Ajax vs Liverpool Preview - Reds begin Champions League journey without talismanic Dutch defender
Venue – Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam
Referee – Felix Brych (GER)
Date & Time – Wednesday, October 21st 2020 @ 20:00
Current Odds – Ajax 7/2, Draw 3/1, Liverpool 8/11
Liverpool arrive in the Netherlands without their own Dutch colossus, Virgil van Dijk. The Reds’ number 4 is out for the rest of this campaign so ‘life without Virgil’ begins now, as far as the 2020/21 season is concerned. And what a place to start…
Amsterdam would have been the ideal away day for many Kopites this week with a potentially cracking game of football included. Let’s hope Jurgen Klopp’s Mentality Monsters live up to their reputation. It’s going to be a tough slog of a season but nothing is impossible with these Reds.
Ajax have lost once in their last eight competitive fixtures. That was 1-0 defeat at Groningen in the Eredivisie earlier this month.
On Sunday, they beat Heerenveen 5-1 at the Johan Cruijff ArenA thanks to goals from Dušan Tadic (x2), Mohammed Kudus, Davy Klaassen and Antony Santos.
Currently, Ajax sit second in the Eredivisie, one point behind PSV Eindhoven.
Ajax reached the Champions League semi-finals two seasons ago, losing to Spurs to a very late Lucas Moura strike. Liverpool would beat Spurs 2-0 in the final in Madrid.
Last season, they were eliminated in the group stages, finishing behind Valencia and Chelsea.
Liverpool played very well on Saturday, dominating the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Only for a disastrous performance from the officials, Michael Oliver and David Coote (VAR), The Reds would have taken all three points from the game. As it happened, Everton were gifted the 2-2 draw thanks to several calamitous refereeing decisions.
That draw leaves Liverpool third in the Premier League, three points adrift of Everton who are top.
Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League in the last-sixteen stage last season by Atlético Madrid. The Reds lifted European Cup number six the previous season.
Ajax Team News
Ajax boss, Erik ten Hag, favours a 4-3-3 formation but seemed to experiment with a 4-2-3-1 shape in Sunday’s win over Heerenveen. This may have been in preparation for their clash with Liverpool on Wednesday night.
I fully expect the Dutch side to start with the 4-3-3 at the Johan Cruijff ArenA and revert to 4-2-3-1 if the game is going their way in the second half.
Currently, Ajax have no players missing through injury or suspension.
Liverpool Team News
Virgil van Dijk is the one name we never wanted to be on our long-term injury list. Well, 2020 just served us a plate of lemons. Van Dijk’s ACL injury will likely keep him out for the rest of this season at least.
Liverpool are also still without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alisson.
Thiago Alcântara and Naby Keïta will both have fitness tests this week ahead of the Ajax game.
With Van Dijk out, I believe Jürgen Klopp will play Fabinho in defence quite a lot now. If Joël Matip can stay fit, he should be Fabinho’s partner at the heart of the defence for the coming games.
Thiago will hopefully be recovered fully from the Richarlison challenge that resulted in a straight red card on Saturday. Klopp could trial a midfield trio of Thiago, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum against Ajax.
The Reds should be at full strength in attack.
* Edit – In light of the news of Thiago and Matip not travelling, I have updated the predicted starting lineup for Liverpool
Ajax XI (4-3-3) – Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; Álvarez, Klaassen, Promes; Neres, Labyad, Tadic
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Adrián; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keïta; Salah, Firmino, Mané
WHEN THEY LAST MET
Liverpool and Ajax have only ever met twice in competitive fixtures. That’s remarkable considering the pedigree of both clubs on the European stage.
Liverpool didn’t win either of those games against the Dutch giants. Bill Shankly’s Reds lost 5-1 away to Ajax in December 1966 and could only draw 2-2 at Anfield in the second leg a week later. It was the season that Celtic would go on to win their only European Cup title.
AJAX 2 – 2 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool and Ajax could well play out a fantastic game of football on Wednesday night. With Van Dijk gone, Klopp’s men could certainly be shaky at the back so I expect a score draw in Holland. How Liverpool react without Van Dijk will be very interesting indeed.