Liverpool secured passage to the Champions League knockout stages as group winners as they earned a 1-0 win over Ajax. (More Football News)
A second-half goal from teenager Curtis Jones ensured the Reds would progress to the next stage on Wednesday, although academy prospect Caoimhin Kelleher, given his chance in goal, was required to make a stunning late save from Klaas Jan Huntelaar to protect the points at Anfield.
Better was still to come for Jurgen Klopp and co, too, as news of Atalanta's shock draw with Midtjylland meant top spot was clinched in Group D with a game to spare.
Liverpool had been hit by yet another injury blow in the form of a hamstring issue for Alisson, meaning Kelleher was handed his Champions League debut, preferred to Adrian.
The 22-year-old was initially a virtual spectator during a strong start from the hosts that saw fellow youngster Jones crack the post from distance.
Ajax grew into the game as it progressed, however, and called Kelleher into action on the half-hour mark through Noussair Mazraoui's thunderous effort from the edge of the box.
3 - At 19 years and 306 days old, Curtis Jones is the third youngest goalscorer for Liverpool in the Champions League after David N'Gog (19y 252d) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (19y 10d). Instinct. pic.twitter.com/Kzzjuy0TQ5— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 1, 2020
The Irishman should have been tested again shortly after the break but instead saw Davy Klaassen head a glorious chance wide from a well-worked free-kick.
And Ajax went even closer moments later, David Neres striking the post from a tight angle after following up on Mazraoui's parried shot.
They were made to regret those misses almost instantly, too.
Neco Williams' deep left-footed cross appeared to be leading to nothing, but a horrible misjudgement from goalkeeper Andre Onana allowed Jones to poke the ball home from a tight angle at the back post.
Although Onana was more impressive in smothering from Salah and saving well from substitute Roberto Firmino, the damage was done for Ajax, who must now beat Atalanta on matchday six to advance after Kelleher instinctively repelled Huntelaar's close-range header.
What does it mean? Relief for Reds
With a packed fixture list causing Liverpool all sorts of injury problems, Klopp will be relieved that nothing now rides on next week's visit to Midtjylland in this competition.
By contrast, Ajax host Atalanta knowing they need a win to pip their opponents to the second qualification spot in Group D.
Big milestone for youngster
Coming into this season, Jones would not have expected to be starting four out of Liverpool's first five Champions League group games, but the local lad has certainly grabbed his chance.
Scorer of the winning goal here, the teenager took more shots than anyone else on the pitch (four), including hitting the post, and even chipped in defensively, winning four of his five aerial duels.
Mane looking out of sorts
With just one goal from his past 10 outings, Sadio Mane is enduring a poor run of form by his incredibly high standards.
The Senegalese looked out of sorts in this one, losing possession on 15 occasions (more than any other Liverpool player), and getting just one of three shots on target.
Key Opta Facts
- Ajax lost for the first time in their past 12 away games in the Champions League (W7 D4).
- Liverpool have registered four clean sheets in their past five Champions League games (two goals conceded in total) after managing just one in eight before that (12 goals conceded).
- Kelleher is the first Irish player to appear in the Champions League for Liverpool since Robbie Keane in December 2008 (also against Dutch opposition in PSV) and just the fourth for the Reds overall in the competition (also Steven Finnan and Darren Potter).
- He is the 11th goalkeeper to appear for Liverpool in the Champions League but only the second to keep a clean sheet on his debut for the Reds in the competition, after Chris Kirkland (v Galatasaray in 2002).
- Liverpool's opener was the first time in Champions League history one teenager, Williams (19y 232d), assisted another, Jones (19y 306d), for a Premier League side.
Liverpool return to Premier League action against Wolves on Sunday, while Ajax host Twente in the Eredivisie on Saturday.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine