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Liverpool have a poor record on the road this season, and the fact that they do not need to win means their performance could lack intensity.
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It has been a case of one step forward, one step back for Liverpool so far this season. A 7-1 thumping of Rangers on matchday three of the Champions League was followed by back-to-back 1-0 wins in the Premier League, as Manchester City and West Ham United were seen off at Anfield.
Liverpool were worthy winners against City, the type of crunch clash that their players were able to raise themselves for. But the victory over West Ham was somewhat fortuitous: the visitors had numerous chances, including a missed penalty, and were probably deserving of a point on the balance of play.
Still, Jurgen Klopp was understandably keen to take the positives from a third consecutive win in all competitions, and a trip to Nottingham Forest on Saturday appeared to offer his side a fantastic chance to extend that streak to four. Steve Cooper’s side, the favorites for relegation, went into the match rooted to the foot of the table having won just one of their first 11 fixtures.
Instead, Liverpool slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the City Ground. They turned in a flat display, with several of their star players underperforming - as has been the case for much of the campaign to date. Although they are still only five points adrift of the top four, Liverpool need to turn things around soon if they are to remain in the hunt for Champions League qualification.
The Reds are at least going slightly better in Europe, having recovered well from an opening-day thumping by Napoli. Liverpool will advance to the knockout stage of the competition if they pick up a point on Wednesday. Klopp will certainly want to see a response from his players after their limp showing in Nottingham.
This always looked like it would be a tough group for Ajax to negotiate, but the Dutch champions will be disappointed to be on the verge of elimination with two matches left to play.
In fairness to Ajax, no one really envisaged Serie A side Napoli being this strong after a summer of significant squad turnover at the Stadio Armando Diego Maradona. Luciano Spalletti’s side have been nothing short of magnificent so far. It is not just that they have won each of their four games to date - an impressive enough achievement itself - but that they have done so with such emphatic scorelines.
Napoli began their campaign by demolishing Liverpool 4-1, then beat Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox. Their most eye-catching result, though, was a stunning 6-1 victory over Ajax in Amsterdam.
A 4-2 win in the reverse fixture on matchday four means Alfred Schreuder’s charges are nine points behind Napoli and six adrift of Liverpool going into Wednesday’s contest, which means it is win or bust for Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
There are mitigating circumstances. Ajax lost their successful manager Erik ten Hag in the summer, plus key players like Nicolas Tagliafico, Antony, Lisandro Martinez, Sebastien Haller, Ryan Gravenberch, and Andre Onana. This was always likely to be a season of transition, at least in Europe. Ajax will console themselves with their present position at the summit of the Eredivisie standings.
Although Ajax can still mathematically make it through to the round of 16 of the Champions League, their more realistic goal is to qualify for the Europa League. A third-place finish in their group would see Schreuder’s side drop into the continent’s secondary competition after Christmas.
Ajax are three points clear of Rangers with two games left. The Scottish team are yet to pick up a point, so it would take quite the turnaround for them to knock Ajax out of the third spot from here. However, there is a clear incentive for the Dutch outfit on Wednesday, since a win would guarantee their continued participation in European soccer into 2023.
Ajax will draw hope from Liverpool’s disappointing away form so far this season. They may have crushed Rangers 7-1 at Ibrox, but that is the only match at a stadium other than Anfield that the Reds have won in any competition this term. Liverpool have struggled to impose themselves on their travels up to now.
He would not admit it publicly, but Klopp might settle for a draw on Wednesday: it would secure Liverpool’s place in the next round of the Champions League and represent something of a bounce-back from the loss to Forest last time out.
Ajax will be determined to stage a late group-stage rally, or at least to book their place in the knockout round play-offs of the Europa League, and we like the look of a home win or draw in the double chance market.
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|Teams||Ajax vs Liverpool|
|Location||Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands|
|Time||Wednesday, 26 October 2022, 15.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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