Fighting spirit praised as “immense” Fabinho provides solution – Media on Ajax 0-1 Liverpool

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The media lauded Liverpool’s fighting spirit and defensive efforts in their 1-0 win at Ajax, particularly praising Fabinho for stepping up in Virgil van Dijk’s absence.

The injury-hit Reds opened the Champions League campaign with a hard-fought victory in Amsterdam, courtesy of Nicolas Tagliafico’s comical own goal.

Considering recent events and how depleted the squad was, this was a superb start for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp will be delighted with the efforts of his squad.

Here’s all the key analysis from the media on the victory, with lots of praise coming for the Reds’ defensive efforts and fighting spirit.

 

Reporters praised Liverpool’s fighting spirit to put recent events behind them and grind out the win…

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after his shot forced an own goal by Ajax to make the score 1-0 during the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Gerrit van Keulen/Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

Writing for Goal, Neil Jones reflected that it was a night in which the result was better than the performance, but it was exactly the victory Liverpool needed:

“After a dark few days, this was the light Liverpool needed. A slender win, achieved due to a gritty, resilient defensive display and sprinkled with a little good fortune. They will take that, alright.

[…]

“So to come away from this, one of their two most tricky assignments in Group D, with everything they wanted should not be understated. This was a fabulous result, if not a fabulous performance.”

The Mail’s Martin Samuel wrote how the win and clean sheet was a perfect response to recent events, and also a statement of intent going forward:

“An away win, and a clean sheet, in Liverpool’s first match without the talismanic Virgil van Dijk is not to be sniffed at.

[…]

“Yet the good news is, this defensive group will hold firm against most. Fabinho, in particular, was impressive, filling in for the injured Joel Matip, and Andrew Robertson was outstanding, his usual marauding self. Trent Alexander-Arnold came onto a good game eventually, too.”

The Liverpool Echo’s Paul Gorst praised the Reds for showing their “stomach for the fight” and highlighted how the “teak-tough mindset” drove Klopp’s men to victory:

“The famed, almost cliched ‘Mentality Monsters’ may not have been at their record-breaking, history-making best here against Ajax, but this performance showcased all the hallmarks of the teak-tough mindset that sets them apart.

[…]

“But Liverpool have grown and evolved under their manager to the point where a stomach for the fight is one of their most treasured virtues.”

The win handed a reminder to the rest of Europe that the Reds will still be a force in the competition even without Van Dijk, in the view of the Guardian’s Andy Hunter:

“To launch a Champions League campaign with an away win would satisfy Jurgen Klopp in normal circumstances.

“To do so after a hugely turbulent and damaging week, with the added bonuses of a clean sheet and change in fortune, was a reminder of the European pedigree that the Liverpool manager has at his disposal even without the injured Virgil van Dijk.”

 

The media were impressed with the defensive efforts and assessed that the Van Dijk solution has been found…

AMSTERDAM - Fabinho of Liverpool FC during the UEFA Champions League match in group D between Ajax Amsterdam and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff Arena on October 21, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (MAURICE VAN STEEN/ANP Sport/PA Images)

The Mirror‘s Alex Richards lauded Fabinho and Joe Gomez for stepping up and showing that the Reds will not suddenly become “a giant, flustered” defensive mess in Van Dijk’s absence:

“There seems to have been this big suggestion that, without Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool’s defence would suddenly become a giant, flustered mess.

“That simply doesn’t really reckon for Fabinho or Joe Gomez though; the Brazilian just doesn’t do flustered, while Gomez is England’s best centre-back and, despite a somewhat rocky start to the season, is a fine defender in his own right.”

The Telegraph’s Jason Burt described Fabinho as Liverpool’s “solution” for getting by without Van Dijk:

“It is impossible to replace the irreplaceable, but Liverpool have surely found the solution for now to the loss of Virgil van Dijk, with Fabinho producing an outstanding performance in the centre of defence as they began their Champions League campaign with a precious away victory.”

Also for the Mirror, David Maddock singled out Fabinho as the star performer and even felt that the Brazilian showed Van Dijk-esque qualities:

“Amid all the dire warnings of a European meltdown, his replacement Fabinho produced an admirable impression of the absent Dutchman, with a towering display at the heart of defence to deny Ajax.

“The Brazilian showed some of the dominance in the air, the same poise on the ball, and even found time to produce a brilliant match-turning goal-line clearance that had Klopp beaming at the end.”

