Liverpool have hit a slightly unexpected bump in the road in their Champions League campaign, which they will be looking to iron out against Ajax at Anfield on Tuesday night.
It turns out that there is such thing as too many muscular injuries – even for one of the best sides in Europe – and after failing to beat Atalanta and Brighton, Liverpool may just be starting to feel the heat amid a plethora of injuries.
Will they still qualify from their Champions League group? Well, it’s looking less of a sure thing than it was before, especially with an in-form Ajax side full of Europe’s most exciting young talents standing in their way.
With just two points separating the six-time champions of Europe from an unexpected spell in the Europa League, there is all to play for in their upcoming match against the four-time champions in a game that will see expansive, flowing football at the forefront.
When Is Kick Off? Tuesday 1 December
What Time Is Kick Off? 20:00 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Anfield
TV Channel/Live Stream? BT Sport 2
Referee? Tobias Stieler
You want Liverpool team news, do you? Well, how long have you got?
Let’s start with the easy ones – unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Virgil van Dijk damaged the ligaments in his knee against Everton and will be out for a loooong time, and will be joined for a similarly loooong time by Joe Gomez, who picked up a season-ending knee injury of his own on international duty.
Now we can move onto the medium term – you won’t be seeing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain until December with respective muscular and knee complaints, while James Milner, as Jurgen Klopp politely told BT yesterday, will be out for a similar timeframe with a hamstring issue which he picked up against Brighton.
Now, the guys who might play but probably won’t – you’ve got Thiago Alcantara, whose mysterious ‘knock’ was slightly worse than first feared, Naby Keita has had even more terrible luck with his fitness, picking up a hamstring injury against Leicester. Xherdan Shaqiri has more muscular problems – just imagine the Injured XI that the Reds could put out, it would probably win the league.
Meanwhile Ajax have… well they just have one injury, with key forward Mohammed Kudus out until 2021 with a meniscus tear. That hardly seems fair.
Liverpool: Alisson; Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Tsimikas; Jones, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Ajax: Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Tagliafico; Labyad, Blind, Gravenberch; Neres, Traore, Tadic
At first, it looked like Liverpool could still win the league at a canter, no matter how many injuries you threw at them. After all, they won the league by 25 points last year and invested well over the summer – it was clearly going to take a lot to put a dent in that winning margin.
But over their last two games there has been a bit of a wobble – one, in fairness, which is probably linked to them sticking untested teenagers in key defensive positions out of necessity, and, of course, a little bit of magic from our old friend VAR.
Ajax, on the other hand, are tearing up 2020, and their lack of fitness issues suggests that they may well have benefitted from the league being declared void in April. They have won six games in a row as part of an eight game unbeaten run, and as you might have heard, one of those victories was a 13 (thirteen!)-0 win.
Here’s how the two sides have got on recently…
Brighton 1-1 Liverpool (28/11)
Liverpool 0-2 Atalanta (25/11)
Liverpool 3-0 Leicester (22/11)
Man City 1-1 Liverpool (8/11)
Atalanta 0-5 Liverpool (3/11)
FC Emmen 0-5 Ajax (28/11)
Ajax 3-1 FC Midtjylland (25/11)
Ajax 5-0 Heracles Almelo (22/11)
FC Utrecht 0-3 Ajax (8/11)
FC Midtjylland 1-2 Ajax (3/11)
The prevailing consensus before the Atalanta game was that Liverpool would have way too much for the visitors in the wake of their 3-0 destruction of Leicester, and that any team who dared to play Atalanta’s open, buccaneering style of football against the Reds would be punished.
We now know, courtesy not only of Atlanta but Brighton, another swashbuckling side who like to live dangerously, that this is not the case in the wake of Liverpool’s neverending injury nightmare – they simply don’t have the capacity to be as dominant as they used to be.
So Ajax’s brave, expansive 4-3-3 has a pretty decent chance of unsettling Liverpool on Tuesday – the issue is, the Reds will have Sadio Mane and Joel Matip back after resting them against the Seagulls, and they don’t tend to lose back-to-back matches at home.
It will be close, it will be free-flowing, and it will be heartbreaking – but Liverpool have what it takes to see off the Dutch side.
Prediction: Liverpool 4-2 Ajax