James Milner hailed Liverpool’s ability to dig deep and defend their slender 1-0 lead against Ajax to ensure their Champions League campaign got off to the perfect start in Amsterdam.
Fabinho catches the eye as Reds get off to winning start in Champions League
The Reds were without a series of key players on Wednesday night, which marked their first game since talismanic defender Virgil van Dijk was ruled out for the 2020-2021 Premier League season with a suspected ACL injury sustained against Everton last weekend.
While there was an element of fortune to the goal, which saw Nicolas Tagliafico divert the ball into his own net after a mishit shot from Sadio Mane, Milner believes the injured centre-back will have been proud of the team’s performance on the night, particularly the work of his stand-in, Fabinho.
The Brazilian is likely to see his minutes in midfield cut this season, instead operating as an additional centre-back option for Klopp in the gruelling schedule ahead. Having already filled in against Chelsea this season, where his eye-catching performance helped to nullify the threat of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, Fabinho once again put in a man of the match performance, alleviating fears about his ability to do a job in defence this season.
A clean sheet against Ajax exactly what Klopp would’ve been hoping for, and it remarkably means that Liverpool are yet to concede a goal when the 27-year-old has started at centre-back.
'I think he'll have been proud of how the boys dug in', Milner reflects on first game without Van Dijk
Speaking to LFCTV, James Milner said Van Dijk would have been proud of the team’s performance watching from home:
“A lot has been going on, and a lot of emotion from all the boys, we’re a tight-knit group and when things happen to one of us, it happens to all of us,” he said.
“It was a big performance, we wanted to make sure we got that result for Virg as well. We need to keep doing that throughout the season.”
“I think he’ll have been proud of how the boys dug in and defended tonight, and I’m sure he enjoyed it watching it at home.”
Asked about Fabinho’s contribution, the vice-captain heaped praise on his teammate, saying: “Fab is a top, top player, and top players can do that. He’s played there before and been fantastic. Him and Joe together, standing up to that test, which was a tough test.”
“It was a really good team performance, a very ugly away win, but that’s all that matters. First game in the group, as tough as this was, it’s so important to get off to a good start with three points.”
Fabinho made four tackles and four interceptions throughout the match, including a goal-line clearance, reminiscent of Milner’s effort against Bournemouth last season. His performance will bring much needed confidence to the defensive line ahead of a tough season without Van Dijk, and there is now a growing sense that keeping the Brazilian fit will be key to the club’s chances of success.