Liverpool come into this game needing a point to qualify for the next phase of the Champions League. Both wins against Rangers were as expected, but it was the Reds’ home win against Ajax which has allowed them a chance to qualify with a game to spare. Napoli are one of the form teams in Europe, and to need something from their final group game (at home to Napoli) is undesirable at best.
With a dreadful weekend loss at Nottingham Forest in the rear view, once again Jurgen Klopp has to attempt to lift his beleaguered team. Ajax are a good team, but just a few months ago the reds would have been confident of gaining a point, but that is longer the case.
The weekend result for Ajax saw them ease past RKC Waalwijk, with a comprehensive 1-4 away victory. The Amsterdam outfit were able to make a raft of substitutes through that game, as they started early preparations for the visit from last season’s Champions League runners up. With the European Cup perhaps Liverpool’s best chance of substantial silverware this year, the visitors will no doubt be seeing this years competition as a welcome distraction from their troubled league campaign.
On the availability front, Ajax will be missing Mohamed Ihattaren, Ahmetcan Kaplan, Kenneth Taylor and Devyne Rensch though injury. Remko Pasveer will start in goal once more, with the veteran keeper having a solid game at Anfield a few weeks back. The back four will comprise Calvin Bassey and Jorge Sánchez at fullback, with the evergreen Daley Blind and impressive Jurrien Timber at centre back. This blend of experience and youth has been effective for the Dutch giants, and it’ll be a massive task to overcome this confidence filled backline.
In midfield, Steven Berghuis, Edson Álvarez and Davy Klaassen will make up a three man midfield, with a fluid front three ahead of them. Lucas Ocampos could come in for this one, however head coach Alfred Schreuder may stick with former Southampton forward Dušan Tadić, Brian Brobbey and ex Tottenham wide man Steven Bergwijn. A good blend of attacking movement will be pitted against Liverpool’s inconsistent backline, that it will inevitably cause many problems from the wing positions.
Liverpool have some serious issues throughout their out of sorts group, and another game of multiple changes is likely. On the injury front, Joel Matip is still out, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota are sidelined till after the World Cup, and both Naby Keita and Arthur Melo are out with injuries. Naby is back in full training, yet his latest rebuild will take some time before he can start. The forward line should see Darwin Nunez available once more, and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to call once more on the ever important pair of Thiago Alcantara and Ibrahima Konate.
Liverpool face Leeds at Anfield on Saturday evening, in yet another must win Premier League match up. This game will be all about getting a result and finding some rhythm. At the back, Alisson Becker is a certain starter, with both Kostas Tsimikas and Trent Alexander Arnold hoping for recalls at fullback. Virgil Van Djik will start at in central defense with either Joe Gomez or the returning Ibou Konate.
The midfield will most probably comprise a recalled Jordan Henderson and returning Thiago, in a double pivot. The wing positions really are up for grabs, with Harvey Elliott probably taking up a left wing spot. On the opposite flank, Klopp will a choice between Fabio Carvalho, Curtis Jones, but not Alex Olxlade-Chamberlain, who isn’t registered. With Bobby Firmino perhaps in need of a rest from the starting line up, expect a first start for Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah as a pair.
Liverpool have to find some sort of form, and a loss would make their final group game a very unenviable affair. More cohesion, more control, more intensity, and more tactical intelligence is desperately needed right now. If Thiago is fit to start, the reds will immediately look a transformed team. His ability to control proceedings would allow the kind of penetration that a potentially devastating front line needs, and hopefully allow a pathway back to form.
In what could be an end to end battle, Liverpool have to defend well and stick to their individual tasks. The injuries to key players Jota & Diaz are telling, so a more penetrating front line could offer the urgency and potency that has been so often lacking.
Player to watch – Darwin Nunez
Ajax 2 – 2 Liverpool