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Curtis Jones emerges at just the right time as Liverpool face a big midfield decision

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 17:00

Curtis Jones scored his first Champions League goal as Liverpool beat Ajax 1-0 on Tuesday, with the No. 17 emerging as a genuine long-term starter for Jurgen Klopp.

A narrow scoreline in a game where there was much to enjoy. If a European Super League does eventually become a reality, then regular games against Ajax will be a welcome side effect.

This is how I’d imagine a game of football would have looked if the directors of The Matrix had crowbarred a football scene into one of the offerings from the Keanu Reeves-led movie franchise.

Beyond the joy of progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League, topping the group with a game to spare within the process, the biggest pluses to Tuesday night were the boys-becoming-men performances of Caoimhin Kelleher, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones.

An understandable sharp intake of breath could be heard across the red half of Merseyside when news of Alisson’s latest injury setback emerged.

Hopes that it was no more than a malicious rumour eventually dashed, it was a surprise to see Kelleher named as the Brazilian’s replacement, rather than Adrian.

 Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher (R) celebrates with Curtis Jones after the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool wo 1-0 and qualified for the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As things turned out, it was to be a pleasant surprise, as Cork’s finest put in a magnificently assured and confident display, pulling off a collection of impressive saves, competent handling, fine positioning and intelligent covering of his defence when the line was held high.

Kelleher’s was a performance that spoke of a goalkeeper with far more professional first-team experience than that of which he has to his name.

Added to this, a long talk having taken place between player and manager, the Neco of the Williamses put in his best performance so far in a Liverpool shirt.

A player whose previous performances have jarred somewhat, Williams has been under increasing scrutiny. He has taken some wholly unnecessary and distasteful stick on social media, and his performance against Ajax was a huge step in the right direction.

On one hand, it proves to Williams himself that he does have the talent required to cope with a demanding life at Anfield, and on the other, it hopefully reassures a fretful set of fans that, as a teenager, there is a player of purpose in there who just needs the patience and room to grow.

Then comes Jones.

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.

Jones is ascending at great speed to what is becoming an increasingly pivotal and important role within Jurgen Klopp’s squad.

While we have the best goalkeeper in the world who gets to marshal, when all components are fit once again, a defence that contains the best centre-back, right-back and left-back in the world, something that is complemented by a front three that are at the peak of the powers in terms of age, now supplemented by the arrival of the massively impressive Diogo Jota, the midfield in comparison is a little more turbulent.

When it comes to the Liverpool midfield, we are confronted by tales of injuries, contract stalemates, escalating ages and a sense that even if we know what our strongest combination is, the chances of us fielding it on a regular basis are quite slim.

Arguably, despite having many midfield options at our disposal, we are heading towards a bit of a power vacuum.

Gini Wijnaldum is likely to depart the club next summer, while even if a contract agreement is reached he’s now over the age of 30.

 Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates with Georginio Wijnaldum (R) after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Yes, while we can argue that the age of 30 in footballing terms in 2020 isn’t representative of the age of 30 of even a decade ago, when combined to the fact that Jordan Henderson and Thiago‘s birthdays are both sat within a five-month orbit either side of Gini’s, it does mean that they will age together should they all remain at Liverpool in the seasons ahead.

While James Milner can still turn it on at 34, I wouldn’t want our midfield being heavily reliant upon three 34-year-olds in 2024/25. I’ve mentioned the need for evolution before, and as part of that will come difficult decisions.

You either want to create a lasting dynasty that stretches for a decade or longer, or you’re happy with a successful three- or four-season spike of relevancy before heading back into the ‘big six’ pack, until you hit on another decent plan of attack.

With Henderson too important to dispense with, and Thiago only having just arrived – yet as a player who has only hit the 30-league game a season target once in his career – Wijnaldum will become a casualty of a difference of contract opinion and a need for evolution that won’t be lost on Klopp.

When you subtract Fabinho, who is currently beautifully bailing us out at centre-back, and add in the injury records of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, then this is where the stage has been handed to Jones.

 Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and Atalanta BC at Anfield. Atalanta won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Suddenly, Jones has switched from an impatient and precocious talent, watching on from the bench, to an integral part of the Liverpool midfield, thrown copious amounts of trust by Klopp – particularly in the Champions League, a competition he seems most at home in.

With Fabinho occupied elsewhere, and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita unavailable, it is almost as if the Liverpool midfield has had to skip a generation.

By the time the others return they will have a very different midfield rival on their hands, compared to the one they had when they last kicked a ball in centre-ground anger.

A marvellous goal to win the game, Jones isn’t short of confidence, but maybe now he is feeling that if he plays well, a place in the team is his to hold on to.

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Reds considering cut-price Kabak deal & fans to return to the Kop – Liverpool FC Roundup

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 16:53

Liverpool news today circulates around the reaction to our Champions League progression, transfer talk and an eye on the future.

Fans back on the Kop against Wolves

Having originally stated that the Main Stand would be the only one in operation for the return of supporters, Liverpool have now changed their mind.

Three-quarters of the 2,000 tickets are general admission and those will be spread between the Kop and Main Stand, subject to social distancing measures of course.

The full details on the ticket arrangements can be found here.

It will be a massive 271 days since the last time fans were on the Kop – hopefully this is the first significant step to getting back towards a full capacity crowd as soon as possible.

Kabak incoming?

Ozan Kabak of FC Schalke 04 reacts during the 1. Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Schalke 04 at the Volkswagen Arena on December 18, 2019 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Peter Niedung/NurPhoto)

SportBild say the Reds are now seriously considering sinking money into the deal to get Ozan Kabak in during January.

The end of the year is fast approaching and with it comes the opening of the transfer window again – and the Reds might well strengthen the back line.

Kabak is one of the defenders most-frequently linked with an Anfield switch and the quoted price has come down from near €40 million in summer to €25m now – and there’s a suggestion Schalke will do business even lower.

They are in a horrid predicament, with empty bank accounts, embarrassing results and abysmal form again this season and Kabak himself isn’t exempt from that bad run.

But a change of scenery might do the trick – along with better coaching and team-mates, obviously – and the decision of whether to sign him or look elsewhere looks certain to be made in the coming weeks.

Those kids

 Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher (R) celebrates with Curtis Jones after the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool wo 1-0 and qualified for the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After a night when two Academy youngsters took the headlines it’s only right we cast an eye to the future…

Quickfire LFC news

 Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • Fabinho says he’s working well with Joel Matip in defence and aims to help wherever needed (SW)
  • Tyson Fury has asked to be taken out of the running for the Sports Personality of the Year award, where he’s up against Jordan Henderson (Twitter)
  • Gini Wijnaldum says he’s “blessed to stay fit” and that it’s just “matches and resting” right now after his long run as one of the Reds’ only fit midfielders (FCupdate)
  • And the Reds could be part of a Champions League group stage overhaul from 2024, with a much bigger ‘division’ leading on to knock-outs (TIA)
Around the Prem

 Hungary's Dominik Szoboszlai during a training session at the Cardiff City Stadium ahead of the final UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying Group E match between Wales and Hungary. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • Transfer restrictions have been confirmed for signing players post-Brexit and there are big changes for youth signings (TIA)
  • Mikel Arteta wants temporary concussion subs brought in as the case for protecting against head injuries continues to dominate headlines (BBC)
  • Spurs and Arsenal are among a massive group of clubs hoping to sign Salzburg midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, which will make it even more fun when he rocks up at Anfield instead (Eurosport)
  • And Arsenal want Emi Buendia in January too, as the answer to their creativity woes. Thought Arteta had fixed them last year?! (football.london)
Stupid rumour of the day

Barcelona have come to the decision that Shkodran Mustafi or Antonio Rudiger, neither of whom get in the team at their current clubs, are the answers to their many, many, many, many problems in defence.

