Liverpool edge past Ajax to show they can cope without Van Dijk

Keeping a clean-sheet for just the third time this season was a big lift for Liverpool. (AP)
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Updated 22 October 2020

Liverpool edge past Ajax to show they can cope without Van Dijk

AMSTERDAM: Liverpool proved they can cope without Virgil van Dijk as Nicolas Tagliafico’s own goal sealed a 1-0 win at Ajax in the opening game of their Champions League campaign on Wednesday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are likely to be without Van Dijk for the rest of the season after the influential Dutch center-back suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage against Everton last weekend.
Critics have claimed Liverpool will struggle without Van Dijk, but Brazilian midfielder Fabinho filled in impressively alongside Joe Gomez at the heart of the defense.
While Liverpool weren’t at their best and rode their luck at times, never more so than when Tagliafico diverted Sadio Mane’s scuffed effort into his own net in the first half, it was an encouraging Group D opener for Klopp.
There was enough spirit about the 2019 Champions League winners to suggest they will use the Van Dijk blow to fuel their Premier League title defense and European challenge.
Van Dijk will need knee surgery after being pole-axed by Everton keeper Jordan Pickford’s ugly foul and his injury came at a time when Liverpool looked vulnerable after losing 7-2 at Aston Villa before the international break.
Against that backdrop, keeping a clean-sheet for just the third time this season was a big lift for Liverpool, who won for the first time in three games despite also being without defender Joel Matip and midfielder Thiago Alcantara after the brutal Merseyside derby.
Liverpool were playing Ajax in Amsterdam for the first time since losing to the great Johan Cruyff’s side in the 1966 European Cup.
As the only fit center-back, Gomez was under the spotlight and the 23-year-old provided an early scare when he got in a muddle with Liverpool keeper Adrian over a backpass.
Ajax couldn’t take advantage on that occasion, but Liverpool found it hard to establish any momentum.
Their makeshift defense was easily carved open when Quincy Promes advanced down the left and found Dusan Tadic, who set up Ryan Gravenberch for a fierce strike that flashed just wide.
There was another major scare moments later as David Neres’ pass found the unmarked Promes six yards from goal, but he shot straight at Adrian to let Liverpool off the hook.
Making the most of that escape, Liverpool took the lead in bizarre fashion in the 35th minute.
Mane eluded Perr Schuurs as he broke into the Ajax area but when the Senegal forward went to shoot, he stubbed his foot into the turf, sending a miscued effort toward Tagliafico, who lost his balance and prodded the ball into his own net under no pressure.
Klopp has been fostering a siege mentality among his players since the Everton game and their backs to the wall spirit was on full display when Fabinho raced back to clear Tadic’s lob off the line with a superb overhead kick.
Van Dijk couldn’t have done it better himself, but while Fabinho was impressing, Ajax still carried a threat.
Taking aim from the edge of the area, Davy Klaassen smashed a fierce strike off the far post in the first minute of the second half.
Ajax went close again when Noussair Mazraoui took a Neres cutback and forced Adrian into a fine save.
Klopp responded to their lethargy by taking off Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Mane, with the latter needing ice on his right leg as he sat on the bench.
Takumi Minamino, one of Klopp’s substitutes, nearly had an instant impact when his shot was almost spilled into the net by Andre Onana.
Jurgen Ekkelenkamp almost snatched a late equalizer after a mistake from Adrian, but Liverpool held their nerve to provide a morale-boosting start to life without Van Dijk.

Liverpool frustrated by VAR as Brighton snatch late equalizer

Updated 49 min 59 sec ago

Liverpool frustrated by VAR as Brighton snatch late equalizer

  • Jurgen Klopp's side suffer late blow as Pascal Gross coolly converts late penalty

BRIGHTON: Jurgen Klopp launched into a furious tirade about Liverpool’s fixture schedule after Pascal Gross’s controversial late penalty rescued a dramatic 1-1 draw for Brighton at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Klopp’s side took the lead through Diogo Jota’s second half strike after Brighton’s Neal Maupay had missed a penalty in the first half.

But Liverpool were stunned in stoppage time when Andrew Robertson’s challenge on Danny Welbeck was ruled a penalty after Stuart Attwell used VAR to overturn his initial decision.

Gross converted from the spot, leaving Klopp sarcastically applauding the officials at the end of a disappointing week for Liverpool after their shock Champions League defeat at home to Atalanta.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson claimed Welbeck told him it was not a penalty, but Klopp would not take the bait when asked if he disagreed with the decision.

“You try to create again, on my cost, a headline, because that’s how it is. If I say now it was not ... the ref whistled it,” Klopp said in a fractious exchange with a BT Sport interviewer.

“Don’t look like this, you try, always, all the time. Today I say it was a penalty, you are not happy with that answer, so keep your answers to yourself.”

Liverpool went back to the top of the table as a result of their draw, but the champions are just one point ahead of previous leaders Tottenham.

Tottenham would regain pole position if they avoid defeat at Chelsea on Sunday, while the Blues will go top if they win the London derby.

It was one of those days for Liverpool, who also saw goals correctly disallowed by VAR for offside against Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

There was more bad news for injury-ravaged Liverpool as James Milner was forced off in the second half.

Milner’s injury provoked Klopp’s rant during his post-match interview as he repeated his recent complaints about Liverpool featuring in the early Saturday match after playing in the Champions League just three days earlier.

Asked if Milner had a hamstring problem, Klopp took aim at television schedulers and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder, who has criticized his counterpart over his desire to allow five substitutions instead of the current three.

“Yeah, congratulations. You work for them yeah? Hamstring, surprise, and Brighton had injuries but ask Chris Wilder how we can avoid that,” Klopp said.

“I don’t know how often I have to say it, you picked the 12:30, not you personally, but you did it, us on 12:30, between now and December and New Year, one more Wednesday.

“I’ve not had a go at the broadcaster, I just say how it is. After Wednesday, Saturday 12:30 is really dangerous for the players.

“When we had a talk between managers, a week ago, it was 55, if not 60 (percent) for five subs. Since then nothing happened.

“Chris Wilder or whoever says constantly that I am selfish. I think all the things that shows is that he’s selfish.

“I was in a similar situation when I worked at Mainz and it was all about staying in the league, but they (Sheffield United) have three subs and one point if I am right.”

It was a tough day for Klopp, who saw Aaron Connolly tripped by Neco Williams in the 20th minute.

Maupay stepped up to take the spot kick, but his side-foot effort went wide despite Alisson Becker diving the wrong way.

In the 60th minute, Robertson found Salah and his pass teed up Jota to drill into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

Liverpool were seconds away from three points when Robertson went to clear in his own area as Welbeck closed in.

Robertson’s foot made contact with Welbeck, but there were few appeals from Brighton before Attwell awarded a contentious penalty after consulting the pitchside monitor.

With Maupay off the pitch, Gross took this one and fired down the middle to salvage an unexpected point.