Pretty. Fluent. Exhilarating. None of these words can be used to describe the 1-0 victory Liverpool achieved in their UEFA Champions League opener versus Ajax. But it mostly certainly can be described as timely, and a damn vital one too.
Here, @LFCUncensored takes a look at six key takeaways all Reds fans now know after that tense 90 minutes in Amsterdam.
1. Alisson’s return can’t come soon enough
We’re many things at LFCUncensored, but one thing we’re not is unfair. Adrian had one of his better games after he shook off early nerves and made several smart stops as Ajax pushed for an equaliser.
But – and it’s a big but – we’ve seen enough of him to last a lifetime.
Within 90 seconds, the veteran Spaniard went walkabout. He somehow came to the conclusion that tackling Joe Gomez was the optimal play when simply picking the ball up with those great big sticky gloves seemed to everyone else a wiser choice.
— 🎓 (@Tw3rcazette) October 21, 2020
Virgil van Dijk’s lengthy injury layoff is undoubtedly a massive blow. But the fact is Liverpool’s defence was faltering without the supremely dependable and calming influence of Alisson even with the grand Dutchman marshalling the troops.
Adrian is a human ball of emotion during a game, frantically waving his hands after each mistake, instilling unease amongst those nearby.
When Alisson returns, however, expect the performances of TAA, Gomez and co. to ramp up a notch compared to what they’ve produced in his absence. By virtue of who he is and how he plays, Alisson has the opposite effect of Adrian by making those in front of him a darn sight better.
2. Gomez and Matip must find their voice
Despite Fabinho’s heroics (we’ll get to that!), it seems highly likely that Jurgen Klopp will revert to the more traditional centre-half pairing of Gomez and Matip from the weekend onwards.
Van Dijk’s influence on this team was twofold. His exemplary defensive play was abundantly clear for all to see, but his vociferous organisational commands and constant stream of instructions were just as important.
Gomez and Matip are both fantastic defenders on their day, but they’ve never displayed an ability to lead a backline through more than what they do with their head and feet.
That will HAVE to change, and soon.
3. Cracks in the mentality monsters?
Klopp once famously said: “For these decisive moments, it is not that you are born a mentality monster but you can become one.”
Liverpool feel like victims after that debacle of a weekend. The rhetoric of Klopp and senior players Jordan Henderson (VAR) and Georginio Wijnaldum (Pickford) over the preceding days showed that in crystal clear clarity. But there’s a fine line between manufacturing a siege mentality and simply feeling sorry for yourself.
Liverpool lacked their usual intensity and verve in the opening half hour. Thankfully, the next sixty minutes were about as accomplished of an away European performance as you’re likely to see.
But if they make entering games in a slumber a habit, results will only go one way. Then they really will have something to feel down about.
4. Fabinho is a manager’s dream
If you thought his performance as an emergency centre-half against Timo Werner and Chelsea was good, take another look at his first 45 minutes here.
Fabinho's first half.
Clearances – 5
Blocked shots – 1
Interceptions – 3
Tackles – 4
Dribbled past- 0
Clearance off line – 1
Ground duels (won) 4 (4)
— The Redmen TV (@TheRedmenTV) October 21, 2020
He was a human brick wall at times, repelling Ajax attack after attack while the margin for error in his play was frequently razor thin.
His sensational goal-line clearance as half-time neared was a thing of beauty and it cannot go unstated just how important it was for Liverpool to go in at the break with a lead after such a depressing weekend.
5. Depth – football’s most underrated word
Just look at this triple substitution.
That trio would be good enough to be the starting forward line for more than a handful of Premier League clubs. Indeed, Diogo Jota might even find himself in the starting elevens of two or three of the other ‘top six’ sides.
When Klopp was appointed in the Autumn of 2015, the word ‘depth‘ was so far removed from Liverpool’s squad it was in orbit.
Oh how times have changed…
No fewer than three of Liverpool’s current reserve forwards provided more goals and assists combined per 90 minutes last season than anyone Klopp could call upon when he took charge.
Xherdan Shaqiri is the outlier, but his sample size is negligible having featured in just 293 minutes of action in 2019/20. Calculating his figures for 2018/19 in which he accrued a far healthier 1,413 minutes, the Alpine Messi returns a very lucrative 0.38 goals and 0.32 assists per 90 minutes respectively.
Long gone are the days of throwing Jordon Ibe on praying that today might be his lucky day. Or lumping big Bentekkers up top hoping he can rumble, stumble and/or fumble one in.
Liverpool now have the sort of quality in depth that would see them cruise through a lengthy spell without Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane.
And with the condensed fixture list likely to play havoc with team selection this year, expect to see Klopp utilise this expertly acquired depth to its fullest potential.
6. Football’s greatest tonic still heals all
They say a week is a long time in politics. That period of time should be halved when it comes to the world of football.
Heads were bowed and spirits were low following a truly disastrous weekend. Today, by virtue of a single victory, Liverpool assumed early control of their Champions League group by dispatching the next best team via the type of fortuitous goal that you won’t see twice.
Every defender put in a promising display and last year’s hallmark of a win-to-nil returned at the most opportune time possible.
Order – at least until the weekend – has been restored.