Oh, and they’re also not going to sign anyone until after the presidential elections, which will give them about five days in January to wrap up any potential deals.

Good, solid planning from the biggest shambles of a club in Europe in 2020, which is saying something.

Tweet of the day

What could have been, hey?

18-year-old Lazar Markovi? for Partizan during the 2012/2013 season:

?31 games
??7 goals
??10 assists

Superb talent wanted by many top European clubs back then. Such a shame he never lived up to the hype. pic.twitter.com/BtYTzUOwDA

— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) December 2, 2020

Worth watching tonight

Can Man United hold their nerve and take a point from their last two games, part 1: a nine-man defence against Neymar and Mbappe. 8pm on BT Sport.

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Premier League confirm restrictions on U21, U18 and overseas signings from January

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 13:48

Clubs in the Premier League will face new restrictions on signing overseas players when the UK leaves the EU on January 1, the top flight confirmed on Tuesday.

From the start of next year, the UK will no longer be a part of the European Union, following the ‘Brexit’ vote that received just 52 percent of support in 2016.

That a result with such a small majority can instigate such a seismic and impactful change is concerning, but that is the reality everyone is forced to come to terms with.

This includes those within the Premier League, with new rules on signings announced on Tuesday, with limits on signings of overseas players under the age of 21 and a ban on signing overseas players under 18 entirely.

From January 1, signings from countries in the EU will now be under the same restrictions as those from other parts of the world, requiring a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE).

A Premier League statement confirmed that a GBE would be granted on a points-based system, with points scored based on:

  • Senior and youth international appearances
  • The quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition
  • Club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes

They add that “players accumulating the requisite amount of points will earn a GBE automatically, while players just below the threshold may be considered for a GBE by an Exceptions Panel.”

Furthermore, in the interest of “ensuring opportunities for homegrown players,” a limit of overseas under-21 signings will be enforced, with a maximum of three in the upcoming January window and a total of six per season from 2021/22.

 Liverpool's Melkamu Frauendof during the Under-18 Premier League match between Liverpool FC Under-18's and Manchester City FC Under-18's at the Liverpool Academy. Manchester City won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

No longer will clubs be permitted to sign overseas players under the age of 18, which is likely why Liverpool moved to bring in Marcelo Pitaluga, Melkamu Fraeundorf, Mateusz Musialowski and Fabian Mrozek last summer.

These measures will be reviewed in full next summer, with the Home Office having approved the new GBE proposal from January 1; the restrictions also apply to clubs in the EFL.

While in ways these can be seen as restrictions, perhaps in others it will open up the prospect of an easier pathway to top Premier League clubs for players previously unable to be granted a work permit immediately.

Jurgen Klopp has expressed in the past how Liverpool would have been unable to sign the talents they were interested in within the Salzburg ranks, such as Takumi Minamino, despite possibly having tracked him from his time at Cerezo Osaka.

Either way, it is a new format that the club will need to get used to, and it could have major ramifications on the players signed and not signed in the years to come.

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Klopp applauds Curtis Jones for taking chance as “long talk” with Neco Williams pays off

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 10:10

Jurgen Klopp has revealed he had a “long talk” with Neco Williams that saw them both agree “he has so much more in his locker,” resulting in a winning display against Ajax.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner both sidelined, Williams made his first Premier League start of the season in Saturday’s visit to Brighton.

After conceding a penalty which Neal Maupay thankfully missed, the right-back was then brought off at half-time, with further criticism coming his way on social media.

It was a big night for the 19-year-old as Liverpool looked to book their place in the Champions League last 16, therefore, and Williams responded with a match-winning assist as Curtis Jones downed Ajax for a 1-0 victory.

Speaking after the game, Klopp detailed how a “long talk” with Williams helped provoke an improvement, as well as highlighting the difficulty in coming in to replace Alexander-Arnold.

“We had a long talk this week. We both thought he has so much more in his locker than he has shown so far,” the manager told BT Sport.

“But that’s exactly the situation, when is the right moment for a young boy to come in?

“The season started after a really difficult summer with lockdown, nobody knew when we can go on again, then kind of a short pre-season, then all of a sudden Trent is out with COVID and then he has to play early.

“He was not in the best shape in that moment, all players have these moments. And you are on the big stage, that’s not easy.

“Tonight showed at least glimpses, he can be so much better but tonight he showed that it’s all good.”

 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)

Jones has been more assured in his displays throughout the campaign, but the midfielder has certainly improved as the months have gone on, potentially jumping ahead of the likes of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Klopp attempted to stay reserved in his praise for the No. 17, but lauded Jones for taking his chance “exceptionally well” when others are absent.

“If I was sure he wouldn’t watch my interview I would say something else!” he joked.

“But he’s a really good kid, to be honest, a really good player. I’m really happy to have him around.

“That’s how it is sometimes, when you have problems there is always an opportunity for somebody else. And he took it, just exceptionally well, so I’m really, really happy for him.”

Tuesday night was a step forward, not only for Liverpool, Jones and Williams, but also for Caoimhin Kelleher, with a near-faultless team display against Ajax providing a major boost of confidence.

When called upon now, the hope will be that the Reds’ youngsters will be even more prepared to showcase their talents and help the side through a rough period.

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Curtis Jones savours “unbelievable feeling” and Robbo admits it “doesn’t get much better”

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 09:30

Curtis Jones relished the “unbelievable feeling” of scoring his first Champions League goal, while Andy Robertson hailed the impact of Liverpool’s academy graduates.

The Reds were battling in an even contest with Ajax on Tuesday night when Neco Williams curled a left-footed cross towards Andre Onana’s back post.

It appeared to be sailing out for a goal-kick, and it seemed Onana was of that belief as the goalkeeper allowed it to dip over him, only for Jones to steal in at the back post and volley in.

Jones has now scored six goals in 25 appearances for Liverpool, with only Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah netting more than the 19-year-old’s three so far this season.

The midfielder was clearly thrilled with his contribution as the Reds booked their place in the last 16 as winners of Group D, with Jones taking to Instagram after the game:

Speaking to LFCTV, Jordan Henderson relished a win in which the Reds dug deep, and praised Jones and Williams for their combination with the winner:

“I’m delighted for Curt, because he’s worked really hard.

“He listens, he wants to learn all the time, and I think over the last few weeks you’ve seen the maturity in his play and he’s been outstanding. So he deserves his goal.

“Great ball from Neco, I thought he overhit it so I might have given him a bit of stick when he hit it but it was a fantastic ball in the end. I’m delighted for both of them.”

The impact of Caoimhin Kelleher, making his Champions League debut between the sticks, could not be overlooked either, with the captain describing Jurgen Klopp‘s new No. 2 as “a real plus for us”:

“Unbelievable. Outstanding. Some of the saves he made, important saves, distribution excellent, coming out and commanding his area.

“I thought he was outstanding and a real plus for us.”

Andy Robertson also noted the significance of Kirkby in the Reds’ victory, saying it “doesn’t get much better” than three academy players ensuring the win:

Kelleher himself reflected on a “proud night,” while Williams was pleased with an “assist for the boy”:

Henderson added to his post-match interview by giving “massive credit to the young lads in the side,” and the absent James Milner praised “top performances from the young guns”:

For the rest of the squad, including Gini Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Diogo Jota, the focus was on reaching the last 16 early:

The victory allows Liverpool to sharpen their focus on the Premier League, with a dead-rubber clash with Midtjylland providing Klopp a chance to rotate next week, and the aim will be recapturing top spot in the league.

