Group A for angst was developing for Liverpool. There were two minutes left to tie the score. It was going to be six points for Jurgen Klopp’s men with the home and away games against Rangers.
Battle of Britain fixtures are notoriously tough and hostile and Liverpool looked like they needed wins in both.
And then, as so often happens with this team in Europe, they found a way.
Liverpool defender Joel Matip (above) scored a vital goal in the 89th minute against Ajax in their clash on Tuesday evening.
Matip’s goal saw Liverpool win their Champions League clash with Ajax 2-1 after losing last week’s game against Napoli.
The 31-year-old defender rose above the Ajax defenders (centre) to head home a Liverpool corner in the 89th minute.
A Mo Salah shot was deflected off the post for a corner. Kostas Tsimikas, ahead of the injured Andy Robertson, stepped up to take him down the left. He picked out Joel Matip, whose header crossed the line before an Ajax could deny him.
And that was enough. The linesman was signaling a goal even before referee Artur Dias was notified that it was in. And Anfield erupted, as it has on so many nights like this one, when the men in red have somehow found their way.
They were the best team, they deserved it. But these are stressful times and Liverpool are still vulnerable.
So yes, Klopp got the home win that was required in Napoli, but this will not be an easy group for last season’s Champions League finalists.
Admittedly, they have come out of tighter corners before, but Liverpool’s domestic inconsistencies have spread to Europe, where they are often at home.
It certainly could have been worse. In the 75th minute, a cross from Dusan Tadic found Daley Blind unmarked at the far post. It was a simple header, really a dono. Blind tried to send it back across goal and into the far corner, a clever angle, but he misjudged it. The ball flew out.
If that had happened, Liverpool would have been close to the drift. Instead, they hope Napoli and Ajax don’t do each other any favors, allowing them to take advantage against Rangers. However, there is nothing safe about this form.
Salah sits in good company with his 34 Champions League goals and counting for Liverpool in Europe.
However, it was goal-line technology that sealed the winner after Tadic tried to clear Matip’s effort off the line.
Mohamed Salah rediscovered his form and opened the scoring for Liverpool in the 17th minute of their Champions League tie.
DATA OF THE MATCH
Liverpool starting eleven: Alisson, Tsimkas, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Fabinho, Thiago, Elliott, Salah, Jota, Diaz
Liverpool substitutes: Adrian, Davies, Gomez, Milner, Firmino, Núñez, Carvalho, Arthur, Bajcetic, Phillips.
Ajax starting XI: Pasveer, Rensch, Timber, Bassey, Blind, Berghuis, Alvarez, Taylor, Tadic, Kudus, Bergwijn.
Ajax substitutes: Stekelenburg, Gorter, Klaassen, Brobbey, Ocampos, Kaplan, Lucca, Sanchez, Grillitsch, Baas, Regeer, Magallan.
Only four players have been more prolific for English clubs. Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy with 35 for Arsenal and Manchester United, Sergio Agüero and Didier Drogba with 36 for Manchester City and Chelsea.
And after a disastrous first leg in Naples last week, it was Salah who got Liverpool going here.
Ajax are a dangerous team, even without Erik ten Hag to lead them, even without Antony to terrorize defences. As Klopp pointed out before kick-off, they are in much better form than Liverpool this season.
However, it was Salah who broke the deadlock here, only in the 17th minute. Alisson played a long ball forward which Luis Díaz headed past Diogo Jota.
He played in Salah, who was coming like an express train down the right, with Blind lost, firing hard past goalkeeper Remko Pasveer.
It was an early period when Liverpool could have got the right distance. Diaz had a low shot in the 21st minute, and Trent Alexander-Arnold hit just over the bar.
There are still problems. Liverpool are vulnerable at the back and after 27 minutes they proved it.
Steven Berghuis really shouldn’t have got behind Alexander-Arnold so easily, but many do these days, and he did. His cross traveled through Matip’s legs and fell to Ghana international Mohammed Kudus in the middle.
He took a left-footed touch to push the ball away from Virgil van Dijk and then hit a thunderous shot, which beat Alisson, hitting the underside of the crossbar and falling over.
It looked great, although not from Klopp’s point of view. Easy to see why Kudus attracted interest from Everton this summer.
For Ajax to reach the half, it took some good action at the back from their experienced goalkeeper Pasveer. He is 38 and most famous for repelling Erling Haaland in this competition last year – stopping three consecutive shots, all on target – and thwarting Liverpool twice in seven minutes.
Darwin Nunez was introduced as a late substitute for Liverpool and failed to convert two big chances for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Mohammed Kudus (left) responded by securing an equalizer for Ajax in the 27th minute of the game on Tuesday evening.
With 10 minutes to go in the first half, Van Dijk took Alexander-Arnold’s corner and Pasveer made a good low save before the loose ball was cleared.
Shortly after, Alexander-Arnold made a marauding run down the right only for Pasveer to block his shot with his chest. The ball fell easily at the feet of the Liverpool man only for Pasveer to equal this one as well.
And now, a short digression, about the sound of silence. Those of us who thought Liverpool supporters would rise to the occasion of the minute dedicated to the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will feel largely vindicated as the overwhelming majority of the 54,000 in attendance did exactly that.
There was no mass chorus of boos, no broad demonstration of dissent.
Three times the crowd fell silent, the first two being false alarms, as was UEFA’s rather confused handling of the process.
Before the game, both sets of players took part in a minute’s silence (above) out of respect for Queen Elizabeth II.
Liverpool were also spotted wearing black armbands (above) as the nation continues to mourn the Queen’s death
Finally, when referee Dias de Portugal gathered the players in the middle and blew his whistle to signal the start of the brief ceremony, Anfield fell respectfully silent. Then the strange voice shouted, which can happen in a stadium. No one can fully vouch for the common sense, empathy and sobriety of everyone present.
The problem is that this voice embarrasses and insults others, who realize that the eyes of the world are watching and then try to bring order, and so more noise is made.
In the end, Dias got nervous and blew the whistle early, just 24 seconds in. For Liverpool, the club, that would have been disappointing. Also for most fans.
And if the Goats thought they had dealt a blow to the royal family, they didn’t.
They acted in opposition to the families of Hillsborough, who had asked for silence in the hope that rival fans would reciprocate their ceremonies; and the family of Sir Kenny Dalglish, who were also present.
Sir Kenny had also called for the sad commemoration to be respected. Those who faced Liverpool’s own royalty must be very proud this morning.
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