Liverpool begin their Champions League campaign with a trip to Ajax on Wednesday night, looking for a perfect response from their Merseyside derby injustice.
Ajax vs. Liverpool
Wednesday, October 21, 2020 – 8pm (BST)
Johan Cruyff Arena
Champions League Group Stage (1)
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Ah football, why do we do it to ourselves?
Everything had been going so swimmingly for the Reds, but all of a sudden, the footballing gods seem to have turned against them.
The horror-show at Aston Villa was followed up by Saturday’s 2-2 draw away to Everton, on a day when Jurgen Klopp‘s side deserved far more for their efforts.
If Virgil van Dijk‘s likely season-ending injury wasn’t enough, Liverpool fans also had to witness Jordan Henderson‘s last-gasp ‘winner’ somehow getting ruled out by VAR.
There isn’t time to dwell on these wrongdoings, however, with European football returning for the Reds after seven months away.
It feels a long time ago now that Klopp’s men were dumped out of the Champions League at the expense of Atletico Madrid, but they are again one of the leading contenders going into this season’s tournament.
Liverpool will be hellbent on clinching European Cup number seven this season and the group stage starts with a testing trip to Ajax.
The Dutch giants were seconds from reaching the 2019 final that the Reds eventually won, and while a number of key men have since left, they remain a strong team.
Liverpool needed another match to come around as soon as possible and one duly has. Victory at the Johan Cruyff Arena would help erase any lingering anger from the weekend action.
As mentioned, Van Dijk’s cruciate ligament injury has rocked Liverpool, given the Dutchman’s unrivalled influence in the last four seasons.
Sadly, the 29-year-old is expected to be out for the vast majority of this season – it may be that we don’t see him again in 2020/21 at all.
There is also no Joel Matip and Thiago on Wednesday, with the former not being risked and the latter still suffering from a shocking tackle by Richarlison.
Alisson, the other catalyst to Liverpool’s great success, is still missing with a shoulder problem, but he could be back by the end of the month. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also progressing well in his comeback.
Naby Keita is back in the fold after testing negative for COVID-19, giving Klopp more options in midfield and potentially allowing him to play Fabinho at centre-back, especially with Matip out.
Joe Gomez is a definite starter in defence, as he attempts to return to much-needed top form in the absence of Van Dijk.
The likes of Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota will be hoping for a chance if Klopp rests one of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino, while Gini Wijnaldum could come back into the midfield.
Ajax, meanwhile, have a relatively clean bill of health ahead of the game with only forward Antony ruled out, putting manager Erik ten Hag in an enviable position.
Ajax may not be one of the best sides around these days, but their name is still synonymous with top-level football.
The pedigree that they possess in the European Cup is undeniable, with four titles their name in the competition, three of which came back-to-back in the early 1970s.
After a spell in the wilderness, Ten Hag brought Ajax back to the forefront of the European game two seasons ago, when he created a young side who played a superb blend of attacking football.
Only a stoppage time goal from Tottenham‘s Lucas Moura deprived them of a place in the Champions League final against Liverpool, before a predictable exodus took place.
The likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Hakim Ziyech have all moved on and a rebuild is happening, with Ten Hag still the man at the helm.
Ajax sit second in the Eredivisie after five matches, winning four and losing one, leaving them one point adrift of rivals PSV Eindhoven – Wijnaldum’s former club.
There is still a core of players who were there during that glorious 2018/19 campaign, including former Man United defender Daley Blind and ex-Southampton man Dusan Tadic.
Possible Ajax XI: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico, Klaassen, Kudus, Gravenberch, Neres, Tadic, Promes
Johan Cruyff Arena
Capacity: 55, 500
* Game to be played behind-closed-doors
Did You Know?
Remarkably, this is only the third competitive meeting between Liverpool and Ajax in history.
Given the number of European games they have appeared in down the years, you could be forgiven for thinking they had come up against each numerous times.
The only meeting came in the second round of the European Cup back in 1966/67 – a two-legged tie in which the Dutch outfit prevailed.
Ajax cruised to a 5-1 victory in the first leg – Chris Lawler scored for Liverpool – before a 2-2 draw in the return fixture at Anfield, with Roger Hunt netting twice.
They have locked horns in pre-season friendlies since, but that is all.
Ajax – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 5-1 vs. Heerenveen
Lost 1-0 vs. Groningen
Won 2-1 vs. Vitesse
Won 3-0 vs. RKC Waalwijk
Won 1-0 vs. Sparta Rotterdam
Liverpool – Last five results (all competitions)
Drew 2-2 vs. Everton
Lost 7-2 vs. Aston Villa
Drew 0-0 vs. Arsenal (lost 5-4 on penalties)
Won 3-1 vs. Arsenal
Won 7-2 vs. Lincoln
Speaking in the press conference on Tuesday, Wijnaldum and Klopp were in an animated mood, with the midfielder and the boss hugely critical of Jordan Pickford and Richarlison:
“We were upset, as I explained before, the way Pickford went it on the challenge, in my opinion, was stupid and I believe he didn’t want to injure Virgil but the way he took the tackle he didn’t care what happened after.
“We had it a lot in games against Everton, in my opinion, they take it way too far. We know it’s a derby and everyone wants to win but sometimes you go over the top, but it was too much.
“If you talk about the tackle of Richarlison on Thiago it was also a nasty one, that’s what bothers me the most and most of the other players,” Gini said.
“We did nothing wrong in the game and I don’t think we’ve done anything since then but our players are the only ones suffering and that doesn’t feel right, and it’s not easy to deal with these kinds of things,” Klopp added.
“We all accept injuries can happen, but it should be in a normal challenge.”
TV & Liveblog Info
Ajax vs. Liverpool will be shown live in the UK on BT Sport 2, with coverage getting underway at 7pm (BST) ahead of an 8pm start.
Henry Jackson is in charge of This Is Anfield’s matchday liveblog, keeping you company and providing regular updates from 7.15pm (BST).