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Caoimhin Kelleher save helps Liverpool overcome Ajax and claim place in Champions League last 16

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If Jurgen Klopp had been informed a goalkeeping calamity was critical to Liverpool’s Champions League hopes, he might have thought he’d read that script before.

Adrian last season, Loris Karius two years earlier. When Alisson was ruled out against Ajax in the must-not-lose game the possibility of a re-run seemed more likely.

Instead, Klopp was sprinting towards 22-year-old deputy Caoimhin Kelleher at full-time, delivering the customary and in the case symbolic managerial hug. Kelleher’s 88th minute save to deny Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ensured Liverpool progressed as group winners with a game to spare.

At the other end, Ajax’s keeper Andre Onana cut a forlorn fixture. Onana’s 58th minute error was decisive, allowing teenager Curtis Jones to nudge the winning goal into an empty net after an horrific misjudgement.  

One hopes Liverpool’s new training ground is suitably fitted with a hospital wing given the ever-expanding list of casualties.

Curtis Jones scored the game's only goal with a smart finish, profiting from a goalkeeping blunder Credit: AFP

Alisson Becker was the latest to check-in, his hamstring injury adding to the jeopardy of a Champions League group from which qualification looked a near-formality a few weeks ago.

If a dire performance against Atalanta last Wednesday opened up the possibilities for those previously chasing a runners-up place, Liverpool know from bitter recent experience what the absence of their number one can do in Europe.

It was the Brazilian’s absence in last year’s round of sixteen against Atletico Madrid which effectively cost Liverpool a chance to defend their Champions League title.

Given how much football he has already missed in the last 12 months, it is unlikely his latest setback - which is also expected to keep him out against Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend - can be attributed to being overworked.

Klopp called upon youngster Caoimhin Kelleher rather than Adrian. Whether that is a sign of new-found seniority or because Adrian is needed in the Premier League remains to be seen.

At least Klopp could call upon more senior figures higher up the pitch, although it was teenager Curtis Jones who was most eye-catching in the early moments.

Jones struck directly at Andre Onana after two minutes as Ajax defender Perr Schuurs demonstrated early nerves, the sirens blurring every time he felt the breath of Sadio Mane on his shoulder.

Schuurs’ lame header presented the chance for Jones, who was closer with a near-identical attempt three minutes later. On that occasion he rattled the bar from 20 yards.

Having failed a shot on target against Atalanta, this promised a more familiar Anfield European performance.

Ajax, though, are rather like a Pep Guardiola-lite set-up, full of the intricacies and six yard passing triangles working from back to front without the same fiery finish in the final third. At one point in the first half they enjoyed 67 percent possession, which even accounting for their uncompromising desire to play from the back was intolerable from a Liverpool perspective.

A full steam Liverpool would never have allowed them so much time to work into positions, so they were thankful on several occasions that the visitors’ cutting edge was absent.

It was still a worry that Davy Klaassen - a figure of ridicule on Merseyside after an insipid spell at Everton - kept on locating the kind of space which would have been impossible if he was still in royal blue.

Klaassen almost connected with a couple of headers at The Kop end as Ajax echoed the growing confidence Atalanta enjoyed last week throughout the first half. His best chance came earlier in the second when he found the side-netting from close range from David Neres’ cross.

Ajax are more vulnerable in defence than the Italians, though. Mane, Jota and Salah always looked capable of bursting through with the right combination.

When Schuurs hacked down Mane as the Senegal striker looked to speed clear on 42 minutes, the defender was fortunate German referee Tobias Stieler saw fit only to show a yellow card. Mane would surely have gone through for a one-on-one with goalkeeper Onana.

A tale of two keepers: Caoimhin Kelleher kept his side in it, Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana was at fault for the goal Credit: PA

Neco Williams was then cursing his own teammate, Salah, for running in his way as he teed up a volley from Mane’s cross.

Then came the critical sixty seconds, Kelleher saving from Noussair Mazraoui and Neres striking the outside of the post from the rebound.

Liverpool responded to the scare by taking the lead courtesy of Onana’s generosity, embarrassingly misjudging Williams’ cross so Jones could finish, unnoticed at the back post. A gift.

Although Onana made some amends with a brilliant save to deny Roberto Firmino a second, having lost the first game to an own goal by Nicolas Tagliafico, Ajax will look upon these games with regret.  

These have been scratchy Liverpool performances. The circumstances dictate that, but Klopp knows it will take more than discipline, organisation and resilience if he is to get his hands on the club’s seventh European Cup. All that helps, but Klopp will hope he has more players - and more fluidity - when the knockout phase comes around.

