Curtis Jones scored from a Neco Williams assist in a crucial 1-0 win over Ajax at Anfield on Tuesday night that also owed much to Caoimhin Kelleher
Liverpool held a ballot this week, to decide which supporters will be lucky enough to attend Sunday’s game with Wolves at Anfield.
At this rate, they might need to hold another one in order to find people to fill their substitutes’ bench.
No wonder Jurgen Klopp has been walking round like a bear with a sore head lately. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours.
And sometimes it floods.
The Reds’ injury list is enough to drive the manager to distraction. It stands at nine first-teamers now, with Alisson Becker the latest name added.
The goalkeeper missed Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League having felt his hamstring in Saturday’s draw at Brighton. Ten to 14 days, says Klopp, which could rule the Brazilian out of at as many as three more fixtures.
So, let’s recap. That’s the goalkeeper out, as well as the right-back and both the first-choice centre-backs. The vice-captain’s done his hamstring and so has the £50 million midfielder, while the marquee summer signing hasn’t been seen since being Richarlisoned in the Merseyside derby seven weeks ago.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, hasn’t featured at all this season, while Xherdan Shaqiri’s return to the squad ended as swiftly as it began. And judging by this evening, Andy Robertson is managing some kind of ankle issue as well. So too Jordan Henderson, according to Klopp.
How’s your luck? If Klopp threw a fiver in the air at the minute, it’d come back down as a speeding ticket.
Still, at least there’s always the football to bring some comfort in among the madness. And make no mistake, Klopp loved what he saw from his team here.
"Honestly since I was at Liverpool that feels like one of the biggest Champions League nights," he said afterwards. "Without supporters in, it was the most important, most difficult, most exceptional. I'm really proud."
First and foremost, his side are into the Champions League knockout for the fourth successive season. Box ticked.
Secondly, they progress as group winners, and have done so with a game to spare. Significant, as it takes all the pressure off the final fixture, away to FC Midtjylland a week on Wednesday. Klopp can play himself in Denmark if he wishes. He might have to anyway if things carry on as they are.
And thirdly, as his senior players fall, here was further evidence that his youngsters are ready to stand up and be counted.
This was a wonderful night for Liverpool’s Academy, with three graduates shining under the Anfield spotlight.
Curtis Jones, Scouse to his core, was the match-winner, capping a superb performance with his first European goal in front of the Kop. At 19, the young midfielder’s potential looks limitless. He belongs at this level, that’s for sure.
His goal was created by another teenager, right-back Neco Williams, whose cross was misjudged by Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, allowing Jones to steer home, 13 minutes into the second half.
Williams, like Jones, has been with the club since U9 level. Already a full international with Wales, this was his 19th senior appearance for the Reds, and definitely his most impressive. He hasn’t found it easy at times this season, but he was certainly up to the task here. "He can be even better still," said Klopp.
Also up to the task, in a big way, was Caoimhin Kelleher, the surprise replacement for Alisson in goal. The Irishman, who turned 22 last week, has not yet made his Premier League debut and yet here he was, in only his fifth professional outing, defying one of Europe’s most famous teams.
And doing it in style, too. Kelleher’s first-half save to deny Noussair Mazraoui was good enough, a strong hand to tip the full-back's 25-yarder over the bar, but his reaction stop from substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's header, three minutes from time, was even better. It preserved his clean sheet, and sent Liverpool through.
He will surely start against Wolves now. Certainly, he looked more assured here than Adrian has when called upon this season. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, loud and decisive, this was the night the No.3 goalkeeper wearing the No.62 jersey has become the No.2. No wonder Klopp headed straight for him at the final whistle.
"I am really happy with how calm he was and how good he was," Klopp said.
That’s what the manager needs right now; everyone delivering, from the stars to the subs to the kids. This is a slog of a season, and it will take guts and courage as well as ability, and luck, to get through it.
It feels like Liverpool have been in a permanent state of panic over the last two months or so, and yet they are joint-top of the Premier League and have safely navigated their Champions League group. Bits keep falling off, but the train keeps rolling.
Maybe that will be enough to get Klopp smiling, eh?
He certainly was here, and with good reason.
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