Mohamed Salah’s clipped finish and quickfire goals at the start of the second half from Darwin Nunez and Harvey Elliott took Liverpool to a 3-0 win at Ajax which sends them into the Champions League last 16.

The visitors should have been a couple of goals behind in Amsterdam by the time Salah (42) latched onto Jordan Henderson’s outside-of-the-boot pass and finished first-time for his sixth strike in five Champions League games this term.

Steven Berghuis had smacked a shot against the post just three minutes in and Dusan Tadic would have expected to score when his effort was blocked by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Liverpool had struggled to get up the pitch for most of that opening period but finished the half strongly and were kicking themselves for not going in two clear at the break when Nunez somehow hit the back post from Roberto Firmino’s inviting pass.

They were soon out of sight at the start of the second period, though, with Nunez (49) powerfully heading in from a corner to make up for that bad miss and Salah then feeding a pass through for Elliott (52) to smack home at the near post, as a three-minute blitz all-but ended the contest.

Napoli’s comfortable 3-0 win over Rangers ensured they sit top of the pile in this group and are almost certain to win it but Liverpool’s victory – in their 150th Champions League match – means they can now rest key players for their home game with the Italian side on Tuesday. That will be welcomed by boss Jurgen Klopp, given the injuries he’s currently dealing with.

Player ratings

Ajax: Pasveer (4), Timber (6), Bassey (6), Blind (6), Sanchez (6), Alvarez (6), Klaassen (7), Bergwijn (6), Brobbey (7), Tadic (6), Berghuis (6).

Subs: Wijndal (6), Kudus (6), Taylor (6), Grillitsch (N/A), Conceicao (N/A)

Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (6), Gomez (6), Van Dijk (6), Robertson (7), Fabinho (6), Henderson (7), Elliott (7), Salah (8), Firmino (7), Nunez (7).

Subs: Jones (6), Carvalho (6), Bajcetic (6), Milner (7), Tsimikas (N/A)

Man of the match: Mohamed Salah

How Liverpool booked their last-16 spot

Liverpool made three changes from Saturday’s defeat to Premier League bottom club Nottingham Forest and switched to a midfield diamond as they searched for a response to that setback – but they were extremely slow out of the blocks and looked set to go behind when Berghuis lined up his shot in the box from Brian Brobbey’s lay-off moments after kick-off.

Fortunately for Liverpool, the midfielder found the woodwork rather than the net but a blocked effort from Daley Blind followed and Berghuis shot wide before Edson Alvarez made Alisson work on his 200th appearance for the Reds as Ajax put the pressure on.

Team news

  • Liverpool made three changes from the weekend, with Darwin Nunez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson back in the team, while Fabio Carvalho, James Milner and Curtis Jones dropped to the bench.
  • Ajax stuck with the XI which won in the Eredivisie last time out, a line-up featuring former Premier League players Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Davy Klaasen, Steven Berghuis and Steven Bergwijn.

There was something of a lull midway through the first half as Liverpool eventually took control of possession but struggled to do much with it against an enthusiastic Ajax press. It wasn’t until Alexander-Arnold got himself in the way of Tadic’s shot on the break that the visitors finally came to life.

Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring for Liverpool vs Ajax
Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring for Liverpool vs Ajax

Henderson’s bent pass from the right was excellent and found the unmarked Salah in lots of space to steer the ball past Remko Pasveer. The goalkeeper was again stranded when good work from Andy Robertson led to Firmino crossing low through the six-yard box for Nunez to wastefully tap against the back post in first-half stoppage time.

It was a bad miss, a virtual open goal but the striker responded in the right manner and powered away from Jurrien Timber at the start of the second half to head in Robertson’s corner.

Liverpool's Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring his side's second goal vs Ajax
Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal vs Ajax

Whatever was said in Klopp’s half-time team talk certainly worked as a lovely move moments later saw Elliott played in by Salah and his right-foot shot flashed past Pasveer to put the result beyond doubt.

Inevitably the game drifted to a conclusion from that point, with Ajax only mustering off-target shots from Steven Bergwijn, Kenneth Taylor, Berghuis, Alvarez and Timber as they slipped towards the Europa League. Rangers will need to better the 4-0 defeat they suffered against the Dutch side if they are to take Ajax’s place in the second-tier tournament.

Liverpool will need their own big win to leapfrog Napoli at the top of the standings after losing 4-1 in Italy but they will enjoy their final group game knowing their place in the Champions League knockouts is assured for a club-record sixth straight season under Klopp. They will hope their season – just like this performance – recovers from a slow start.

Klopp: I will never take CL progress for granted

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp claims qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League should not be taken for granted and adds that he’s pleased with the level of the performance in the 3-0 win against Ajax.

Jurgen Klopp speaking to BT Sport: “We had a tough half an hour where Ajax made a lot of pressure and we needed to defend with a lot of passion. You have to get through these phases. We changed system again a little bit to a diamond. We thought it made sense because we didn’t want to have Darwin always on the wing.

“Then we scored a goal which was absolutely exceptional. Second half we really had a good start, scored two wonderful goals and then controlled the game really well. We are through to the knockout stages and I will never take that for granted.”

He added in his press conference: “It’s a big achievement in itself [qualifying]. Ajax are a really good team and we beat them twice. They looked much more settled than us. That’s normal, it’s an away game in the Champions League, it’s difficult, we came through that. One situation where we were lucky, one where we had a good block. Then you can see the goal, how that can open everything. The goal was brilliant and the next situation was a sensational football moment. Unfortunately we hit the post there. Then we scored the two goals and controlled the game, which is really good.”

On Nunez: “Really good game, in both directions. He played with a big heart today and I like that a lot.”

Robertson: I told Nunez I’d set him up!

Andy Robertson on BT Sport: “Darwin was really angry at himself at half-time for missing that chance. I don’t think he understood a word I said but I told him I’d put a cross on his head for him to score!”

What’s next?

Saturday 29th October 7:30pm

Kick off 7:45pm

Liverpool return to Premier League action on Saturday when they host Leeds, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 7.45pm. Their final Champions League group-stage fixture sees them host Napoli at Anfield on Tuesday November 1.

Ajax do not have a domestic fixture this weekend, with their next game against Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday in the Champions League.

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