Wolves are next on Sunday night, and the manager will be hoping for a similarly battling display as Anfield welcomes a number of supporters back for the first time since March.

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Three “shining” graduates ensure Reds “keep finding a way” – Media on Liverpool 1-0 Ajax

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 08:56

The media lauded the displays of the three youngsters in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Ajax and praised the Reds for yet again finding a way to get the job done.

The Reds confirmed a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and as group winners with a battling win at Anfield.

A goal made in the academy took Liverpool through, as Curtis Jones met Neco Williams‘ cross, while Caoimhin Kelleher played his part with some fine saves to keep a clean sheet.

Job done for Liverpool, who now have a valuable dead-rubber fixture against Midtjylland which Jurgen Klopp will be most grateful for in this intense, relentless schedule.

Here’s how the media reacted to the victory.

Reporters reflected on a job well done by Liverpool which creates vital breathing space in the schedule…

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.

The Mirror‘s Mark Jones, among others, assessed it was exactly the night Klopp will have wanted as his team earned some priceless breathing space in securing early qualification:

“And so Klopp has that most rare of commodities this season: breathing space.

[…]

“With the Premier League title race looking like a tight one and Christmas around the corner, it will be a rest he gratefully accepts.”

The Liverpool Echo‘s Paul Gorst praised Klopp’s squad for getting through the group stage with such little fuss:

“Group D has been safely negotiated with little, if not quite minimum, fuss.

“Save for one of the poorest European displays in many a season last week against Atalanta, it’s been plain sailing for Klopp’s side.”

The Telegraph‘s Chris Bascombe applauded Liverpool for continuing to do what’s needed to get through a period in which it has seemed everything has gone against them:

“That was the reward for another resilient rather than majestic Liverpool performance. We expect so much, even with half a team in the hospital wing of their new training facility, but more often than not they keep finding a way.

“The more it seems only injuries can stop them, the more they suggest such setbacks are a hindrance to consistent dazzling football rather than enduring promising results.”

 Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates after scoring the winning goal with team-mate Neco Williams (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0 and qualified for the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Neil Jones, writing for Goal, reflected on a proud night for the academy as the three youngsters stepped up and delivered on the biggest stage:

“This was a wonderful night for Liverpool’s Academy, with three graduates shining under the Anfield spotlight.

[…]

“That’s what the manager needs right now; everyone delivering, from the stars to the subs to the kids.”

The Mirror‘s David Maddock praised Klopp for being brave enough to give the youngsters a chance on such a key night, and the trio for repaying that faith:

“On a night that will make bold Jurgen Klopp proud, he was joined in the Champions League spotlight by two more emerging young stars, as the Reds manager’s huge gamble paid off.

“Klopp was repaid for not only giving Jones another important Champions League role, but also making the bold step of choosing to give 22 year-old Irish keeper Caoimhin Kelleher his first European start in the absence of injured Alisson, instead of going with the safer, more experienced option of usual reserve, Adrian.”

On a proud night for the academy, all three youngsters were praised for their starring roles…

 Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher (R) celebrates with Curtis Jones after the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool wo 1-0 and qualified for the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Neil Jones lauded Jones’ match-winning display and described the 19-year-old’s potential as “limitless”:

Curtis Jones, Scouse to his core, was the match-winner, capping a superb performance with his first European goal in front of the Kop.

“At 19, the young midfielder’s potential looks limitless. He belongs at this level, that’s for sure.”

Mark Jones was not only impressed by Jones’ performance, but also the way in which the upcoming midfielder has “blossomed into a real first-team player”:

“The youngster’s progress has been a refreshing constant during these fluctuating times, and it was he who took the game to Ajax from the off as Liverpool pressed for an early goal.

“He was so unlucky not to get it when his effort from distance struck a post, and the teenager again demonstrated that 2020 has seen him blossom into real first-team player for the Reds, something that his goal – at a crucial time – made clear.”

Maddock thinks it’s now time for Jones to be handed more starts as he looks “completely at home” on the biggest stages:

“But in the midst of a crippling injury crisis he has taken responsibility and command of a place in midfield – and this time grabbed the chance to surely secure a more regular starting place now, with such an impressive display for a teenager.

“In a team still rammed with stars, he looked completely at home alongside Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota, and caused the Dutch visitors a massive headache all evening.”

The Independent‘s Alex Pattle was taken aback by Jones’ supreme confidence and explained how the match-winner has the perfect attitude to succeed under Klopp:

“The 19-year-old’s confidence throughout was promising – not that he’s lacked any in his previous outings for the Reds, but he had the bit between his teeth to make a difference here, not shying away from criticising his more senior team-mates when he felt it was deserved.

“In a game that Liverpool didn’t need to win, the midfielder saw victory as a necessity. That is the sort of attitude that Jurgen Klopp wants from his players. It is an attitude that wins trophies.”

Meanwhile, the Press Association’s Carl Markham reflected on a faultless performance from Kelleher in which the ‘keeper “did not put a foot wrong”:

“The focus had been all been on Caoimhin Kelleher making his competition debut between the posts for Jurgen Klopp’s side because of injury to Alisson Becker but the 22-year-old did not put a foot wrong.”

The Independent‘s Melissa Reddy was particularly impressed with the composure and maturity of the Irishman’s display:

“Bar the big, decisive saves, Kelleher’s composure was pleasing to watch. Against a slick, aggressive side as part of a makeshift defence, he was never flustered.”

 Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Mail‘s Ian Ladyman analysed Kelleher’s match-saving stop from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and explained why it was such an outstanding piece of goalkeeping:

“It looked all over a goal from point-blank range until Kelleher got both hands to the ball and diverted it up and around the post. The second part of that sentence was actually the impressive bit.

“To make the save was one thing but to get the ball away from attackers sniffing the follow-up was probably the most important part of all.”

Neil Jones is in no doubt that Kelleher should keep his place against Wolves and should now be regarded fully as Liverpool’s No. 2:

“He will surely start against Wolves now. Certainly, he looked more assured here than Adrian has when called upon this season.

“Comfortable with the ball at his feet, loud and decisive, this was the night the No.3 goalkeeper wearing the No.62 jersey has become the No. 2. No wonder Klopp headed straight for him at the final whistle.”

 Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp embraces Neco Williams after the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0 and qualified for the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Elsewhere, the Liverpool Echo‘s Ian Doyle singled out Williams, commending the right-back’s mental strength to bounce back with such an assured display:

Neco Williams thoroughly deserved the bearhug he received from Klopp after responding to a difficult week with an increasingly impressive display at right-back.

“The Welshman is clearly made of tough stuff.”

Journalists saw more positive than negatives with the performance as things begin to look up for the Reds…

 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)

Liverpool’s defensive performance was “superb,” in the view of ESPN’s Tom Fenton:

“Defensively, Liverpool were superb. Up against a prolific Ajax attack, the home side remain poised and organised, even as the shots rained down in the closing stages.”

On a similar train of thought, Mark Jones felt it was a night that reminded of the quality of Joel Matip and also the importance of keeping him fit:

“There were widespread concerns when Klopp had to leave Joel Matip out of the weekend trip to Brighton, but his importance to the Reds has long become clear for all to see.

“It was Matip, remember, who was arguably Liverpool’s best central defender in the knockout stages of the run to 2019 Champions League glory, and while his ability to turn in these type of performances has never really been questioned, the fitness required to deliver them has. He simply has to stay fit for Liverpool, but right now he is and he is delivering.”

Fenton highlighted one area for improvement, that being Liverpool’s wastefulness in attack:

“As much as we may associate the Premier League champions with goals, they’ve struggled to put the ball in the back of the net in their past three outings. Wasteful finishing was on display once again tonight, as it took a mistake from the Ajax keeper for Liverpool to be able to take the lead.

