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Jurgen Klopp breaks tradition as Curtis Jones change evident

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So this is the December that will break with tradition then.

For the first time in Jurgen Klopp's tenure, Liverpool will head into the last match-day of the Champions League's group stages safe in the knowledge that their passage is secured.



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.



That night can at least now be swept into Room 101 and left off the end-of-season DVD.

Liverpool's qualification ends the trend of 2017, '18 and '19 where they have taken proceedings to the final fixture. There will be no nail biting in Denmark in eight days' time.

Fans can now sit back and relax when the Reds take on Midtjylland next week to bring what is usually three months worth of Champions League football to a close inside seven weeks.

They know that whatever happens, they are through to the last 16 with the potential of maybe even visiting whoever they are paired with for the competition's mid-February return.

Music to the ears of fans who haven't been to a game since March.

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.

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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.

And while emerging out of a tricky-looking Group D with relative ease will do little to enhance his overall reputation as a coach, qualification to the latter stages should always have a pat on a back reserved for it at Anfield.

The injury crisis and fixture pile-up remain almost chronic sources of frustration for Klopp, but the Champions League now affords him a chance he simply has to take next week.

The meeting with Midtjylland on December 9 is a dead rubber that gives a wounded Liverpool some much-needed respite. Expect Klopp to rest, rotate and recuperate as he negotiates these seven games before the end of a truly unforgettable 2020.

Klopp sprung something of a surprise when the team news dropped at 6.45pm with Ireland Under-21 international Caoimhin Kelleher named in goal ahead of usual stand-in Adrian.

With Alisson Becker set to be sidelined for the best part of two weeks with a hamstring issue, the gauntlet was thrown down the Kelleher as Klopp gave the Cork-born keeper a massive vote of confidence.

If the 22-year-old was experiencing any nerves on just his fifth first-team appearance then an excellent save from Noussair Mazraoui's long-range effort would have been just the tonic.

Another expert stop in the closing stages from wily veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was icing on the cake on a perfect night for the young goalkeeper.

Kelleher could now be set for Premier League duty at Wolves this Sunday. This was an ideal way to justify his manager's faith on the big stage.

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Liverpool looked dangerous during the first half but were let down by a number of wrong decisions or heavy touches and the closest they came was when Curtis Jones shook the post with a strike from the edge of the box.

It would be the local lad who applied the finishing touch in the second half to give the Reds a win that secures them the status of Group D winners.

After weathering a storm of sorts from the Dutch giants, the hosts had the lead when Jones snuck in undetected round the back post before flicking home a Neco Williams cross that goalkeeper Andre Onana completely misjudged.

From one Academy graduate to another, Alex Inglethorpe and his staff will have toasted to this particular Liverpool goal.

If last season saw Jones decorate games with the odd flash of quality, this campaign has seen him come of age with more sustained, yet understated excellence throughout matches he is involved in.

His growing maturity has been evident in a more disciplined central midfield role, but he was still alert enough to get into the box when he sensed the all-important opening just before the hour mark.

While Klopp has had to contend with injuries to a stack of central midfield options, Jones has made hay while misfortune has shone, playing himself into an increasingly important role in this Liverpool squad.

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And a word of praise for Williams, who, perversely, has had to deal with a fair amount of criticism already in his fledgling career. The Wales international can point to his best game so far here, getting forward when possible but not leaving his centre-halves exposed.

The Reds should have made their advantage greater late on but substitute Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah wasted glorious chances.

In truth, though, their goals would have stolen the spotlight from the likes of Jones, Kelleher and Williams, who all stood up to be counted when their depleted seniors needed it most.

Should Caoimhin Kelleher start for Liverpool against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend? Let us know in the comments.

This was a famous night for the staff at Kirkby.

Liverpool's name goes into the hat once again. In two weeks, from Nyon, they will learn their fate. Then the hard work really begins.


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