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Ajax are still Ajax. The Starting 11 Question?

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Tonight, 8pm Kick Off, Anfield welcomes Ajax under the lights. The name Ajax conjures images in the mind of total football. They are football. A factory of elegance and poise. Their list of greats reads like none other. Cruyff, Van Basten, Davids, Seedorf, Rijkaard, Laudrup, it goes on and on. The meeting of two such colossal sides is deserving of a raucous capacity crowd. Alas, 2020 has denied us this, amongst many other things.

Having lost the likes of Frankie De Jong and Matthijs Deligt recently, are Ajax still a team to be feared? Absolutely! They come in to this game having won 7, drawn 1, of their last 8 games. The draw coming away from home, 2-2 with Atalanta. This Ajax team certainly know where the net is too. Mindblowingly, they have scored 38 goals in this 8 game period, conceding just 6 in the same time frame. That's an average of 4.75 scored per game. Albeit, 13 of those came in the annihilation of Venlo. 40% of Ajax's goals this season have came in the last 30 minutes of the game, meaning our our young lads concentration will be tested right up until the end, likewise the fitness of the senior players returning from injury. Add to that, this current crop of Ajax talent has attacking threat in abundance.

The two danger men used most often this campaign are Dusan Tadic (32), formerly of Southampton, and 19 year old Lassina Traore. This old master, young apprentice combination evenly share 14 goals between them. Not impressed? Well, Traore also boasts a record of scoring a goal every 67 minutes on average this season. David Neres or 20 year old Brazilian Anthony usually compliment a 3 pronged attack for the Dutch league leaders.

Behind the aforementioned attacking talent, the quality doesn't let up. Davy Klassen has managed to shake off any remanence of playing for those across the park, to resurrect his career as top class midfielder. We can also expect to see 18 year old Ryan Gravenberch alongside his Dutch counter part in midfield. Gravenberch, linked with Juventus in recent times, has been talked up as the brightest talent in Holland. Having made his debut for Ajax in 2018 as a 16 year old, he became the youngest ever player to represent the first team - replacing a certain Seedorf for that title. Similar to our own Oranje enforcer Gini Wijnaldum, Gravenberch is a combative player, but with added style and grace you come to expect from a product of the never-ending Ajax talent factory. He stands over 6ft tall, yet glides from deep areas of the pitch with excellent close control and technique.

Moving on to LFC, do we actually have 11 players still fit? It feels like every game brings another injury. With the man machine Milner adding to the list on the side-lines, and one eye on a difficult tie vs Wolves on Sunday, just how do we get through Ajax tonight? Well, here's some options:

The go all out approach. Probably our best 11 players available right now, and it doesn't make for a bad read when you go through the names either. However, in reality, Henderson is only just back fit, Fab and Matip also still working their way back to full fitness, Gini could really do with a break and young Neco struggling to fill the boots of Trent - all is not as it seems. Throw in a tricky match with Wolves on Sunday, maybe it's not a case of go all out? A draw does see us qualify and we still have another shot at getting the Q next to our name vs Midtjylland, although it would be nice to get the business done here and have a night off next week.

Line up option 2, and potentially the more likely line up, sees Rhys Williams partner Matip and Curt Jones give Gini that much needed rest. I think this is pretty close to what we'll see tonight. We have a fair gap between now and Wolves and the last thing we want is for it to go down to the last game of the group stage. Going away to Denmark with a depleted squad with the pressure of "this is a MUST win", is not something anyone wants to experience in an already stressful season.

With the ability to use 5 subs tonight (and we all know Klopps views on that), we will surely see Tsimikas, Taki and possibly Divock at some stage also. Another thing to bear in mind which I'm sure Klopp will be aware of; as it stands, there's not a lot of difference between qualifying first or second in terms of the quality of team we could be drawn against. Bayern Munich stand out as the side you would most want to avoid in the next round. However, other than the Bavarians, current group leaders we could face with a 2nd place finish would be Barca, Dortmund and Monchengladbach - given that we cannot be drawn with English opposition. None are worth fearing too much right now when you look at their form this season.

Being Liverpool, we never want to finish 2nd (in my lifetime we've done that enough already in the league), but in this instance with the current fixture congestion and injury list, maybe it's not a total disaster. 2021 could see the return of Thiago, Ox et al, as well as a potential defensive January signing, and then even Bayern Munich aren't worth fearing!

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