Liverpool secured a much-needed victory as Joel Matip’s late header against Ajax earned Jurgen Klopp’s side a 2-1 win and its first three points of the Champions League campaign.
So accustomed to being one of the dominant forces in world football in recent years, Liverpool has so far failed to click into gear this season and has looked a shadow of the side that reached last year’s final.
After a disappointing start to the Premier League season, Liverpool’s misery was compounded on the opening Champions League match day with a humiliating 4-1 defeat away to Napoli.
In the aftermath of that loss, Liverpool manager Klopp spoke about the team having to “reinvent” itself and Tuesday’s victory certainly went some way towards doing that.
The performance wasn’t vintage Liverpool by any means, but some of the intensity, movement and incisive passing that made the team so feared was once again on display.
After Mo Salah’s early goal had put Liverpool 1-0 up, it looked as though the home side could be on its way to a comfortable win at Anfield – but not much has been comfortable for Liverpool this season.
Just 10 minutes later, Ajax was level thanks to Mohammed Kudus’ brilliant finish into the top corner which left Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson completely stranded.
In truth, Liverpool should have found the winner long before Matip’s 89th-minute header but a combination of profligacy in front of goal and smart goalkeeping from veteran Ajax stopper Remko Pasveer kept the scores level.
Before Matip’s goal, Ajax could quite easily have found a winner of its own, but Daley Blind’s free header at the far post drifted agonizingly wide.
In his post-match press conference, Klopp called the win the “first step” on Liverpool’s path to rekindling its old form and said he saw “a lot” of improvements from the defeat to Napoli.
“I think if you put the two games, Napoli and tonight, next to each other you don’t recognise probably that it’s the same sport,” he said, per LFC.
“So, wholly different – the start was different, the middle was different, finish was different. The football we played, the way we defended, everything was different. Much higher intensity, much more aggression, braver, more ready.
“How I said, everything was better. It was a first step, nothing else, not more, but everything was good.”
There was no such late delight for Tottenham in Lisbon, as Antonio Conte’s side conceded two stoppage-time goals against Sporting to add a blemish to what has otherwise been an impressive start to the season.
Late goals from Paulinho and Arthur secured a 2-0 win and sent the José Alvalade Stadium wild, as Sporting continued its perfect start to the Champions League campaign following an impressive 3-0 win away to Eintracht Frankfurt on the opening day.
Sporting’s English forward Marcus Edwards, a product of Tottenham’s academy, was a particular thorn in Spurs’ side throughout the match and almost scored the goal of the season in the first half after the 23-year-old weaved his way through the entire Spurs defense.
Tottenham is one of only two Premier League teams to remain undefeated domestically after six games, but while the team has been efficient in picking up points, Conte’s side has so far failed to dazzle on the pitch.
The continued poor form of Son Heung-min, still without a goal this season, remains a concern but Conte insisted Tuesday’s defeat was a tight contest that his team “didn’t deserve to lose.”
“The game in the first half was in the balance,” the Italian told Spurs’ media. “In the second half, we tried to push and we had good chances to score. Then, in the end, we are talking about a loss.
“We conceded a goal from a corner and, for sure, we can do much better. Then we conceded another goal two minutes later. We have to work on all of these aspects because the level of the Champions League is an important level, and we have to try to improve because every game is very difficult.
“The game against Marseille was difficult. The same today. For sure, at the end, we didn’t deserve to win, but at the same time, we didn’t deserve to lose.”