Following a dismal display, losing 4–1 to Napoli in their opening Champions League group game, Liverpool needed to bounce back strongly. And they did just that, winning 2-1 against a confident and in-form Ajax side who lead the Eredivise, and beat Rangers in their opening game.
Although Ajax defended well, and created chances of their own, Liverpool dominated proceedings, with 24 shots to Ajax’s 3, whilst also controlling the tempo of the game, largely through midfielder Thiago.
And an interesting recurrence in Liverpool creating chances that led to chances, was the expected attacks from the flanks, notably down their right-side.
Liverpool’s right-side against Ajax’s left was often the focus of in-game situations, especially during the first-half. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harvey Elliott, and Mohamed Salah targeted spaces in between the lines, and in behind the Ajax defence.
Salah would make use of the space left in behind, and this led to the first goal of the game.
Goalkeeper Alisson sent out a long-distance pass into Ajax’s half, towards wide forward Luis Diaz. Luis Diaz ran onto the ball, and knocked it down into the path of centre-forward Diogo Jota, but only after right-back Devyne Rensch dropped further out wide, allowing Diaz extra room when running onto the ball.
This arguably had a trickle effect, as centre-back Jurrien Timber then shifted further to the right, which then gave Jota more space to move into when having received the ball.
And as Timber shifted out of position, so did fellow centre-back Calvin Bassey. With Bassey now also drawn closer to the side where possession lied, Salah had more room to make a run in behind the defensive line.
Salah’s chances of meeting the ball and converting a chance were added to by left-back Daley Blind also being out of position. Jota was able to feed the ball through to Salah, who had continued marauding towards the penalty-area.
Blind has never been blessed with raw speed, and failed to catch up to Salah, whilst Bassey was out of position by the time the pass was played.
Salah duly converted to hand Liverpool the initial one-goal lead.
What Blind has lacked in speed, he has always made up for with a good range of passes. And Ajax’s equaliser ten minutes after Liverpool’s first was set up by a good through ball from Blind.
Midfielder Edson Alvarez passed to Blind, who was in space on the left. Liverpool’s defensive line was also notably high.
Steven Berghuis made a run ahead of Alexander-Arnold, which Blind quickly fed with a through ball down the flank.
Liverpool’s right-back did not track the run, with Joel Matip habing to shift across to cover the space against Berghuis. Berghuis cut the ball back to Steven Bergwijn, who then set up Mohammed Kudus…
Who finished emphatically into the roof of the net.
For both of the games first two goals, full-backs on the same side of the pitch were caught out of position. Blind did, however, catch up with a run into the box from Salah during an attack shortly after. It was another attack starting on the left and finishing on the right, and Jota’s delivery was low and hard, aiming to meet Salah’s diagonal run at the far post, but Blind did well to intercept.
Matip was very good in terms of bringing the ball out from the back and into midfield, driving play forward. Matip, up against Ajax’s mid-block, threaded a pass through that block towards Diaz.
Diaz laid the ball off to Alexander-Arnold, who was now infield, with Salah maintaining the width on the right side. The right-back forced a double save.
The second-half oversaw more dominance from Liverpool. They created more chances, and as the game progressed, grew even more attack-minded, as shown by their choice of substitutions.
But Ajax very nearly took the lead for the first time in the match with 74 minutes gone.
With Liverpool again deploying a high press, both Dusan Tadic and Blind were in space on either side of the pitch. A switch was made from midfield to Tadic on the right.
Tadic carried the ball forward on that side, whilst Blind, unmarked, darted into the penalty-area. Both Konstantinos Tsimikas and, Alexander-Arnold were caught out, and had to race back to cover.
Tadic played a well-weighted cross beyond the line of defence inside the box, for Blind to header narrowly wide.
Liverpool would eventually score late on via Matip to seal their first three points in Europe this season, but the game did show both sides looking to exploit spaces in the wide areas. It was a performance from Liverpool that would be expected of them.