Four things we learnt from Liverpool's victory over Ajax
Joël Matip celebrates scoring Liverpool's second and winning goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match against Ajax: Visionhaus/Getty Images

It was a considerably improved showing from Jürgen Klopp’s side.

That felt true both in comparison to many of their performances so far this season – which have seen them take nine points from a possible 18 in the Premier League – and particularly in relation to their previous outing, when they lost 4-1 at Napoli in last Wednesday’s group opener.

Klopp, in his programme notes, spoke of setting the ambition for Liverpool "to become the toughest team in the world to play against" when he first arrived at the club and that "in Naples last week we were as far away from this target as I can recall us being and this cannot carry on."

There did, indeed, appear to be notably more coherence in and out of possession here. That was something which felt additionally encouraging against an Ajax team who have won their first six Eredivisie matches of the campaign and who beat Rangers 4-0 in the other Group A opener six days earlier.

The Dutch champions – now under the stewardship of Alfred Schreuder, following Erik ten Hag’s switch to Old Trafford – showed their quality in moments but often found themselves somewhat pinned back by their front-footed hosts.

Reds returnees offer boost

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Match-winner Matip, Thiago Alcântara and Diogo Jota each made positive contributions on their return to the starting lineup.

A triumvirate whose start to the campaign has been disrupted by injury, their respective contributions last term perhaps made their impact here unsurprising.

On the left side of the midfield-three, Thiago put in a particularly classy display – one which seemed to provide both additional fluency and solidity.

88.5% pass accuracy and 10 out of 10 long balls completed offers a sense of the quality that the Spaniard weaved into a pleasingly intense Anfield evening.

Jota, meanwhile, was a tenacious, dangerous presence up top, as the Portuguese nicely complemented Salah and Luis Díaz.

That was evident in the buildup to the opener as Díaz rose well to nod Alisson Becker’s diagonal pass into the path of Jota, who then coolly slid in Salah to his right – allowing the Egyptian to sweep home.

Matip’s superb headed winner from Kostas Tsimikas’ corner represented his big moment, of course, but the Cameroonian was another who was largely excellent throughout.

Alongside Virgil van Dijk, he was positively aggressive and proactive in much of his defending – rarely allowing Ajax to get a foothold upfield – while he made several of those valuable, and now trademark, dribbles into opposition territory.

Identity aligned

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These aforementioned factors all helped contribute to a performance that felt palpably more characteristic of Liverpool in recent years.

There were still moments where a slight lack of compactness could be seen – most noticeably, Kudus’ admittedly well-constructed and converted equaliser and Daley Blind’s 75th-minute headed chance.

Generally, though, the Merseysiders sustained pressure and regained possession with a much greater level of efficiency.

That felt the case both in the 4-3-3 shape that they operated within in the opening 65 minutes and the 4-2-3-1 that they switched to upon the introduction of Roberto Firmino and Darwin Núñez.

A pattern, doubtless, that Klopp and co will be aiming to build upon, with their next outing now set to be the home Premier League meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday 1st October.

Ajax’s quality evident

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Schreuder’s team may have suffered their first defeat of the season (excepting their 5-3 reversal to PSV Eindhoven in the Johan Cruijff Schaal), but there were still several signs of promise.

The nature of their goal was as clear as any. Within a 26-pass move, they calmly played their way through considerable Liverpool pressure before Steven Berghuis’ cut-back from the left was controlled by Kudus and emphatically slammed home by the Ghanaian via the underside of the crossbar.

That second-half Blind chance also came at the end of another eye-catching move.

They did appear unsettled in possession in moments – as the Reds’ improved levels saw them more effectively cut off angles and options.

The technical quality that runs throughout much of the team, though, means they look well-equipped to pose pertinent questions to most sides in Europe.

Set-piece contrast

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One element that may count against them in that respect, however, is set-pieces – certainly if this particular evening at Anfield is anything to go by.

Liverpool, admittedly, had many more attacking set-plays than their opponents. The hosts had 10 corners, while Ajax had none, for instance. However, the Reds regularly got first contact in these scenarios.

Van Dijk saw one header from a corner palmed away by goalkeeper Remko Pasveer and another held in the first half, while Matip nodded one over prior to getting the winner late on.

They always felt like genuinely threatening scenarios. That should be a considerable source of credit and encouragement for the Merseysiders, but it will also likely be something that Schreuder will want to address in the coming days and weeks.