“The Reds’ form in front of goal will no doubt return at some point, but of late, Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have all been wasteful in front of goal.”

Elsewhere, Gorst reserved some praise for Klopp, highlighting how brilliantly the German has done to turn the Reds into a side that regularly reaches the latter stages:

“What a transformation it’s been in Europe for the Reds under the current manager. Five years ago, qualification for the competition itself would have been cause for celebration and it looked someway off.

“Now, they contest the last 16 as a matter of routine and have serious designs on becoming champions of Europe every time. With three Champions League final appearances on his CV, including winning it in 2019, Klopp’s tactical acumen at this elite level sometimes goes curiously unspoken outside the confines of the red bubble.”

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LIVE: Liverpool vs. Ajax – Follow the Reds’ Champions League action here

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 19:45

Liverpool host Ajax as the Champions League and a draw or win would see the Reds progress from the group stage. We’re live to bring you the latest.

Kickoff at Anfield is 8pm (UK), the referee is Tobias Stieler (GER).

Chris Williams is running tonight’s blog, get involved by Tweeting @thisisanfield, @Chris78Williams or use the comments section below.

Teams

Liverpool: Kelleher; N.Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Mane, Jota

Subs: Adrian, Jaros, R.Williams, Tsimikas, Cain, Clarkson, Minamino, Origi, Firmino

Ajax: Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; Klaasen, Gravenberch, Alvarez; Neres, Antony, Tadic

Subs: Stekelenburg, Scherpen, Ekkelenkamp, Klaiber, Timber, Labyad, Martinez, Promes, Traore, Huntelaar

Our coverage updates automatically below:

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Alisson “probably” out vs. Wolves also as Klopp confirms hamstring injury

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 19:18

Alisson will “probably” be out for “another week” at the least with a hamstring injury sustained during the draw at Brighton on the weekend.

Rumours had been flying regarding the Brazilian’s availability for the Champions League clash against Ajax after his absence from Monday night training was noted.

And they were in part confirmed with Alisson to miss Tuesday’s game with a hamstring injury, with Jurgen Klopp confirming the news pre-match.

Suggestions had been it was potentially COVID-19 related, but the boss swiftly dismissed them as he confirmed news Reds would dread to hear, with his absence now set to see him miss both the games against Ajax and Wolves, at the very least.

Alisson doesn’t have COVID. He told us after the [Brighton] game he felt it after 60-70 minutes, his hamstring,” Klopp said.

“He’s had a scan, a little one, but enough for today and probably another week. I never knew a hamstring injury that wasn’t 10-14 days.”

If the timeline is somewhat close to what Klopp is suggesting, Alisson could also be in line to miss the meetings with both Midtjylland and Fulham.

 Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Alisson out, Caoimhin Kelleher has been drafted in for his first Champions League appearance and just his fifth in his Liverpool career having been given the nod over Adrian.

It is the second time this season that the Reds will not be able to call upon their No. 1 following on from a shoulder injury which saw him miss three games in October.

It’s a massive blow for Klopp as the defence has already been forced into an upheaval this season and the absence of Alisson sees yet another vocal and experienced head lost to the side within a period where injuries continue to mount.

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Confirmed Liverpool lineup vs. Ajax: Kelleher starts as Alisson misses out

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 18:43

Jurgen Klopp has made five changes as Liverpool look to book their place in the Champions League‘s last 16 with at least a draw at home to Ajax tonight.

The Reds need a win or a draw to ensure progress to the knockout stages of Europe’s top-tier tournament, in their bid to reclaim the European Cup after relinquishing it earlier this year.

Ajax are the opponents, however, with this Tuesday night clash far from a foregone conclusion – Erik ten Hag’s side have scored 31 goals in their last five league games.

Klopp is, as ever, restricted by injuries as he names his side to take to the pitch at Anfield, with Alisson missing out as a precaution due to yet another muscle injury.

Caoimhin Kelleher starts in goal ahead of Adrian, with the Irishman lining up behind Neco Williams, Fabinho, Joel Matip and Andy Robertson in defence.

In midfield, Jordan Henderson is set to take up the No. 6 role, supported by Gini Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota assume their places in attack.

With an increased squad permitted in the Champions League, youngsters Jake Cain and Leighton Clarkson are among those named on the substitutes’ bench.

They are joined by the likes of Roberto Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi.

Liverpool: Kelleher; N.Williams, Fabinho, Matip, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Mane, Jota

Substitutes: Adrian, Jaros, R.Williams, Tsimikas, Cain, Clarkson, Minamino, Origi, Firmino

Ajax: Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; Klaasen, Gravenberch, Alvarez; Neres, Antony, Tadic

Substitutes: Stekelenburg, Scherpen, Ekkelenkamp, Klaiber, Timber, Labyad, Martinez, Promes, Traore, Huntelaar

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Reds race to Anfield half-century under Klopp with equal-best tally on the line

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 07:00

Jurgen Klopp are looking to continue their December success by notching a win over Ajax to equal their best ever tally in the Champions League group stage.

Liverpool have lost one of their last 30 matches played during the month of December and that was the youngsters defeat at Aston Villa in last season’s Carabao Cup.

And the Atalanta defeat was the first time that Liverpool had lost at Anfield by more than one goal under Jurgen Klopp in 137 matches.

A win this evening will see the Reds record a fourth win in the group to equal their best ever tally.

Wanted and Unwanted Records

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring the first goal with team-mate Mohamed Salah (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Atalanta BC and Liverpool FC at the Stadio di Bergamo. (Pic by Simone Arveda/Propaganda)

In the home defeat to Atalanta Liverpool were the first team to name three British teenagers in their starting XI for a Champions League match since Arsenal, who selected four, against Olympiakos in 2009.

The Reds next goal will be their 50th at Anfield in Europe’s major competition under Jurgen Klopp. Mo Salah has netted the most with 13, Roberto Firmino has nine with 14 different Reds players finding the net.

Liverpool last failed to score in back to back Champions League games in the 2014/15 group stage (in a sequence of three).

The last time they did not score in consecutive games in Europe at Anfield was in 2005/06 when they drew 0-0 with Real Betis in the group and lost to Benfica in the Round of 16.

Permutations

 Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker and his team-mates line-up before the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and Atalanta BC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A point from this game will be enough to guarantee Liverpool’s qualification for the knockout stages as should they complete the group level on points with Ajax or Atalanta they would come out on top on the head to head.

Four points from the remaining two fixtures will guarantee that Liverpool will progress as group winners, where they are aiming to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages for the time 10th time.

Dutch Luck

 Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

Liverpool have never lost to Dutch opposition at Anfield, winning five and drawing two out of seven encounters.

The draws came with Ajax (2-2) in 1966 and 0-0 against Utrecht in the 2010/11 Europa League group stage.

Unbeaten in the last 14 games against Dutch opponents since the 5-1 defeat to Ajax in 1965.

Matchday one made it three successive clean sheets against Dutch clubs for the Reds, although they have scored only one goal themselves in those fixtures – and that an own goal.

England fortunes Ajax

AMSTERDAM , 18-10-2020 , JohanCruyff Arena , Dutch Eredivisie, Season 2019-2020 , Ajax - SC Heerenveen , Ajax player Dusan Tadic celebrating the 2-0 (Photo by Pro Shots/Sipa USA)

Ajax have scored at least twice in eight of their last nine away Champions League fixtures and in their last five away games in league and cup this season they have scored 25 times.

In all competitions they have conceded two goals in their last five matches.

They were unbeaten in all three group Champions League games away from home last season.

They also remain unbeaten in the last four visits to England since losing at Aston Villa in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup.