9:57PM Liverpool win the group

Ajax and Atalanta will duke it out next week for the other spot. I will get to the match report right away, but will add in any fun Klopp quotes here.

9:53PM FULL TIME: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0

That is it. Klopp over to young Caoimhin Kelleher for a big hug at the end. That is a good win for a depleted Liverpool. Ajax probably deserved something out of the game.

9:52PM 90+ mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0               

Mane into the book for a rugby style hand off in the face of an opponent.

Four minutes will be added.

9:51PM 90 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0              

Ball into the box, a real teeth rattler, and there's Caoimhin Kelleher claiming that commandingly once again.

9:49PM 89 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0             

Huntelaar comes on and meets a cross with a mighty header. A super stop from Kelleher there - wonderful reactions from point blank, and that's great to see the rookie pull that off. I am sure that will do him a massive boost, if there are to be further opportunities.

9:47PM 87 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0            

Salah with a trademark run into the box, that mixture of explosive power and lovely glide, but cannot find a shot to match. As a mover, he must be as good as the game has seen. So strong, so graceful. Original Ronaldo and Stan Collymore two other powerful forwards who had the blend.

9:42PM 83 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0           

Ah, wonderful football, from both sides. Great move from Liverpool, the mighty Firmino is free and does everything right. BRILLIANT save from the young Ajax keeper.

9:42PM 81 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0          

Traore comes on, he's just a youngster - he's the kid who scored FIVE in that 13-0 Ajax had recently. 

9:39PM 78 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0         

In the group's other game, Atalanta have levelled it up against the Danish side whose name I am struggling with.

Makes life a bit more uncomfortable for Ajax: the Italians would only need a draw when they play the Dutch.

Talking of uncomfortable, Neres is down and hurt. Just gets his leg caught going for a challenge with Williams, no foul from either player but looked sore.

9:34PM 74 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0        

Chance for Mane at the other end after a good run from Firmino, but Mane gets in a tangle.

9:33PM 73 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0       

Still fancy another goal out of this. Ajax coming forward, they look bright and technically excellent of course. Here's Neres down the left. Henderson clears.

9:29PM 70 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0      

Tadic has been in the wars this evening. Wijnaldum penalised for treading on his foot.

9:28PM 67 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0     

More eccentricity from the Ajax keeper, who gives a hospital pass to Daley Blind... and then starts giving out to him as well! Ha. I like this young man.

9:27PM 66 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0    

Firmino is coming on. Jota the man who makes way.

9:22PM 59 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0   

Another howler at the back for Ajax. Jota plays Salah in, Tagliafico has a chance to tidy up and thinks he's done so, only for Schuurs to tap it back into the path of the Egyptian. Good work this time from the goalie to smother. 

9:20PM 59 mins: Liverpool 1 Ajax 0  

One for the future for Liverpool - Williams the deliverer and Jones the finisher. Two young fellers with big futures.

9:19PM GOAL!  Liverpool 1 Ajax 0 (Jones 58)

The Ajax keeper was looking distinctly eccentric, and he's had a shocker here. Williams crosses from the right, and Onana comes wandering out as if baffled. He's nowhere near the ball. It drops for Jones, who tucks it away neatly at the back stick. Simply inexplicable from the Ajax goalie. Dearie me.

9:17PM 56 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0 

Ajax hit the post! Mazraoui with an effort, Kelleher palms it clear, and Neres drills the rebound against the post.

9:15PM 53 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0

Freekick from the training ground, Neves down the left. Handy cross, Klaassen puts the header wide.

9:10PM 52 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0  

Salah gets in the way of Neko Williams, who was winding up for a spectacular hit.

9:08PM 50 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0 

Mane looking dangerous here but that is an excellent tackle from Mazraoui. Much better pass there, from Henderson.

9:07PM 48 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0

Salah, as ever, making good runs but the guys behind him are not really finding him.

9:04PM 46 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0

Neither side exactly peppering the goal so far, in fact Liverpool have been notably shot-shy in the comp this year.

9:03PM No changes for Der Kloppster 

as far as I can see.

9:02PM Stephen Warnock on the BBC

"Ajax have been very impressive. Not many teams come here to Anfield and dominate"

8:48PM Half time: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0

Enjoyable open game, both sides committed to attacking, perhaps a lack of true quality play on display. As it stands, Liverpool go through.

8:47PM 45 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0                    

The last action of the half is Gravenberch leaning back and firing over the bar. 

8:46PM 44 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0                   

Frenetic stuff at Anfield! Tagliafico wins a corner for the visitors. Tadic takes, Mane heads clear. 

Just a minute added.

The crowd sound man on the BT seems a bit over excited.

