- Liverpool host Ajax in their second Champions League group game at Anfield
- Jurgen Klopp’s side lost 4-1 to Napoli last week and looked defensively fragile
- Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold look all the way out
- This is a far from ideal time to play the free-scoring Ajax, who have been in terrific form
- They have won all six league games last Wednesday and defeated Rangers 4-0
- Bergwijn, Kudus, Brobbey and Tadic’s new-look forward line can cause problems
The more things change, the more they stay the same in Ajax.
Despite the heat of extreme turmoil, the champions of the last three completed Eredivisie seasons are once again sitting on their perch at the top of the table.
Manchester United manager Eric ten Haig’s successor Alfred Schrader’s reign began with a flurry of goals and an unblemished league record of six wins from six.
Despite the change, Ajax has been in free-scoring form in the early weeks of the season
Ajax player Johan Cruyff salutes the Arena crowd after beating Rangers 4-0
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be wary of his danger when Ajax arrives at Anfield
Early season Eredivisie results include a 6–1 loss to Groningen, a 4–0 win over Cambur and a 5–0 loss to Heerenveen last weekend.
Ajax also opened their Champions League campaign by defeating Rangers 4-0 last week, where the gap in class was clearly evident for the Scottish club.
So despite the summer departures of Antony and Sebastian Haller, responsible for their 46 goals last season, they don’t look any worse when it comes to finding the net.
New Ajax coach Alfred Schrader has a strong start despite summer problems
If you include curtain-raiser Johan Cruyff Shields, whom they lost 5-3 to PSV Eindhoven, Ajax have averaged 3.5 goals per game so far this season.
All of this doesn’t bode particularly well for Liverpool, who welcome Ajax to Anfield on Tuesday night’s Champions League second match day.
Ordinarily, Jurgen Klopp’s side would be the favourite – he had a double over the Dutch champions in the group two seasons ago, albeit by a slim 1–0 margin both at home and away.
But worrying defensive weaknesses have been exposed on more than one occasion in the early weeks of the season, not least in the shock of a 4-1 loss to Napoli last mid-week.
All four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson – essentially Liverpool’s first-choice four – endured a nightmare evening in the white heat of Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Jamie Carragher described the performance as ‘suicidal football’, with Klopp effectively admitting that the season was a write-off as the team ‘reinvented itself’ and bookies saw them win the Europa League as fourth. made a favourite.
Really such a shocker was coming. Liverpool’s start to the season has been shaky and is in stark contrast to them.
Antony moves to Manchester United for £85million but Ajax still has a lot of firepower
Sebastian Haller scored 34 goals for Ajax last season but moved to Borussia Dortmund
Haller was diagnosed with a testicular tumor and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment
Ajax starts free-scoring season
July 30 PSV Eindhoven (H) L 3-5
Johan Cruyff Shield
August 6 Fortuna Sittard (A) W 3-2
14 august Groningen (H) W 6-1
21 August Sparta Rotterdam (A) W 1-0
August 28 Utrecht (A) W 2-0
September 3 Cambur (H) W 4-0
7 september Rangers (H) W 4-0
September 10 Heerenwein (H) W 5-0
*Eredivisie unless told otherwise
They were lucky to have come away from the newly-promoted Fulham on the opening day, with a point threatened by Alexander Mitrovic and dismissed by Man United at Old Trafford.
Further dropped points against Crystal Palace and Everton have allowed Manchester City and others to take an early advantage in the title race.
Suddenly, the defensive resilience that retained a historic quadruple bid until the final days of last season fell to the dust.
Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold appear to be a shadow of their usual selves, while Gomez poses a liability. Nothing seems to be going well.
Ajax certainly have the firepower to inflict further misery and seriously jeopardize the qualification prospects of a team that was in the final less than four months ago.
To say that the summer did not go as planned for the Amsterdam club would be a huge understatement.
They had known for some time that Ten Haig was heading to Manchester for a new challenge, but the scale of the turmoil that followed his exit could not have been predicted.
Ajax star managed to prevent a Ten Hag raid for defender Jurin Timber, but they could not turn down a £55million offer for Lysandro Martinez.
But it was the persistent pursuit of United forward Antony, who eventually got his wish on deadline day in a £85m deal, that really stuck to Crow.
Sporting director Gerry Hamstra made no secret of his frustration that such an integral player was snatched from him in time for signing a replacement before the deadline.
Virgil van Dijk (right) and Liverpool faced a nightmare last week against Napoli
A frightening team talk by Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool lost 4-1 on match day
Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season
Premier League unless told
July 30 Manchester City (n) w 3-1
August 6 Fulham (A) d 2-2
August 15 Crystal Palace (H) D 1-1
22 August Manchester United (A) L 1-2
August 27 Bournemouth (H) W 9-0
August 31 Newcastle United (H) w 2-1
September 3 Everton (A) d 0-0
7 september Naples (A) L 1-4
But given that the Brazilian had effectively gone on strike through his move at United, it would have potentially been more damaging to keep him.
Haller scored 34 times last season and was always attracting interest, with Borussia Dortmund winning the race to sign him for around £28m.
But unfortunately the striker was diagnosed with a malignant testicular tumor over the summer and is undergoing chemotherapy that will sideline him for several months.
Attacking midfielder Mohamed Kudas – following Martinez and Antony’s example – went on strike at the deadline to make an unsuccessful attempt to push Everton through a transfer.
But despite these less-than-ideal conditions, Shredder has made the best of it and Ajax has come off the block.
20-year-old forward Brian Brobie has replaced Haller at the point of attack, who has already scored three goals.
Brobie didn’t have the best of times at RB Leipzig, who bought him from Ajax in March last year, as he failed to score a single goal. But his second spell with Ajax looks much more productive.
Schrader pushed Kudas into the center forward position to good effect – he scored once and made another in a win over Rangers and netted twice against Heerenwein.
Looking at Ghana’s form, they will get the green signal on Tuesday night. He could have played at Merseyside if he wanted to, but scoring there isn’t a bad option.
But the real opening season revelation has been Steven Bergwijn, who joined Tottenham for £28m and scored eight times in his first eight Ajax outings.
Mohamed Kudas tries to force Everton to move, but starts the season well
The prospect of a left-sided forward against Alexander-Arnold on Tuesday is an ominous one for Liverpool, even if Bergwijn’s English approach is affected by his heavy time in north London.
Antony’s exit cuts Ajax short on the right. Schruder’s solution has so far been to cross out Dusan Tadik, with mixed results.
In time, he may be able to convert Lucas Ocampos, who had joined on loan from Sevilla, after unsuccessful attempts to bring Hakim Ziyech back from Chelsea, for a left-to-right attacker.
Steven Bergwijn signed from Tottenham has certainly hit the ground running in Amsterdam
The Anfield is likely to have Bergwijn and Tadic on either side of the front three kudas. There’s a feeling of square pegs and round holes about it, but it’s worked to a banging effect so far this season.
And that is why Ajax have more than enough to trouble Liverpool on Tuesday night. You really can’t rule out a repetition of that classic 4-4 draw between Chelsea and the Dutch club in November 2019.
It may still feel early in the group but you also can’t escape the feeling that Liverpool cannot afford to lose it.
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