Jones labelled Fabinho’s performance “immense” and believes that the Brazilian now holds the key to Liverpool’s success this season:

Fabinho’s contribution was immense. Tough and resilient, but able to read the game and pass the ball too, the Brazilian has become one of Liverpool’s most valuable players. Keeping him fit and healthy will be key to their ambitions this season, whether he is playing in defence or midfield.”

Carl Markham, of the Press Association, explained how Fabinho’s ability to sniff out danger in his natural shielding midfield role helped the Brazilian to slot so seamlessly into defence:

“While it was not a Van Dijk-style of commanding performance it was equally effective in its own way.

“A couple of successful early tackles inside his own penalty area showed his aptitude for composure and control in tight spaces while his experience as a midfielder gave him a better awareness when it came to reading the game.”

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's Joe Gomez (L) and Ajax's David Neres during the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Gerrit van Keulen/Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

While Fabinho shone, Joe Gomez proved his own readiness to become Liverpool’s new defensive leader, according to Richards:

“The one slight on Gomez is that perhaps he is happy being the ‘junior’ partner; can he lead a defensive line? Well alongside Van Dijk he would never get that opportunity, but now there is greater onus on him.

“In Amsterdam, he showed that perhaps he is more ready to lead then previously he’s been given credit for.”

Meanwhile, Gorst thought Jordan Henderson was also vital to the defensive effort, noting how the captain shored things up in the middle of the park after the break:

“The arrival of captain Jordan Henderson for the second period for Champions League debutant Curtis Jones offered the visitors more control in the middle. He was also a very vocal addition to the side. The Reds skipper could be heard bellowing and barking throughout.

“Standards simply aren’t allowed to dip when Henderson is patrolling. It is a huge part of what makes this Liverpool team so consistent.”

Elsewhere, Burt remains in no doubt that Liverpool need to buy another specialist centre-back in January:

“Can [Fabinho] stay there in the coming months? Probably so, but Jurgen Klopp’s options are still limited and surely Liverpool will be planning a signing in the January transfer window – they know they are one more injury away from a full-blown crisis.”

 

Journalists highlighted some interesting tactical changes as the Reds adapted to life without Van Dijk…

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Gerrit van Keulen/Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

BBC Sport’s Emma Sanders noted how the Reds adopted a more counter-attacking approach:

“Liverpool’s well-practised defensive high line was more conservative and the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane were more reliant on opportunities on the break.”

Melissa Reddy, of the Independent, thought Liverpool tried to get the ball forward to the front three more quickly, relying on their individual ability to conjure up decisive moments:

“Liverpool’s intention to hit their front three early was evident from the off. Mane, in particular, had looked in one of those him-against-the-world-moods, where his every action is shaped to win the game.”

Markham pointed out how Klopp’s side moved away from the ultra-high defensive line to instead drop deeper, also withholding the normally rampaging full-backs:

“Without the pace of their towering Dutchman, Liverpool’s back four played slightly deeper and were more reluctant to push both their full-backs higher up the pitch, with left-back Andy Robertson relishing the opportunity as the preferred option.”

The Independent‘s Lawrence Ostlere also focused on changed roles for the full-backs, those seeing Andy Robertson become the main driving force while Trent Alexander-Arnold was more disciplined and contributed from deep:

“Most notable has been Robertson’s volume of touches in the final third and touches in the opponents’ penalty area, both of which have been sky high and well clear of any other Premier League defender, including his fellow flying full-back on the other wing.

[…]

“That tilt in the Liverpool team was particularly stark in Amsterdam. Robertson seemed to have boundless energy – even more so than usual – and his charging runs down the left were a constant menace to Ajax’s defence.”

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané (#10) celebrates after forcing an own goal from Ajax during the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Gerrit van Keulen/Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

Finally, Ostlere also reserved a word of praise for Roberto Firmino’s quietly impressive display, praising the Brazilian’s “invaluable” linkup and holdup play:

“He linked played wonderfully in the first half. When Andrew Robertson drilled the ball on to his toes, Firmino’s touch was magnetic, before feathering a pass into the path of Sadio Mane.

“On the hour, Jurgen Klopp brought off all three of his forwards to keep them fresh for the challenges to come, starting with Sheffield United at Anfield this weekend. Firmino may not get on the scoresheet there either, but he will almost certainly be the man that makes Liverpool tick in the final third.”

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