8:44PM 43 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0                  

And then back up at the OTHER other end - it's Mane again, slipping it to the overlapping Robertson, who tries a cheeky shot at the near post but puts it into the side netting.

8:44PM 42 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0                 

Ball sends Mane through and he's clattered to the turf by Schuurs. Ooh? Red? No yellow. Fair enough, there were others haring back as well.

Henderson wastes the freekick.

Immediately at the other end, Fabinho with a block.

8:41PM 39 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0                

Been an enjoyable if rather chaotic match, here's a nice bit of football from Liverpool though as Jota drives forward, some decent passing but they ultimately choose the wrong option.

8:35PM 34 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0               

Henderson crushes the freekick into the wall.

8:34PM 33 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0              

Curtis Jones controls a ball beautifully on his chest, and spins away but is cynically tugged back by Alvarez.

8:34PM 30 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0             

Alvarez slips it to Mazraoui, who hits a nice drive. Decent stop by the young Liverpool keeper, turning it behind. Klopp not happy with his defensive midfield's failure to close that down.

A corner, but the second ball in is curtailed by an offside flag.

8:30PM 28 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0            

The game has hit a bit of a flat spot.

Ajax having most of the ball. Both sides have tightened up.

8:29PM 27 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0           

Robertson is back on. Ajax have the ball.

8:28PM Robertson is down

He's got his sock off. They are putting some strapping on his foot.

Steve McManaman: "I am not a doctor of course but it looks like he is going to carry on." Love that.

8:23PM 21 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0          

Robertson has some defending to do. He seems to have rallied okay. He clears after Klaassen misses a header from a very handy position.

8:22PM 20 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0         

Tagliafico finds Klaassen in the area - he hits the target with a header. Offside. Good save by Kelleher, though, who wasn't to know.

The teams again.

Liverpool: Kelleher, Neco Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, Jones, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Jota, Salah, Mane. Subs: Firmino, Adrian, Minamino, Tsimikas, Origi, Rhys Williams, Jaros, Cain, Clarkson.

Ajax: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico, Alvarez, Klaassen, Gravenberch, Antony, Tadic, Neres. Subs: Stekelenburg, Timber, Klaiber, Huntelaar, Promes, Scherpen, Ekkelenkamp, Labyad, Martinez, Traore.

Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany)

8:21PM 19 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0        

Midtjylland have taken the lead at Atalanta! 

8:20PM 15 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0       

Ajax play it out from the back every time, including the goalie, and seem to basically be playing two at the back. A bold approach, no question.

Still, they look excellent going forward, and here's Antony driving forward down the right, cutting in, and firing wide.

8:16PM 13 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0      

Of potentially greater significance for the rest of the season, Andy Robertson was knocked down early and has been looking a bit limpy ever since. Liverpool are warming up a couple of subs....

8:15PM 12 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0     

Ajax give it away once again, it is launched forward for Mane who has the run on Mazraoui and Schuurs, who manage to stop him on the edge of the box by fair means or foul. Well, no foul given but you wouldn't have been surprised if the ref blew there.

8:11PM 10 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0    

A very open game, both sides leaving huge gaps and all the indications are that this is going to be a ding dong. Neither side looking very defensively secure.

8:08PM 6 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0   

Klaassen with an error - Salah holds it up and lays it off to Jones. Jones lets rip! And the ball smashes against the keeper's left hand post, Onana barely moved and was totally beaten.

8:06PM 4 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0  

Klaassen with a crossfield ball. Neres Campos gathers it in the inside left channel, and cuts it back to Tadic, who maybe should have shot but tries to lay it off to a non-existent teammate

8:03PM 2 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0 

Liverpool with the first chance. They turn defence into attack quickly, nice ball from Mane on the break to Jota, and a lay off to Jones who cracks it at goal, but also at the keeper.

8:02PM 1 mins: Liverpool 0 Ajax 0

Ajax have scored 38 in 8 matches. But it is Liverpool here hitting a long ball forward towards the back five of the visitors.

8:00PM The players take a 

knee. And Liverpool kick us off.

7:59PM The players are out

Big night for young Kelleher in nets. One of five changes for the hosts.

Ajax change three from the side that beat Danish side Mit-whatnot in the previous round of this.

7:58PM Good pic this Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool looks on as Mohamed Salah warms up  Credit: Getty 7:50PM Edwin

is the Chief Exec at Ajax, and was obviously on the TV there talking to BT Sport.

7:47PM Edwin van der Sar

"Our league is not strong enough so if you want to be a really great player you have to leave but we take pride in developing and bringing the players through. So we often have the challenge of losing our best players, but we now also add quality around the top, add experience to help our young players."