And they remain the only team ever to score more than four goals against Liverpool in a European game. In 1966, they were 4-0 up at half-time and 5-0 up in the 90th minute before winning 5-1.

This Season’s Scorers

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota (L) celebrates with team-mates James Milner (C) and Takumi Minamino (R) after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Liverpool: Salah 10, Jota 9, Mané 5, Minamino 3, Firmino 2, Jones 2, Grujic 1, Origi 1, Robertson 1, Shaqiri 1, van Dijk 1, own goals 2.

Ajax: Tadic 9, Traore 8, Antony 5, Klaassen 5, Labyad 4, Promes 4, Ekkelenkamp 3, Huntelaar 2, Martinez 2, Neres 2, Blind 1, Brobbey 1, Gravenberch 1, Kudus 1, Mazraoui 1.

* Statistics courtesy of LFC statistician Ged Rea (@ged0407).

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Liverpool to play Aston Villa in FA Cup third round

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 19:25

Liverpool have yet again been drawn against a fellow Premier League side in the FA Cup third round and will play away to Aston Villa.

The match will, of course, be talked up as an opportunity to avenge the 7-2 defeat at Villa Park earlier in the Premier League season.

Third-round ties are scheduled to be played across the weekend of Saturday January 9 and Sunday January 10 and, with no replays in this season’s tournament, will be decided by extra-time and penalties where required.

It is the fourth season in a row where Jurgen Klopp‘s side have faced a fellow Premier League side in the FA Cup third round, having played Everton (twice) and Wolves in the previous seasons.

The two seasons before that, they faced Premier League sides in the fourth round (Wolves again, and West Ham).

Liverpool exited the FA Cup at the fifth round last season with a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea – the furthest the club have got in the competition under Jurgen Klopp.

The Reds last won the FA Cup in 2006, under Rafa Benitez’s management.

Full Third Round Draw

Huddersfield Town vs Plymouth Argyle
Southampton vs Shrewsbury
Chorley vs Derby County
Marine vs Tottenham
Wolves vs Crystal Palace
Stockport County vs West Ham
Oldham Athletic vs AFC Bournemouth
Manchester United vs Watford
Stevenage vs Swansea City
Everton vs Rotherham United
Nottingham Forest vs Cardiff City
Arsenal vs Newcastle United
Barnsley vs Tranmere Rovers
Bristol Rovers vs Sheffield United
Canvey Island/Boreham Wood vs Millwall
Blackburn Rovers vs Doncaster Rovers
Stoke City vs Leicester City
Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End
Crawley Town vs Leeds United
Burnley vs MK Dons
Bristol City vs Portsmouth
QPR vs Fulham
Aston Villa vs Liverpool
Brentford vs Middlesbrough
Manchester City vs Birmingham City
Luton Town vs Reading
Chelsea vs Morecambe
Exeter City vs Sheffield Wednesday
Norwich City vs Coventry City
Blackpool vs West Brom
Newport County vs Brighton
Cheltenham Town vs Mansfield Town

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Another chance for Reds to progress in Champions League – Liverpool vs. Ajax Preview

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 19:00

Liverpool host Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday evening, with a draw or win taking them into the competition’s knockout rounds.

Liverpool vs. Ajax

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 – 8pm (GMT)
Anfield
Champions League (5)
Referee: Tobias Stieler (GER)

It hasn’t been an ideal week for the Merseysiders, who have suffered the rare experience of going two matches without a win.

Their 2-0 defeat at home to Atalanta was followed up by a 1-1 draw away to Brighton on Saturday, with late penalty frustration coming Liverpool’s way at the Amex Stadium.

Injuries continue to hamper the Reds’ charge in the Premier League and Champions League, but they still find themselves in a strong position in both competitions.

Ajax head to Anfield in midweek in a rich vein of form, but they face one of the biggest tests in European football.

 Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jurgen Klopp‘s men know that even a draw will guarantee a place in the last-16, and achieving that feat will allow for a weaker team to be used away to Midtjylland next Wednesday.

The reverse fixture in the Netherlands suggests Liverpool will be tested, however, with Nicolas Tagliafico’s own goal the only difference between the two sides.

A stronger team will be played than the one Klopp picked against Atalanta, though, so the hosts are clear favourites going into the game.

Victory doesn’t need to be achieved in pretty fashion – Tuesday is just all about getting the job done.

Team News

 Liverpool's James Milner is treated for an injury during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Liverpool’s injuries keeping racking up, with James Milner the latest player to enter the treatment room.

The 34-year-old picked up a hamstring issue at Brighton, meaning he is likely to be out for an extended period of time.

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are out for many months with knee injuries, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago and Naby Keita are also key absentees.

Klopp is also having to make do without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri, highlighting how unfortunate the Reds have been so far this season.

Jordan Henderson is expected to start, however, with the skipper’s return a huge boost after playing in the second half against Brighton.

 Liverpool’s Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Joel Matip will also hopefully return to the fold after being rested over the weekend, partnering the in-form Fabinho at centre-back.

It will be interesting to see if Klopp starts all four of Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, especially with a lack of midfield options at his disposal.

A 4-2-3-1 formation is possible in that respect, although it may be that the Liverpool boss leaves one of the quartet out, allowing for rotation.

Daley Blind could be out for Ajax with a hamstring injury, while Mohammed Kudus is definitely missing.

The Dutch giants may start exciting young forward Antony, having missed the corresponding clash with the Reds last month.

Ajax

Ajax captain Dusan Tadic believes his side would have performed better than Tottenham against Liverpool in the 2019 Champions League final (Adam Davy/PA)

Since Liverpool left the Johan Cruyff Arena with all three points, their opponents have been in unstoppable form, suggesting Tuesday will be no easy assignment.

Remarkably, Erik ten Hag’s side followed up their defeat to the Reds with a sensational 13-0 win at VVV-Venlo – yes, you read that correctly!

A respectable 2-2 draw away to Atalanta came next in Group D, before Fortuna Sittard were thumped 5-2 in the Eredivisie.

Midtjylland were seen off twice in the Champions League, during which time there have also been comprehensive league wins against Utrecht (0-3), Heracles (5-0) and FC Emmen (0-5).

Did You Know?

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Jota has made a fantastic start to life at Liverpool since joining from Wolves, scoring nine times in just 14 appearances.

To sum up the Portuguese’s brilliance, he has only scored one goal fewer in open play than Salah and Mane combined (10) this season, with the Liverpool duo scoring five apiece.

Salah has scored five penalties on top of that, meaning he is narrowly the Reds’ leading goalscorer this season over Jota.

Having come in as a possible deputy to the front-three, the 23-year-old has to be a regular starter on current form.

Form

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Liverpool – Last five results (all competitions)

Drew 1-1 vs. Brighton
Lost 2-0 vs. Atalanta
Won 3-0 vs. Leicester
Drew 1-1 vs. Man City
Won 5-0 vs. Atalanta

Ajax – Last five results (all competitions)

Won 5-0 vs. FC Emmen
Won 3-1 vs. Midtjylland
Won 5-0 vs. Heracles
Won 3-0 vs. Utrecht
Won 2-1 vs. Midtjylland

Klopp’s View

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Speaking to the press on Monday afternoon, Klopp admitted he expects a big test at Anfield:

“Yeah, why should I not expect a close game? Ajax Amsterdam is a really good side and since our game is flying pretty much through the league.

“Big results, clear top of the table, very talented, some players coming back – these kind of things. Yes, I expect a close game.”

TV & Liveblog Info

 A general view of Anfield from the Spion Kop before the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool vs. Ajax is live in the UK on BT Sport 2, with coverage starting at 7pm (GMT) and kickoff at 8pm.

