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5 talking points as kids combine to help Liverpool through in Champions League

Liverpool made it through to the last-16 of the Champions League on an evening when their young talents shone in the face of their mounting injury issues.

Teenager Curtis Jones came close to scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes at Anfield, with his second effort from distance rebounding off a post.

It was Jones who grabbed the only goal just before the hour mark though, turning in a cross from Neco Williams which had been missed by visiting goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Reds stopper Caoimhin Kelleher – who had been preferred to Adrian in the Liverpool goal in place of the injured Alisson – made a fine late save from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to preserve the win which secures qualification as group winners.

Here are the game’s talking points.

1. The Irishman

Kelleher was a surprise starter for the Reds

With Alisson absent, it could be that Klopp’s decision to go with Kelleher and not Adrian in goal was as much to do with the rest of his players rather than the goalkeepers themselves.

It was early in the away clash at Ajax where the usually unflappable Joe Gomez could be seen shooting daggers in the direction of the former West Ham goalkeeper who, while not entirely at fault, had just been on the scene of the crimes at Aston Villa (7-2) and Everton (2-2).

Throw in last season’s Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid and it could just be that Liverpool’s players had had their heads burned out by the Spaniard, who watched on as 22-year-old Kelleher got the nod here.

And the Irishman did what he had to do with a minimum of fuss.

A couple of first half saves were expected and delivered, and then came his fine late stop from Huntelaar.

It could just be that the youngster will be needed against Wolves on Sunday as the constant reshuffle continues.

2. Keeping up with Curtis Jones

Jones came close twice in the first half

It says a lot that while Liverpool fans sat down to ponder their new, and frequent, pastime – that of piecing together the XI they would play in the face of such injury issues – Jones would have been on pretty much everyone’s teamsheet.

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.

3. Joel Matip again stands tall

Matip was a key figure at the back for Liverpool

There were widespread concerns when Klopp had to leave Joel Matip out of the weekend trip to Brighton, but his importance to the Reds is 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.

4. It’s another good Ajax crop

Ryan Gravenberch was one of Ajax’s brightest talents

A disappointing but expected consequence of Ajax’s run to the semis in 2019 was the fact that it led to the departures of several exciting stars, but the signs are that the Amsterdam giants have another crop to be proud of.

Teenage midfielder Ryan Gravenberch was perhaps the pick of them here, with Brazilian forward Antony looking lively as the Dutch side pressed and pressed.

Their displays along with those of the old guard – Dusan Tadic, David Neres and the returning Davy Klaassen – made for a lively performance from Erik ten Hag’s side, even if the finishing touches were lacking.

5. Jurgen Klopp gets what he wanted

Klopp will be able to rotate for the trip to Denmark

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

Liverpool will be able to treat next week’s trip to Denmark to take on FC Midtjylland as a training exercise, with several of his stars able to get a rest of a stresses and strains of the season are eased for a little.

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




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