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Champions League: How Bassey’s aerial weakness was exposed in Liverpool win over Ajax

21:50 SAST 2022/09/14
Calvin Bassey of Ajax and Nigeria.
Virgil van Dijk got more joy from set-pieces in the opening half but it was only a matter of time before Joel Matip got one over the Super Eagle

Liverpool finally got points on board in this season’s Champions League with a somewhat nervy 2-1 win over Ajax at Anfield.

While the Reds created a slew of chances than their opponents, Tuesday’s encounter could have ended in a draw had Joel Matip’s header not bailed out Jurgen Klopp’s team.

Mohamed Salah had opened the scoring for the six-time European champions in the 17th minute but the in-form Mohammed Kudus levelled 10 minutes later with an emphatic finish to silence the home crowd.

The Ghanaian’s purple patch has seen him score five times in four games with those strikes coming from six shots on target, signifying its unsustainability going forward.

Calvin Bassey was one of Ajax’s better players on a tough night on Merseyside, but it was far from a perfect game for the versatile defender.

In this feature, GOAL highlights some noteworthy incidents and moments for the Nigeria international at Anfield.

  • Calvin Bassey of Nigeria and Ajax.

    Role in goal-kicks

    Teams usually have their goalkeepers take long kicks upfield or restart play with short kicks, however, Ajax approached it differently on Tuesday night.

    Instead, the Dutch side played out from the back with Bassey restarting play, often playing short kicks to Remko Pasveer who facilitated play from deep positions.

    This was a notable feature of Ajax’s goal-kicks in the first half but was discontinued after the interlude.

  • Calvin Bassey Ajax 2022-23

    Caution in possession

    Unlike last week’s 4-0 success over old side Rangers, Bassey was more cautious in possession, attempting fewer progressive passes and carries.

    In the preceding game against the Scottish giants, the Nigerian completed nine carries and completed three positive passes whereas it was two and zero respectively against Jurgen Klopp’s men.

    While he was useful in Ajax’s goal-kicks, the ex-Rangers man was risk-averse in possession at Anfield.

  • Calvin Bassey Ajax 2022.

    Aggression

    A feature of Bassey’s game all night saw him go touch tight to any Liverpool player in his zone.

    That proactive style and aggression were evident when he stuck close to Diaz in the 33rd minute, subsequently rewarded by winning a goal kick, almost wrestling with Salah on the hour and not letting the Egyptian settle in possession with 13 minutes of normal time to play.

    That approach did not always pay off, as in the 35th minute — when Salah skipped away from him on the right flank — and the 42nd minute — when Trent Alexander Arnold’s feint deceived the Nigerian who already committed into the block — the obvious examples.

  • Role in Ajax’s equaliser

    Steve McManaman’s immediate analysis of the defending Eredivisie champions’ leveller may have been simplistic, but a closer look shows how Alfred Schreuder’s crew kept the ball away from the home team for 84 seconds.

    From a throw-in at 24:45, the Dutch side did not surrender possession to Klopp’s team until Kudus’ cracker at 26:09 made it 1-1.

    Bassey’s movement epitomised Ajax’s patience and interchanging of positions among the away side’s players in the build-up phase, with the Nigerian finding himself at left centre-back and defensive midfield — centrally and in the left half-space — in the 25-pass move from the aforementioned throw-in.

    Bassey contributed four passes in the move leading to Ajax's equaliser and it was far from a goal that was not special to McManaman.

  • Mohamed Salah Diogo Jota Liverpool Ajax 2022-23

    Was Bassey left in no man’s land for Salah’s goal?

    Salah opened his Champions League account in the 17th minute but Schreuder will not have been happy with the ease with which Liverpool scored.

    In hindsight, it began with Edson Alvarez leaving his position in defensive midfield to prevent Alisson from playing an easy pass to Thiago Alcantara.

    This forced the Brazil goalkeeper to send the ball upfield, with Alvarez probably expecting one of his colleagues to win the first ball.

    However, Devyne Rensch turning his back on the play as he raced back meant he lost track of the flight of the ball forcing Jurrien Timber to contest the aerial duel with Luis Diaz, with the latter winning the header and leaving Diogo Jota free.

    This meant what was a three-v-three right after Alisson’s kick — Rensch marked Diaz, Timber was on Jota and Bassey marked Salah — turned into a three-v-two after Timber was taken out of the game following the loss of the aerial duel.

    The Nigerian scrambled to cover his central defensive partner, consequently leaving Salah free for a pass from Jota.

    With Daley Blind unable to recover in time, the Portuguese picked out Liverpool’s star attacker to send Liverpool 1-0 up.

  • Weakness exposed for Matip winner

    Bassey was beaten in the air by Matip for Liverpool’s winning goal but should this have been foreseen by Ajax?

    While Virgil van Dijk had the beating of his opponents at nearly every attacking set-piece, especially getting the better of Timber and Alvarez in the opening 45 minutes, the Nigerian marking the Dutchman’s centre-back partner was an obvious mismatch for the away side at set-pieces.

    The Reds’ aerial superiority from set-plays eventually paid off with the Cameroonian edging his duel with Bassey in the final minute of normal time.

    The Nigeria international had made a hash of Konstantinos Tsimikas’ cross into the box a minute earlier, half-clearing the ball to Salah whose effort was deflected onto the post by the former Rangers defender, but the Reds scored from the resulting corner.

    Bassey did not win any of his three aerial duels on the night.