Chris Williams is tasked with guiding you through the action on This Is Anfield’s matchday live blog, keeping you company from 7.15pm.

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Joel Matip trains but Naby Keita still absent on eve of Liverpool vs. Ajax

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 17:09

Jurgen Klopp oversaw an 18-man outfield squad on Monday night as the Reds put the finishing touches on their preparations for Ajax’s visit, with no signs of Naby Keita.

The Reds host Ajax on Tuesday night in search of a place in the Champions League knockout stages, where a point would be enough to guarantee their spot with a game to spare.

With injuries still to contend with, the boss had a tight-knit group to oversee which did not include James Milner – the latest to sustain a soft-tissue injury in the draw at Brighton.

He was also with Keita, whom the boss had hinted that more would be disclosed on his fitness in his pre-match press conference earlier in the day having been out of action since the win over Leicester with a respective hamstring strain.

And while his absence is a blow, it is a positive sign that he should not be far away from a return to action with midfield options still slim despite Jordan Henderson‘s return.

The captain was one member of an 18-man outfield squad who took to the training pitches at a cold and windy Kirkby on Monday evening, where the sight of Joel Matip was a welcome one.

The centre-back sat out of the weekend’s draw as part of cautious rotation following on from his history of injuries and Liverpool’s centre-back crisis.

And, as expected, there was no sign of Xherdan Shaqiri, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Trent Alexander-Arnold – but the latter is making positive steps and could be back over the next week.

There will be no shortage of forward options, on the other hand, with Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, in addition to Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi all taking to the field.

Youngsters Neco Williams and Rhys Williams were similarly present as they look to seize another opportunity in the absence of key senior players, with the duo having received praise from Klopp earlier in the day.

“They did a lot of really good stuff, helped us enormously, are very important – not only in the moment, but especially in the moment,” the manager said of the pair.

And fellow academy stars Leighton Clarkson and Jake Cain continue their bid to catch the eye as they look to turn a place in the matchday squad into a maiden Champions League appearance.

Liverpool squad training pre-Ajax

 Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Kelleher

Defenders: Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, N. Williams, R. Williams, Tsimikas, Phillips*, Koumetio

Midfielders: Henderson, Wijnaldum, Jones, Cain, Clarkson

Forwards: Salah, Mane, Jota, Origi, Minamino

* Not part of Champions League squad

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Key pillar returns amid midfield dilemma – Predicting Liverpool’s lineup vs. Ajax

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 17:00

Another day, another game for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds and this time it’s for another shot at the knockouts of the Champions League, where the manager has another big decision on his hands.

Liverpool’s hectic schedule continues merely three days after their last outing in the 1-1 draw at Brighton as they welcome Ajax under the lights at Anfield in another all-important clash.

With a considerable injury list to consider it’s another challenge to overcome for the Reds against the free-scoring visitors as they aim to reach the last-16 with one group game to spare.

It will be another juggling act for Klopp and co. across defence and midfield and they will hope the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino have their goalscoring boots on.

Here’s how the Reds could line up against the Dutch side at Anfield.

Team News

[embedded content]

When the going gets tough, the tough get going ought to be the phrase for Liverpool so far this season.

Thankfully, the Reds were boosted by the return of Jordan Henderson in the second-half of the draw at Brighton following on from his enforced absence after the international break.

But, as ever, Klopp had one given back and another taken away with James Milner the next in line for the treatment room after sustaining a hamstring injury after playing three games in six days, leaving the midfield options slim once again.

With the manager confirming Thiago‘s return will not come until after the New Year and Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri still on the comeback trail, it leaves Curtis Jones, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho as the senior options in the middle of the park.

The latter could be drafted in from his station in defence to assist in rotation, with Joel Matip expected to return straight to the fold after being carefully managed over the weekend.

The match will also come too soon for Trent Alexander-Arnold, but the right-back is making positive steps forward and could return within the week.

Liverpool’s XI vs. Ajax

 Liverpool’s Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

All eyes will be on the defence and midfield as rotation and availability come into play for this one and while Neco Williams struggled to find his feet at Brighton, another opportunity is to come his way.

The 19-year-old is set to be joined by Matip after he was wisely rested last time out, where he could then be joined by Fabinho to help continue to solidify their partnership alongside Andy Robertson.

It leaves experienced options across the next line slim and Wijnaldum could be made to turn out once more alongside Henderson and Curtis Jones with the pair having only come on in the second 45 on the south coast.

They will inject some fresh legs into proceedings and a forward line of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane could be used to create a solid early foundation – with the No. 10 having only played 26 minutes on Saturday.

A strong lineup which would then allow Klopp to utilise all five substitutes available to him with greater effect:

Alisson; N. Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Firmino, Mane

On the other hand, the desire to rest Wijnaldum could win out as he has played the second-most minutes of any other Red so far this season, including 240 minutes from the last three games.

It could see Fabinho make a somewhat unexpected return to midfield alongside the captain, which would then pave the way for Rhys Williams to partner Matip at centre-back.

Adding experience ahead of the defensive line would certainly be handy against an Ajax outfit who have scored 31 goals in their five league games since they last played the Reds.

This would then provide the chance to lineup in a 4-2-3-1 system to enable Diogo Jota to join the usual front three and help ensure the result is put beyond doubt, with the likes of Jones, Minamino, Tsimikas and Origi available from the bench:

Alisson; N. Williams, Matip, R. Williams, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho; Jota, Mane, Firmino; Salah

The personnel available certainly makes for an interesting team selection for Klopp but it would not be a surprise to see a strong XI with the aim of tying the game up as swiftly and effectively as possible.

While Liverpool certainly like to do things the hard way, being able to rest easy ahead of the final group game at Midtjylland would come as a major source of relief and offer a slight reprieve within the unforgiving schedule.

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Watch Jurgen Klopp’s pre-match press conference – Liverpool vs. Ajax

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 15:18

Jurgen Klopp is expecting a “close game” against Ajax on Tuesday night as his side look to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

[embedded content]

It is the second opportunity to secure passage into the knockouts for Liverpool after they stumbled against Atalanta last time out.

But having started with three successive victories, including a 1-0 win at Ajax, a draw on Tuesday evening would be enough to progress from Group D with a game to spare.

The Dutch side are not to make it easy, however, as a victory at Anfield would push them ahead of the Reds and after a run of 31 goals in five league games since they last played Liverpool.

“Yeah, why should I not expect a close game? Ajax Amsterdam is a really good side and since our game is flying pretty much through the league,” Klopp told the media on Monday.

“Big results, clear top of the table, very talented, some players coming back – these kind of things. Yes, I expect a close game.”

And while a win against Atlanta would have enabled Klopp greater freedom in his team selection amid what is a congested fixture list, he simply cannot afford to think similarly this time around with points still very much on the table.

“I actually don’t see it in that perspective because that would mean I count somehow with the points already,” the boss added.

“We deal with the situation like how the situation is. Yes, three points would be great, absolutely great. But that is obviously on the table, so clear that it would help us massively.

“I didn’t think I would have to mention it today. But yes, of course, important game against a really good team and that’s the way we want to approach it.”

There was also an update on Thiago, who is not expected to feature until after the New Year, while there was better news on Trent Alexander-Arnold who could be back to face either Wolves or Midtjylland over the next week.

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Liverpool head into make or break run as VAR shows clear and obvious lack of common-sense

Sun, 11/29/2020 - 15:00

Football seems insistent upon eating itself; in search for the perfect sense of cleanliness and transparency, it is however slowly strangling everything that makes it so beautiful.

A couple of weeks ago, Scotland won themselves a place at Euro 2020 (2021), via a penalty shootout success, in Belgrade against Serbia.

