Liverpool kicked off the road to Istanbul with a 1-0 win in arguably the toughest fixture of Group D against Ajax at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.
Fabinho put in an imperious performance and in the process put many fans' minds at ease after learning the extent of Virgil van Dijk's injury over the previous days.
The game's only goal was a peculiar own goal from Ajax left back Nicolas Tagliafico before the break, the Argentine unable to correct his stance and fumble home Sadio Mane's cross/ shot attempt.
After a promising ending and opening to proceedings either side of the interval, the intensity eventually bled from the game in the final half hour, where Jurgen Klopp and co. were able to see out the fixture and grab three points.
Story of the match
Air of uncertainty clears
The Reds began life after Virgil van Dijk missing his exact presence, such is the Dutchman’s influence on Jurgen Klopp’s back line.
Adrian and Joe Gomez couldn't blame the famous fog that prevailed over the Dutch Olympic Stadium in the sides’ first meeting in 1966 for their miscommunication, with the pair coming together when attempting to clear a fairly routine possession of the ball in the box.
The contrast at the other end of the pitch was the two-footed Andre Onana between the sticks, as Ajax could afford to build comfortably from the back and distribute into midfield with delicately deft chipped balls.
Fabinho’s first period, however, mirrored the nonchalance of his Dutch counterparts at the back, the Brazilian hardly looked out of place in his new position.
The makeshift centre-back stayed on his feet well and seldom over committed on fouls, sticking in a boot when necessary and reading the game well in the face of Ajax’s intricate eye for a ball in and around the box.
Liverpool defensively weren't quite out of the woods just yet, with Adrian having his attempted long ball blocked by Dusan Tadic, along with Ryan Gravenberch’s effort that sailed wide after just five passes reaching the midfielder from back to front.
Half comes to life
Liverpool were innocuous with whatever possession they had right up until a chance for Roberto Firmino to tap home, who made his 50th European appearance for Liverpool on the night.
After being released by a Mo Salah back heel, the striker's run was read excellently by Daley Blind who got the vital intervention.
The home side’s best chance to open their account came from substitute Quincy Promes, having replaced Mohammed Kudus earlier on, who was granted two bites at the cherry having had the chance to let fly earlier, and then a golden opportunity one on one with Adrian, where the latter used his leg to defy the Dutchman.
It would be harsh to say Liverpool were undeserving of their lead, nonetheless, the manner of which the conclusion of the stalemate came about was rather bizarre.
Sadio Mane received a throw in and executed a fantastic turn by using his body against Noussair Mazraoui and dribbled the ball into the space he knew was available; but his consequential scuffed shot was bound for the touchline but for Nicolas Tagliafico’s poor footwork that put the ball into Onana’s net.
Fabinho continued his talismanic effort with his crowning moment of the night, a goal-line clearance from a clever Dusan Tadic lobbed shot.
It was apt that the final action of the half was a Fabinho intervention in the box, coming after some end to end action and a flurry of late chances, including another potential own goal, this time from Perr Schuurs.
The return from the break was welcomed with a thunderbolt from former Evertonian Davy Klaassen at the edge of the area, cracking a shot against the upright and in the process setting the tone for the half’s opening fifteen minutes.
The famed counter attacking bedrock of each club’s philosophy appeared to come into force in what became a much more open period of the game in comparison to the start of the first half.
Erik ten Hag’s side activated some silky transitioning play when granted an opportunity to break, with the accompanying passing becoming an apparent redeeming factor in the game.
Davy Klaassen, who was heavily involved in all areas of the pitch, couldn't round off said counter attack for his team, while Fabinho was almost rewarded with a goal for his performance as a flailing Onana just got enough to his header.
On the hour, Jurgen Klopp shepherded the troops, namely the front three along with Curtis Jones at half-time, off the pitch; which struck as a daring call, blunting the offensive presence with such a slender margin on the scoreboard.
Reds see it out
Diogo Jota almost made the most of his appearance when charging down a sweeping Onana, unable to get a second touch attempting to chase down his over hit first in what would have been game over.
Ten Hag made his own big tactical call by substituting centre backs Schurrs and Blind for strikers Lassina Franck Traore and veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The leap of faith defensively almost backfired when Jota found Gini Wijnaldum in plenty of space with a cute ball, as the former Feyenoord and PSV man was unable to poke home after a retreating defence applied necessary pressure to put off the midfielder.
A ‘hail mary’ of a final fifteen minutes for ten Hag and Ajax only bared one significant opportunity in the form of a delicately side footed shot placed over the bar by Jurgen Ekklenkamp, having latched onto Adrian’s punch away deep into stoppage time, ensuring three points went back to Anfield on opening night of the Champions League and Ajax's torrid record against English opposition extended to only one win in seven.
- Fabinho’s ninety minutes filled his side of the bargain in filling the van Dijk- sized void in Jurgen Klopp’s backline. His assertiveness will be a vote of confidence for the Merseyside faithful, and the question now may be who partners the defensive midfielder at the heart of defence. Alisson’s progression in the road to recovery will only boost , who hopes to return to action at the end of October.
- Klopp’s game management proved successful after taking off the famed front three, surviving a fairly toothless comeback attempt from their hosts and getting back on track after a fairly morbid October.
- Ajax showed in stages the threat they can be when they come to Anfield on December 1st, with just an end-product required to compliment some eye-catching, rapid counter attacking football. Still, this side, dismantled and torn apart in transfer windows, is evidently far from it’s ‘Class of 2019’ that were seconds from a final with Klopp and co.