Liverpool’s Champions League campaign gets started on Wednesday night with a trip to Ajax – so who should the Reds be wary of and where will the key battles take place?
The Merseyside and Amsterdam clubs are true European royalty and it should be a fantastic occasion when the sides meet, 16 months after they almost clashed in the final itself.
Eredivisie champions host Premier League champions, with the home side on the night the more in-form team in terms of results—and the Reds needing to bounce back from the disappointment of Virgil van Dijk‘s injury.
In a tough group also containing Atalanta and FC Midtjylland, a good start and getting Liverpool back to winning ways would be ideal, but the Reds will have to put in a big performance to take three points in the Amsterdam Arena.
This Is Anfield spoke to Michael Bell of Football-Oranje.com (@FootballOranje_) to get the local view ahead of the match.
A mostly good start for Ajax and a big weekend win in the build-up to this fixture. How have the performance levels been this season overall?
The performances haven’t been great so far with Erik ten Hag still trying to figure out his best line-up without Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek.
His use of Quincy Promes as the No. 10 and Zakaria Labyad as the centre-forward have not worked well, and there has been criticism in the Dutch media for the coach. The loss against Groningen highlighted the issues that were masked by the slim wins in their previous games. Up front it just isn’t clicking, apart from Antony.
Which players have been the stand-outs so far in 2020/21 and how important was it to keep hold of Onana and Tagliafico?
Antony and Mohammed Kudus have made a big impression so far and both look like excellent signings. Antony has contributed goals and looks a good replacement for Ziyech on the right.
Kudus has added something that the Ajax midfield has missed since Frenkie de Jong left. It is vital that Ajax kept hold of some of their star players and Andre Onana is crucial for the club. Tagliafico’s experience will also be crucial, especially in the Champions League games, although he hasn’t had the best start to the season.
Which players have failed to settle or play well so far?
Promes has struggled in his new position, while Tadic and Labyad look a bit lost up top. Edson Alvarez has been really poor in the midfield but is likely to be replaced by Davy Klaassen, who has returned to the club.
What’s the aim for Ajax this season – is another Champions League run on the agenda or is it win the league and hope for the best in Europe?
The aim is the league and to try and make an impression in Europe. Marc Overmars has been vocal that this year is a transitional one with money tight due to Covid-19. The club didn’t sign the striker that they needed and the squad isn’t as strong as it was when it reached the Champions League semi-finals.
As a follower of Dutch football overall, how concerned are you by the long term injury for Virgil van Dijk…
It is very concerning because he is the captain of the Dutch national team and a vital player heading into Euro 2020.
If he can return in less than eight months he has time to recover and make the finals, so we’re hoping for good news during the rehabilitation phase.
Who should Ajax fear most from this Liverpool team?
I think Ajax will fear Sadio Mane the most with his pace an issue for the backline that isn’t the quickest. Salah of course can do a lot of damage too, while Tagliafico and Noussair Mazraoui will have a tough task against Robertson and Trent.
Where will the key battles take place on the night?
I think the wings are where the key battles will take place. Robertson and Trent will need to be stopped and Antony will have to get a lot of the ball to try and cause the Liverpool defence some problems.
If Tagliafico and Mazraoui have off-nights then Ajax have little chance of winning this game.
Who do you back to get through the group and how far will Liverpool get in the CL this season?
Ajax have a tough task and I think they are battling Atalanta for second but the Italian side look very strong up front.
I can see Liverpool topping the group and Ajax have a chance of sneaking through, but I would say Atalanta are favourites for second. Liverpool have a chance to go all the way but it’s going to be tough without Van Dijk. Quarters or semi-finals would be my prediction.
Finally, give us your score prediction…
I will try to be positive about Ajax and think they will raise their game for the visit of Liverpool. I think a 2-2 draw.