Fabinho & Gomez offer hope Liverpool can survive without Van Dijk

Liverpool Ajax GFX
The Reds stood firm against Ajax to record a rare clean sheet away from home in Europe and get their Champions League campaign off to a winning start

This was just what the doctor ordered for Liverpool.

With three points and a clean sheet, the Reds’ Champions League campaign is up and running. A 1-0 win at Ajax, the Dutch champions, represents a big result for Jurgen Klopp and his side, given the circumstances.

It was not pretty. Far from it, in fact. Victory in Amsterdam came courtesy of the most comedic of own goals, scored by Nicolas Tagliafico 10 minutes before half-time in the Johan Cruyff ArenA.

If luck deserted Liverpool at Goodison Park on Saturday, it was back in their possession here. The big moments went the way of the Premier League champions, with Ajax twice within a whisker of equalising either side of half-time. 

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First Fabinho denied Dusan Tadic with a wonderful goalline clearance, then Davy Klaassen, briefly of Everton, saw a 20-yarder smash against a post and away to safety. There was also the sight of Adrian, so maligned of late, making two important saves to keep Quincy Promes at bay, and a late chance for Jurgen Ekkelenkamp going begging. Ajax had their chances, for sure. 

But after a dark few days, this was the light Liverpool needed. A slender win, achieved due to a gritty, resilient defensive display and sprinkled with a little good fortune. They will take that, alright.

Without Virgil van Dijk, watching from home with his knee in a brace, Europe wanted to know how the Reds would cope. Klopp said they would deal with it, that they would shut their doubters up the only way they know how to - with results.

Step one; accomplished.

How reassuring it will have been for the manager to see his side stand firm in such a manner, against a good European side. To see Joe Gomez and Fabinho, the 35th different centre-back pairing he has picked in five years at Anfield, turn in performances like this.

Under the spotlight, those two - and Andy Robertson, who was exceptional at left-back - stood out a mile. 

Fabinho’s contribution was immense. Tough and resilient, but able to read the game and pass the ball too, the Brazilian has become one of Liverpool’s most valuable players. Keeping him fit and healthy will be key to their ambitions this season, whether he is playing in defence or midfield.

“He’s a top player, and top players adapt,” James Milner told  BT Sport afterwards. "He’s played there before and done it extremely well. Unbelievable clearance as well!"

Gomez, too, deserves credit. The England international has not made the best start to the season, but he was back on form here. The odd sticky moment aside – he had Adrian to thank for one after just a couple of minutes – the 23-year-old stood up to the test, defending his penalty area with determination as Ajax pushed for a leveller. The clean sheet will have meant the world to him.

To Liverpool, too. Prior to this evening, they had lost eight of their last 14 European away games, and only kept one clean sheet in their last 12 – excluding the 2019 final, played at a neutral venue. They hadn't won their opening away group fixture since 2008, when Steven Gerrard swept them past Marseille

Liverpool Ajax Champions League 2020

So to come away from this, one of their two most tricky assignments in Group D, with everything they wanted should not be understated. This was a fabulous result, if not a fabulous performance.

The sight of Sadio Mane, substituted before the hour mark along with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, with an ice-pack on his right thigh was not welcome at all, but Klopp says the Senegal star should be fine. A dead leg, apparently. Liverpool can ill-afford to lose any more of their gun players right now.

There should be some respite on its way. Alisson Becker, Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip could all be back soon, while Naby Keita should be fit to feature against Sheffield United at Anfield on Saturday.

Those, though, are for another day.  For tonight, Liverpool can reflect on a job well done. "Good enough," Klopp said afterwards. He was right.

This was a result they needed, in more ways than one.