When their goalkeeper, David Marshall made the decisive stop there was a pregnant pause prior to his celebrations as he awaited the official thumbs up from the referee that his save was a technically legitimate one.

This created a bizarre subsection of its own, when the television presenter on duty declared the images of Marshall, waiting for confirmation that Scotland had finally ended their 22-year exile from major international tournaments, were ‘iconic’.

That’s a goalkeeper, basically pleading that the greatest moment of his career has been allowed to stand; that’s a goalkeeper, locked in a period of stasis, waiting to see if the surge of ecstasy building inside should be unhealthily pushed back down or permitted to erupt. Iconic?

I’m not against VAR. I’m happy for it to be used. What I do take exception to is the complete lack of consistency in its application; what I do take exception to is the abuse of the ‘clear and obvious error’ system. Essentially, what I’m most against is the lack of adherence to plain and simple common-sense.

 Referee Stuart Atwell looks at the VAR monitor before awarding Brighton & Hove Albion a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

A referee sees nothing wrong with an injury-time challenge for the ball in the penalty area, an ‘incident’ from which no Brighton player makes a serious claim of wrongdoing, an incident that the match commentator fails to translate as being particularly contentious.

From a word in the referee’s ear, he is told to take a second look utilising slow motion. Under this microscope, he then awards a penalty that takes two valuable points from the possession of the defending team.

There is the side of the argument to say that by the letter of the law, it was a valid penalty. Contact was made by Andy Robertson and Danny Welbeck fell to the turf as a bit of an afterthought.

Was it within the spirit of football though?

Fine lines and all that. Robertson took a swing for a ball that his trajectory was set to meet, only for it to be subtly deflected away instead marginally catching the other player. The type of incident that happens thousands of time a season.

 Liverpool's James Milner during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Liverpool FC Under-23's and Manchester City FC Under-23's at the Liverpool Academy. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While the gift was gratefully accepted, even a significant amount of Brighton’s players put their hands up to agree that it was never a penalty – despite overall, them probably deserving something out of the game.

If a set of players are freely confessing that the means of how they obtained a deserved point was suspect, then somebody should really be taking notes.

Football always suffers when common-sense is put into deep storage.

The concept of VAR is fine. If a blatant injustice can be remedied in a game then that’s fantastic. You know, something like Jordan Pickford’s challenge on Virgil van Dijk would be the perfect example here of an incident missed that was clear and obvious…

Again, I was all for the concept of referees going to the side of the pitch to view contentious incidents yet only to assess them in ‘real-time’.

On one hand, officials bristle when it is suggested that football is now being re-refereed yet if they need more than 30 seconds to make or overturn a decision, using multiple angles in slow motion, then how is that incident a clear and obvious mistake?

 Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the second goal, but again it is ruled out after a VAR review, during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Liverpool FC Under-23's and Manchester City FC Under-23's at the Liverpool Academy. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of the two goals we had disallowed, a quick glance at Sadio Mane’s is enough for the naked eye to spot that he’s offside, while Mohamed Salah’s isn’t. Taking set squares to football to pick up on rouge armpits or badges isn’t in the spirit of clear and obvious.

Geometry and slow-motion being used is more contentious than most of the incidents being analysed. A playful push of a loving parent to an adored child can look like actual bodily harm when viewed in slow motion.

Beyond this, much was made of Jurgen Klopp’s outburst at BT Sport’s Des Kelly after the game. I quite like Kelly, who despite being a Manchester United supporter, is one of the most balanced touchline reporters out there, yet his first question amounted to “so Jurgen, how pissed off are you?”

For an already frustrated Liverpool manager, it was a fuse lighting moment.

Argument and counterarguments will always be made about the ferocity of the fixture list, but in a common-sense approach, no team would be playing twice in under 72 hours.

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Back on the pitch, Brighton could have been 2-0 up before we had our first disallowed goal chalked off. A wasted one-on-one and a poorly taken penalty should have given us a mountain to climb on Saturday afternoon.

Diogo Jota scored another fine goal, threaded in beautifully, although I’m not sure I’m on for shushing an empty stadium as part of a celebration.

James Milner is the latest victim to injury. His versatility is massively crucial right now, and we’re suddenly edging toward a situation where Fabinho might need to cover right-back.

On to the next one we go for the visit of Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday night. A game that will take place over 72 hours after the previous one.

December is about to begin and it might just make or break us.

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Jordan Henderson acknowledges Liverpool’s ‘need to adapt’ after Brighton draw

Sun, 11/29/2020 - 13:30

Jordan Henderson insists Liverpool “need to adapt” after a stoppage-time Brighton penalty ensured the Premier League champions were held to a 1-1 draw on the south coast.

Pascal Gross levelled from the spot in stoppage time, cancelling out Diogo Jota’s goal in a match which was marked by controversy over VAR.

Neal Maupay had already missed one penalty for Brighton when referee Stuart Atwell pointed to the spot after consulting the pitchside monitor, while Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net twice only for VAR to rule out both goals for offside.

“It feels very unfair at this moment in time and very frustrating, but you’ve got to move on and get on with it,” the Liverpool captain told the club website.

“We just need to adapt and give everything for the games coming up.

“That’s the decision that was made, even though I don’t think it was the right decision by a long way. But it is what it is. We move on and we keep going.

 Referee Stuart Atwell looks at the VAR monitor before awarding Brighton & Hove Albion a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

“I don’t think it affects us. If anything it makes us stronger as a team.

“When you are going through difficult periods – whether that would be performance, results, whatever that is and at this moment in time it’s probably injuries – it makes the group even more together and more stronger.

“We need to try to recover and get players back fit as soon as possible.”

Jurgen Klopp’s already injury-hit squad were dealt a further blow when James Milner was forced off with a hamstring injury, although Henderson made his return for the first time since the international break as a half-time substitute.

Brighton defender Adam Webster believes the results will come if the Seagulls can maintain the performance they showed against Liverpool.

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Speaking to the club website, the 25-year-old said: “This season it feels that in a lot of games we haven’t conceded many shots and Maty Ryan has not had a lot to do.

“Liverpool are the champions for a reason but we limited them pretty well on Saturday.

“We feel like we are building something. Each game throws up different challenges and it’s not easy to pick up points in the Premier League but if we maintain the consistency of performances, the results will come.”

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Koumetio features but Liverpool U23s lament costly errors in heavy Man City defeat

Sun, 11/29/2020 - 13:00

Liverpool under-23s were on the end of a heavy 7-2 defeat in an error-riddled performance against Man City on Saturday afternoon.

Liverpool U23s 2-7 Man City U23s

Premier League 2, Kirkby
November 28, 2020

Goals: Morton 49’, Clayton 57’; Palmer 20’, 31’, Bernabe 25’, Delap 51’, 70’, Knight 78’, Doyle 85’

Barry Lewtas’ side headed into Saturday’s fixture with the opportunity to cement their place at the top of the Premier League 2 table following on from a four-game unbeaten run in the league.

They were coming up against a Man City side breathing down the back of their necks, despite having a game in hand, and despite being on home soil they were convincingly beaten.

A first start for the U23s came the way of Owen Beck at left-back, fresh of a new deal with the club, while Billy Koumetio took his place in the heart of the defence and Leighton Clarkson was in the starting XI fresh off the back of a place on the bench in the Champions League in midweek.

And while the prolific Layton Stewart had an early sight of goal, which was parried away, the young Reds would be punished for their carelessness at the back.

Koumetio was dispossessed in front of his own goal to leave Caoimhin Kelleher with little chance to deny Cole Palmer at the 20-minute mark before City doubled their lead five minutes later after Adrian Bernabe latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area.

Two would soon become three as Palmer netted his second after finding the ball at his feet following a solid save from Kelleher in the moments prior in what was a busy half for Jurgen Klopp’s third-choice goalkeeper.

