvin Bassey to launch Pasveer and were suitably punished with an incisive finish. The Egyptian then turned provider with an excellent through ball to put Elliott in goal and the 19-year-old produced a hard-hitting finish to secure victory.
Very often, Liverpool turned to Salah for magical moments and the 30-year-old certainly delivered in the crucial moments. Even if he has struggled to maintain his usual high standards consistently this season in the Premier League, Liverpool will be delighted to have him in this line of form in Europe.
After scoring his sixth goal in five Champions League appearances this season and four games in a row, Salah is now just one goal away from equaling Steven Gerrard’s European record, and few would bet against the talisman reaching that milestone sooner. the end of the competition for this season. .
Klopp’s new shape a perfect fit
For weeks, Klopp has sought a different variation of his 4-3-3 blueprint after seeing his team become a bit predictable. The 4-2-2-2 was tried against Arsenal but ended in a 3-2 loss, and his experiment against Nottingham Forest also ended in defeat.
But with Salah and Nunez combining into two forwards with Roberto Firmino behind, Klopp coped with a 4-3-1-2 due to the lack of available wingers, and it worked like a charm. Firmino had the freedom of Amsterdam in his number 10 role, while Núñez and Salah occupied the two centre-backs, and Ajax struggled to contain the three forwards.
It remains to be seen if he will use the same setup for his clash against Leeds. But the German strategist will be delighted that his tweaks have given a positive result.
Reds show courage
There was nothing pretty about the way Liverpool went about their business in the first half. Careless errors on the ball were prominent, zero shots in the first 25 minutes and a lack of confidence in possession.
But defensively, the Reds worked cohesively as a unit to try to limit Ajax’s fluid attacking moves and stay in the game. Normally, matches of this type would be expected to dominate, but their current situation called for a different approach where results were prioritized over style.
Klopp barked instructions from the touchline to make sure his players stayed in line and worked tirelessly without the ball to make life difficult for Ajax. Suffering for a long period while weathering the storm, Liverpool were able to frustrate Ajax and capitalize on their profligacy at key moments.
Ajax unleashed a nervous defense
Passes were missed by Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez was left out of possession and even Virgil van Dijk was a spectator, as Steven Berghuis needed just two minutes to open up Liverpool’s baseline before somehow hitting the post.
It was a warning sign for the visitors, once they weren’t paying attention, as Dusan Tadic came close soon after and the Serb would certainly have scored had Alexander-Arnold not blocked his shot inside the box.
Although Klopp’s men have only scored goals in the last three games, Alisson Becker is responsible for much of the praise. And only Ajax’s profligacy helped them avoid another defensive investigation after a nervous start in Amsterdam.
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