"Sometimes the challenge for a player is not in Holland, it is in Spain, Italy. That is maybe our fate as Ajax. But we are proud when we see them playing at Chelsea, at Juventus. Maybe we need a different competition but at the moment, that's the way it goes."

7:35PM The new De Ligt?

Schuurs is a young centre half for Ajax, he is being linked with Liverpool. Looks to have all the attributes of a commanding centre half.

7:34PM Possible upset elsewhere

Shakhtar Donetsk are leading Real Madrid by a single goal.

7:19PM Michael Owen on Caoimhin Kelleher

"Adrian must have been awful in training. This keeper Kelleher has a lot of promise but you never know. You never really know how a player will react to being in the first team. You always question yourself, every time you go up a level."

Crouch: "Don't know how Adrian must feel, Alisson's out and they bring a kid in and he is left sitting on the bench."

Crowned in paint: a mural near Anfield, which tonight hosts Ajax Credit: Getty 7:15PM Here is Klopp and Kelly!


Five changes tonight?

"Alisson is not in the squad but it is not Covid. He told us that he was feeling his hamstring, it is a little one but enough and probably for another week. Kelleher is a football-playing goalie and a good shot-stopper.

"Ajax teams, always skilled, we have to defend them and we have to fight."

Both parties play it straight and there is no further discussion of fixture pile-ups.

7:14PM Another Brit

team in action tonight, obviously. Man City blog is here.

7:08PM BT Sport

Have indeed put Des Kelly on the match. The pundits are currently sympathising with injury-hit Reds.

6:55PM The teams in full

Liverpool: Kelleher, Neco Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, Jones, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Jota, Salah, Mane. Subs: Firmino, Adrian, Minamino, Tsimikas, Origi, Rhys Williams, Jaros, Cain, Clarkson.

Ajax: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico, Alvarez, Klaassen, Gravenberch, Antony, Tadic, Neres. Subs: Stekelenburg, Timber, Klaiber, Huntelaar, Promes, Scherpen, Ekkelenkamp, Labyad, Martinez, Traore.

Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany)

6:53PM Liverpool team

Kelleher in goals.

Neco Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, Hendo, Gini, Jones, Mane, Salah, Jota.

6:46PM We await the teams

Klopp has been bemoaning his injury lot. "I don't have enough players to prioritise. It's not about the competition; it's about the players. On Saturday, the fittest players played.

"It's not a perfect situation but obviously not enough people want to offer us any kind of help [with the fixture scheduling], not only for us but for [all] football people. We just have to deal with it."

6:43PM Liverpool won

by the single goal in Amsterdam when the sides met in October. Ajax's Tagliafico turned Sadio Mane's cross into his own net. A brilliant save from Adrian had denied Quincy Promes from point-blank just before that. Ajax hit the post, had one cleared off the line etc and so on and so forth and all-in-all can probably count themselves a bit unlucky.

6:38PM From Uefa

"The sides' only previous meeting prior to this campaign came way back in the 1966/67 European Champions Clubs' Cup, when a Cruyff-inspired Ajax overcame Liverpool 7-3 on aggregate in the second round."

Would not have minded watching that over two legs! 7-3!

3:54PM Good evening

And welcome to our live blog of Liverpool vs Ajax in the Champions League group stages. These sides are contesting Group D, and this is matchday five. With three wins and nine points Liverpool are obviously strongly fancied to qualify but it's not a foregone conclusion. Ajax have seven points, as do Atalanta, with Midtylland making up the numbers in the group -  the Danish side have played four lost four. Those groups where one team is a complete rag can cause some headaches, we have seen over the years. If Atalanta do the business tonight then a defeat could leave either Liverpool or Ajax sweating. But a point would send Liverpool through.

Aside from that, it's another chance for Jurgen Klopp to connect with BT Sport and Des Kelly. The interviewer and the Liverpool manager got into a great debate recently about fixture pile-up and broadcaster demands; I am can only assume producers have put Des on this fixture tonight. We will know from about 7pm, when I'll put the teams up. Kick off tonight is 8pm.

Jurgen Klopp and Des Kelly's verbal sparring reflected simmering tension in football's TV arrangements

Also causing Jurgen some headaches at the moment: Liverpool's injury situation. Sounds like Thiago is some time away from being ready.

If you want to keep abreast of all the comings and goings at Anfield, you cannot do better than this newsletter from Chris Bascombe with all the inside track at Liverpool.

Chris Bascombe's Liverpool briefing

A great shame to have a proper European tie like the visit of Ajax behind closed doors, but there are at least some green shoots in that department. Mind you - better make sure you go for a pee before you set off..

For more news relating to Everton, visit our sister site EFC Live.

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