The Reds did it again, bouncing back from a disappointing domestic weekend to produce another result in Europe, this time wrapping up qualification from the Champions League group stages with an, eventually, assured win over a dynamic but naive Ajax side.
Below, we dig into the performance and crown some winners and losers on the night.
The Knockouts: Liverpool have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the sixth consecutive season, an outrageous streak that fans should not take for granted, and they’ve done it in a year where their domestic form has been wobblier than ever under Jürgen Klopp.
Even in their current, chronically fatigued state — and who knows how the players will look after the World Cup, when the Champions League restarts — the Reds are one of the best teams in the world, and over two legs are liable to beat anybody on the planet. As such, regardless of how things go in the Premier League, fans will have something to look forward to when the new year rolls around
Clinicality: Sure, Darwin, the Reds’ designated Agent of Chaos, missed an absolute sitter at the end of the first half, hitting the post with the net gaping after Roberto Firmino had unselfishly — if, let’s be honest, somewhat imprecisely — set him up with a cutback across the goal, but where Liverpool have been the side wasting chances while conceding goals from every shot on target the other way this season, things were flipped on their head tonight.
Ajax had early chances — already in the 2nd minute, Steven Berghuis hit the post from close range after a deflected pass found him in the Liverpool box — but, breaking the trend of 2022/23 so far, the ball didn’t find the back of the net, and when they were given a glimpse at the other end, Klopp’s men were ruthless.
In ten minutes surrounding half-time, the game was settled, courtesy of an instinctive chip from Mohamed Salah following a bit of Brazilian style foreplay from Jordan Henderson, another leaping header from Núñez, and a belter into the top corner with his off leg from Harvey Elliott — who became the youngest ever Liverpool player to score in consecutive Champions League games.
The game petered out after that, with Ajax accepting their faith and the Reds saving their legs as best they could, but it was a glimpse of the sort of match-winning clinicality an elite team generates with regularity, so that not every single game has to be a mad dash from start to finish. Be swell to see it more often.
The Thirty First: It’s a great result and wrapping knockout stages with games to go in the group — especially with the red hot Napoli coming to Anfield — is wonderful, but, as has been the case too often this season, the Reds came into the game flat-footed and off the pace, with poor first touches, sloppy passing and lackluster decision making standing in stark contrast the the energetic and mobile home side.
Liverpool have too often dug themselves a hole by conceding early this season, and only some poor finishing, heroic defending and majestic goalkeeping prevented that from being the case once again.
The Reds found their feet as Ajax tired, and looked more and more assured as the game wore on, but these slow starts have already eliminated Liverpool from realistic Premier League title contention, if Klopp can’t find a solution, they’re sure to ruin their chances of other silverware as well.
What Happens Next
The World Cup is inching ever closer, and only five games remain of Liverpool’s campaign before an extended, and much needed, break from competitive club fixtures.
Those five games are played in 15 days, though, and first up is a visit from Jesse Marsch’s 18th-placed Leeds side on Saturday night, before one of Europe’s premier in-form teams Napoli come to Anfield next Tuesday.