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Special Salah closes on Gerrard: Liverpool winners, losers and ratings as Reds reach Champions League last 16

22:45 BST 26/10/2022
Salah Robertson Gerrard Nunez Liverpool Ajax GFX
Liverpool's Egyptian King was the difference-maker once more as Jurgen Klopp's side swept Ajax away in Amsterdam.

In the end, it was all surprisingly straightforward for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.

The Reds are into the last 16 of the Champions League for the sixth season in a row, qualification secured with a game to spare after a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Ajax in Amsterdam.

Mohamed Salah’s deft first-half finish set Klopp’s side on their way, and they would make life comfortable for themselves after the break, with Darwin Nunez heading in a second goal before Harvey Elliott lashed in a third.

Ajax had chances, with Steven Berghuis hitting the post inside the opening three minutes, but the Eredivisie champions will have to content themselves with a place in the Europa League in the New Year, with Liverpool joining Napoli in progressing from Group A. 

The sides meet at Anfield next week with top spot up for grabs, although the Reds would need a 3-0 win or better to overhaul the Serie A champions. 

As it is, they’ll just be happy to have secured safe passage. This competition holds many happy memories for them, and they will have a chance to get stuck right into it again in 2023.

Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers from a morale-boosing night in Amsterdam...

  • Mohamed Salah Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    The Winners

    Mohamed Salah:

    Another Champions League night, another Salah masterclass. So often, the Egyptian has been the key man for Liverpool in this competition, and he was again here, scoring the Reds' first goal, creating their third and generally causing havoc throughout. Having started quietly, Salah sprung to life three minutes before half-time, latching onto Jordan Henderson's delightful pass to clip a lovely finish past Remko Pasveer, the Ajax goalkeeper. It settled Liverpool right down. Nunez headed them further ahead four minutes into the second half before Salah, dropping deep, turned and slid a beautiful pass through for Elliott, who made no mistake on his weaker right foot. Game over. With a goal and an assist, Salah becomes only the third player to reach 50 goal contributions with an English club in the Champions League, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry and Ryan Giggs. He is now only one goal behind Steven Gerrard's record of 40 European goals for Liverpool. A special player, whichever way you slice it.

    Andy Robertson:

    If Liverpool are to play their way out of their recent stupor, they're going to need their tried-and-trusted players to wake themselves first. And there were positive signs, to say the least, in the way Robertson performed here. The Scot, like so many of his team-mates, has struggled for form and fitness this season, but he was the one who set the tone for Klopp's side here, playing with verve, energy and no shortage of quality. It was his pass which allowed Firmino to lay on a chance which Nunez inexplicably thwacked against the post before half time, and his corner which was then headed home by the Uruguayan just after the break. The sight of Robertson tearing upfield, leaving defenders in his wake, playing with purpose and belief, will have pleased Klopp immensely. He wants more of this. He needs more of this.

    The optimists:

    In May, shortly after Liverpool had lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid in Paris, Jurgen Klopp looked down the lens of a camera and told fans to "book the hotel" for Istanbul 2023. His team have had their troubles since that night, but they are into the last 16, and a step closer to the Ataturk Stadium, which will host this season's final and which holds such special memories for Liverpudlians. The optimists, of course, will have done exactly what Klopp told them to do after Paris, and while the Reds know they will have to improve significantly if they are to have any chance of success this season, they have at least achieved their first aim. They are in the hat, and able to dream of European Cup No.7 on the banks of the Bosphorus.

  • Steven Berghuis Ajax Liverpool 2022-23

    The Losers

    Steven Berghuis:

    When managers and players talk of 'fine margins' in football, this is what they mean. Liverpool ended up walking this game, but things could have been very different had the first chance of the night been taken. It fell to Ajax, and to Berghuis, the one-time Watford forward finding himself in acres of space in the Liverpool penalty area with less than three minutes on the clock. He had to score, but having taken a touch to steady himself, and with the Reds defence scrambling, Berghuis slammed his low shot against Alisson Becker's left-hand upright, the ball rebounding to safety. It was to prove costly, because when Liverpool's first chance came, 40 minutes later, Salah took it. That, you could say, is the difference at this level.

    Tap-in merchants:

    For Danylo Sikan on Tuesday, read Darwin Nunez on Wednesday. What a week it's been for shocking Champions League misses. Quite how Sikan, the Shakhtar Donetsk forward, steered his effort wide of a gaping goal at Celtic Park remains a mystery, but the Ukrainian at least had some company in the bloopers section after Nunez produced his own remarkable howler here. The Uruguayan had all the time in the world to convert Roberto Firmino's unselfish lay-off at the far post, but fired inexplicably against the post with the goalkeeper nowhere. Luckily for Nunez, he was able to get himself on the scoresheet anyway, with his team running out comfortable winners. For Sikan, there was no such redemption.

  • Virgil van Dijk Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    Liverpool Ratings: Defence

    Alisson Becker (6/10):

    Making his 200th Reds appearance, he saw his woodwork rattled by Berghuis early and needed Alexander-Arnold to deny Tadic soon after. What the goalkeeper had to do, he did with ease.

    Trent Alexander-Arnold (6/10):

    Too many wasteful passes early on, but made an important block to deny Tadic at 0-0 and was involved in Elliott's goal. Still dawdled a few times at the far post.

    Joe Gomez (7/10):

    Eager to defend on the front foot and did so well for the most part. Positioning was excellent.

    Virgil van Dijk (7/10):

    One wobbly moment against Brobbey in the first half, but otherwise pretty assured.

    Andy Robertson (8/10):

    Grew in influence as the first half wore on, and Liverpool looked so much better for it. Corner led to Nunez's goal, and his energy, on and off the ball, was too much for Ajax to handle. Excellent.

  • Harvey Elliott Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    Midfield

    Fabinho (6/10):

    Slow start but got better.

    Jordan Henderson (7/10):

    Sublime pass for Salah's opener and did well generally. Went off after a bang on the knee.

    Harvey Elliott (7/10):

    Mixed bag in the first half, but what a finish he produced on his weaker foot to make it 3-0 after the break. His tidiness in tight areas makes him an asset, and he is working hard on his defensive side too.

  • Darwin Nunez Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    Attack

    Roberto Firmino (7/10):

    Did well nicking the ball and starting attacks. Laid one on a plate which Nunez missed, and was otherwise sharp.

    Darwin Nunez (6/10):

    Somehow hit the post when presented with an open goal, but redeemed himself with a fine header to make it 2-0, and looked far more confident thereafter. Some dodgy playacting in the first half, mind, which costs him a mark.

    Mohamed Salah (8/10):

    Pure class to open the scoring, and a brilliant pass to set up Elliott for 3-0. Remains the key difference-maker at the club.

  • James Milner Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    Subs & Manager

    Curtis Jones (6/10):

    On for Nunez just after the hour mark. Neat and tidy.

    James Milner (6/10):

    A rare chance to play in midfield for the veteran. Won more tackles than any other Liverpool player.

    Fabio Carvalho (6/10):

    Got 20 minutes or so and looked keen to make an impression.

    Stefan Bajcetic (6/10):

    Good minutes for the teenager, whose first act was to try his luck at goal from 35 yards.

    Kostas Tsimikas (N/A):

    Late replacement for Robertson.

    Jurgen Klopp (7/10):

    Will have been fearful for 40 minutes or so, but his team were clinical in taking their chances and putting the game to bed, allowing him the luxury of saving players' legs in the final half hour.