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Kelleher passes his audition as Reds top group – 5 talking points from Liverpool 1-0 Ajax

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Liverpool sealed the win and top spot in their Champions League group with a 1-0 win over Ajax, despite a host of missed chances.

Liverpool 1-0 Ajax

Champions League Group Stage (5), Anfield
December 1, 2020

Goals: Jones 58′


Is Kelleher a keeper?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 1, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp hugs goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher after the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

The big surprise in the starting lineup came right at the top: no Alisson, who faces at least a week out, but also no Adrian – instead Caoimhin Kelleher made his Champions League debut.

Two early saves gave some confidence and his footwork in the first half was good, while in the second half he made a brilliant last-minute reflex stop to preserve his clean sheet and the three points.

The question for Kopites – and obviously for Klopp – is was this simply a chance to get him involved and play a first (meaningful) game of the season, or was it a genuine audition for the weekend?

Wolves visit Anfield on Sunday evening and Ali won’t be around for that either, so is this the young Irishman’s chance to establish himself as the No. 2 or is it just down to the fact the Reds were all-but-through in Europe anyway and Adrian will be back in for the game which matters most?

 

Fab and the juggling act

Fabinho (Image: Eibner-Pressefoto/EXPA/Feichter via www.imago-images.de/Imago/PA Images)

Klopp’s big decision each game at the moment is where to put Fabinho as he builds back to full fitness: holding midfield, centre-back or sub?

At the base of midfield he’s the best in the world, arguably, but in defence he has to run far less, helping him balance out being on the pitch with an overload in exertions.

This time it was in the back line and he was typically, utterly, excellent – plus it meant only one inexperienced Williams in place rather than two, with Rhys left on the bench.

Liverpool ideally need Fab and Joel Matip alongside each other every game, more or less, but there aren’t enough midfield options to do so relentlessly, so it’s a case of juggling the resources according to fitness and the qualities of the opposition.

In this case, Ajax are great in attack and the movement is brilliant too, so Fabinho‘s awareness and experience were much appreciated at the heart of the back line.

Good call from Klopp.

 

Jones in on the act

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 1, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We know Curtis Jones is a goalscorer, we’ve already seen it.

He has played lots this season and it has often been more about controlling spaces and possession rather than being a match-winner, so that attacking output hasn’t always been on show.

In this game, however, there was so much space and incentive to keep attacking that he could have had a hat-trick: two early efforts, one saved and one against the post, before finally finding the way through around the hour mark.

Jones owed something to Andre Onana’s misjudgement, yes, but much more to his own excellent technique and anticipation that the ball would fall his way.

A huge goal for the No. 17 and his first in Europe.

 

Last one without an atmosphere?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 1, 2020: Liverpool’s Curtis Jones celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

We hope so, we really do.

The next time Liverpool take to the pitch, there should be 2,000 fans in attendance, well below what we hope to get back to soon…but even that should be miles better and make a real difference.

Of course, that’s reliant on the lucky few who get a ticket being up to the task of reminding us what an atmosphere can sound like on matchday, but even a few songs being belted out would be better than the sterile silence which accompanies far too many of the training sessions which have taken place since March.

Welcome the Reds back to playing in front of fans in style, if you’re one of the fortunate few.

 

Through as winners

Liverpool's Curtis Jones (no.17) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with Neco Williams during the UEFA Champions League Group D match at Anfield, Liverpool.

Job done in the group! Atalanta’s draw plus our three points means the Reds are not only through to the last 16, but guaranteed of top spot.

That’s crucial: lots of top sides are going to be first in their own groups and we’d like to avoid the likes of Bayern in the last 16 at least.

Plus – more importantly in the short term – it means we can send Adrian, Origi and whoever else wants a runout to Denmark for our final group fixture.

Rest everyone next midweek, hopefully get another warm body back from the treatment room in the meantime and the squad situation could look a lot different 10 days from now.

Before that, though, it’s full focus on Wolves at the weekend – a team playing a new system and looking confident but without their main striker.

A crucial, and intriguing weekend awaits.

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