Liverpool got their Champions League campaign back on track with a late winner against Ajax. Jurgen Klopp’s team had taken the lead through Mo Salah before Mohammed Kudus struck an equaliser. Joel Matip’s 89th-minute header — his first for the club in Europe — secured Liverpool a precious victory.
Losing their opening group game in humiliating fashion to Napoli last week had demanded a response from Klopp’s side — so too did two defeats and three draws from their opening seven games of the campaign — but they were made to work for their rewards.
Ajax displayed the confidence of a team that had won all seven of their opening games and were in scintillating form. Their goalscorer, Kudus, had netted four goals in his last three matches. Despite the summer changes in the dugout and on the pitch, Ajax were a tough opponent for Liverpool to rediscover any rhythm.
Story of the game
Anfield fell silent in remembrance of Queen Elizabeth II. Pre-match music was cut, black armbands were worn and the vast majority of the crowd showed respect by observing a period of reflection prior to kick-off.
Klopp made four changes to the team that started the “horror show” in Naples. The Liverpool manager was without Andy Robertson due to a knee injury so in came Kostas Tsimikas. Diogo Jota was also preferred over Darwin Nunez and Roberto Firmino.
Ajax, on the back of their comprehensive 4-0 win over Rangers and an equally straight-forward 5-0 rout of Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, largely kept to their in-form side with only Davy Klaassen being rotated for Steven Berghuis.
It was a neat and tidy start from Liverpool but not for the first time this season, they lacked a spark in the final third. Endeavour paid off on 17 minutes when Luis Diaz showcased his strength to win a header in Ajax territory and find Jota. The Portuguese quickly fed Salah who took a touch in the area before finishing past Remko Pasveer for his first goal in five games.
Scoring the first goal gave the home side greater impetus. Thiago Alcantara, starting his first match in over a month, provided the creative fusion. The passes were coming, so too were the chances. Diaz fired over, Jota sent another effort flying past the upright and he then picked out Salah at the near post but his shot was off target. But fallible Liverpool remain.
Within 10 minutes of taking the lead, their Dutch visitors had equalised. The reigning Dutch champions have scored 25 goals already this season, clearly they have plenty of firepower. They set off on a fine passing move that tried to probe an entry into Liverpool’s defence. It was on the right side that they found joy. Trent Alexander-Arnold lost the run of former Watford midfielder Berghuis, who centred for Kudus. The Ghanian took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable shot in off the crossbar.
Pegged back but undimmed, it was Liverpool who finished the half stronger. Alexander-Arnold brought gasps out of the crowd when taking the ball down on his chest and sending a dipping volley narrowly over. Pasveer also ensured Ajax remained level going into half time when he deployed a strong arm to keep out Virgil van Dijk’s downward header before pulling off a double save to deny Alexander-Arnold.
Chances at either end opened the new half but Kudus crumbled when setting to shoot and Jota sent his strike straight at the Ajax ‘keeper. It didn’t quite set the tone but it was Liverpool who were in the ascendency. Tsimikas gave Devyne Rensch a tough time down the left and Alexander-Arnold often inverted into a more central position, but their much-needed goal proved elusive.
It was with 22 minutes remaining that Klopp twisted, sending Firmino and Nunez on for Harvey Elliott and Jota. Nunez was reemerging for the first time at Anfield since being dismissed for a head-butt on Joachim Andersen on his home debut. Yet, even with added firepower Liverpool were struggling to muster anything Ajax couldn’t deal with.
In truth, the best chance of the half fell to the visitors. Daley Blind, the former Manchester United defender, found the ball arriving to him at the back post but couldn’t direct his free header at Alisson’s goal. Anfield let out a sigh of relief. It was soon in raptures with the dramatic finish.
Salah had seen a shot deflect off Calvin Bassey and loop onto the woodwork — Liverpool thinking their best opening had passed — but in the 89th minute, Matip rose to meet Tsimikas’s corner. The centre-back’s header was beyond Passer and the goalline by the time Dusan Tadic tried to keep it out. Liverpool had their win.
Player of the match: Joel Matip
The Liverpool centre-back last scored in the Champions League in 2013 when he played for Schalke, His winner here could prove crucial should Liverpool progress from the group-stages. Brought in after Joe Gomez’s poor showing against Napoli, he coped well with Kudus and excelled at the other end when time was running out.