Half time: Liverpool U23s 0-3 Man City U23s

 Manchester City's Tommy Doyle (#8) scores the seventh goal from a free-kick inside the Liverpool penalty area during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Liverpool FC Under-23's and Manchester City FC Under-23's at the Liverpool Academy. Manchester City won 7-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds started on the front foot after the interval and gave themselves a glimmer of hope having pegged a goal back after Tyler Morton tucked away the rebound from Liam Millar’s initial shot.

It was to be the first of six goals in the second half, four of which went the way of City – with Clayton netting his third of the season for the U23s and the Reds’ second goal of the afternoon to make it 4-2 in the 57th minute.

And while Kelleher did his best amid an onslaught after a series of errors from Lewtas’ side in possession, he was unable to stop City as they piled on a further three goals to inflict a 7-2 defeat – the last of which was from an indirect free-kick beyond a wall of 11 Reds merely yards away from goal.

The result leaves Lewtas’ side on 16 points after nine games, enough to hold on to top spot as Man City, Chelsea and Blackburn all have a game in hand – the latter of whom is next up for the young Reds.

Liverpool U23s: Kelleher; Bradley, Savage, Koumetio (Sharif 72’), Beck; Clayton, Clarkson, Morton; Stewart (O’Rourke 75’), Millar, Longstaff

Subs not used: Orzynski, Norris, Larouci

Next Match: Blackburn (H) – Premier League 2 – Saturday, December 12, 1pm (GMT)

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Positives, concerns and decisions ahead – 5 talking points from Brighton 1-1 Liverpool

Sat, 11/28/2020 - 19:43

Liverpool returned to Premier League action against Brighton on Saturday and were frustrated once more by VAR calls in an eventual 1-1 draw.

Brighton 1-1 Liverpool

Premier League, Amex Stadium
28 November 2020

Goals: Gross pen 90+2′; Jota 59′.

Defensive merry-go-round costing chances

 Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

It’s not a surprise, but it certainly was a problem.

After 16 games, the Reds have had 11 different pairings at centre-back, plus there have been weekly changes at full-back, the midfield protection has had a rotating cast and we even had a goalkeeper injury earlier in the campaign.

With so little consistency and cohesion, it’s very difficult to keep a regular line, play the usual high offside approach, stay covered against runners in behind and generally be as solid as usual.

Brighton got in behind over and over in the first half with simple, direct balls over the top to a well-timed run.

The best way to avoid that was to keep hold of the ball far better, far higher up the pitch, and that’s certainly the approach Klopp demanded for the second half.

Hendo back in action

 Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Half the game gone and we called on the skipper.

After only a session or two with the team in training this week he clearly wasn’t quite ready for the full 90, but bringing back a very familiar face was crucial to regaining control of this game.

With Jordan Henderson on the pitch, Gini Wijnaldum pushed on a little more – it was interesting to see that switch after the No. 5 had filled in as the six every game recently – and a more dominant midfield ensued.

The Amex was, of course, where Hendo got injured last season, putting the trophy lift dance at risk, and he’s had a number of knocks and strains since then.

Hopefully this return to action on the same ground is the start of a much longer, much less-interrupted spell of games for him.

Taki, Neco, Nat

 Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by Propaganda)

Rather than assess their performances here, perhaps it’s more value to suggest what Klopp needs to see from each to get them into the side more regularly – on the evidence of this 90 minutes, there’s a bit of a list.

Taki was out of his usual role, but we still could have expected to see better use of the ball from him, being quicker on the turn and making little runs off the forward players.

He won’t ever be expected to be a creative, playmaking schemer, but the speed of transition is what makes him dangerous and able to open teams.

As for Williams, we’ve seen scant evidence of his aggressive final-third game which made him a stand-out in the cups last season, dangerous deliveries and tackling high upfield to support the attack.

Added to that, defensive mistakes have been seen too often, losing possession and of course the poor challenge here for the penalty. Consistency is everything to get into this team and he is lacking that at present, as is frequent for youngsters trying to step up.

Phillips is in a different situation and he probably is doing as much as he can right now.

This is an unexpected window of a few months for him and it’s hard to argue that he’s not making the most of it.

Jota’s golden touch

 Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Salah buried his one finish before VAR did its usual trick of frustrating Reds everywhere, so it was left to Diogo Jota to once more find a route to goal.

The Portuguese forward had, in all honesty, a shocker of a first half – losing possession easily, misplacing passes, not finding Salah for a clear shot with a straight-forward ball across the area.

But he made up for all that with a brilliant solo run and finish, opening up Brighton’s entire defence with some close control and the only notable effort on target in the whole match – the other being Minamino’s tame outside-of-the-boot strike.

This was far from Jota’s, or Liverpool’s, best attacking display – but he still found a way to keep up that great strike rate, which is both pleasing to see and enormously important.

Decisions for midweek

 Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Let’s ignore VAR for today – the penalties can’t be argued with, Mane was offside and Mo… well, there’s a debate on the defender’s “line” perhaps, but it isn’t going to change a thing.

The bigger questions lie over the midweek challenge against Ajax and our need to find a win: who plays right-back? Which midfield combination will provide a supply line? Which of the forwards can come out or be the biggest threat? Just how many kids are going to be in that squad?

James Milner is a massive loss, because of his versatility as well as his influence, but it’s not a shock given his recent game load.

Klopp has more magic to work.

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“I just want to play football as normal” – Jordan Henderson not an advocate for VAR

Sat, 11/28/2020 - 19:42

Jordan Henderson admitted he would rather play without VAR after it once again became the talking point from Liverpool’s draw at Brighton.

The use of VAR in the Premier League has been a constant source of debate and conjecture, with its use often emerging as a talking point each weekend – and not as a positive.

Arguably, the technology is not to blame, rather the referees who oversee it and apply the rules – with slow-motion replays and the confusion over ‘clear and obvious’ the major bugbear for many.

And on Saturday, Liverpool were once again thrust into the VAR spotlight after a penalty was awarded to the Seagulls in stoppage time after referee Stuart Attwell consulted the pitch-side monitor.

In real-time viewing, he didn’t give Andy Robertson‘s challenge on Danny Welbeck a second glance until he was asked to review the footage – and from there the decision seemed inevitable.

Both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane had goals chalked off for offside, the latter more obvious than the former, and while the captain was careful in his selection of words as to not be punished, he gave his view on the use of VAR.

“I can’t really speak about it because I’ll get myself in trouble,” Henderson told BBC Sport. “If they’re offside, you do the line thing, then what can you do?

 Referee Stuart Atwell looks at the VAR monitor before awarding Brighton & Hove Albion a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

“The third one, I don’t know, it’s not a penalty. You can think I’m biased but if you ask four or five or their lads they will say the same thing. They said it walking off the pitch.

“You feel as though there are a lot of decisions that go against you but that decision for me today is baffling.

“I don’t want to speak for anybody else but in my opinion, I would [want to see it go],” he continued. “I just want to play football as normal.

“I saw Kevin De Bruyne saying in an interview they have changed so many rules we don’t know what they are anymore. That for me is a big problem.

“We are talking about instances all the time and not the football. In my opinion, I would rather play without it, yeah.”

It’s “clear and obvious” we need a serious discussion about VAR. Sure I’m not alone in feeling like they are falling out of love with the game in its current state. pic.twitter.com/5FGgLtqbHs

James Milner (@JamesMilner) November 28, 2020

It’s a feeling no doubt shared among fans, with its application largely inconsistent, while also robbing the instantaneous reaction from supporters.

And the fact that it is consistently a major talking point for players, fans and pundits alike speaks volumes.

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