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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was delighted with how his untested centre-back pairing of Fabinho and Joe Gomez performed in the 1-0 win over Ajax in their Champions League opener.
A Nicolas Tagliafico 35th-minute own goal decided an untidy match in Amsterdam as only the Reds’ second clean sheet in 13 European games as the away team on an opponent’s ground proved decisive.
Midfielder Fabinho, in particular, was exceptional filling the hole left by Virgil Van Dijk’s long-term knee injury – hooking a Dusan Tadic lob off the goalline to keep the score at 1-0 – but he also had a positive influence on Gomez alongside him.
“Good but even Fabinho can play better,” Klopp said on the performance of the Brazil international, whose partnership with Gomez was the 35th centre-back pairing used by the German.
“This combination had not played together so they need to get used to each other, the verbal commands, what you need to say to the midfield.
“Fabinho can play the position, he likes playing it actually. If I asked him to play right-back I don’t think he would enjoy it as much.
“I’m not surprised Fabinho plays in the position, otherwise I would have thought about a different solution.
“It was a good performance but there is a lot to improve, that is good. It was absolutely good tonight and we’d like it to carry on.
“We are not dumb enough to think we didn’t need a bit of luck as Fabinho needed to make a proper stretch to get that ball from the line and they hit the post.
“A clean sheet is one information but we could have done better. I don’t care in the moment as we wanted to win the game and we have done that.”
Klopp played down concerns about more injury worries, insisting Sadio Mane had been carrying a dead leg for a couple of days and that was the reason he had an ice pack on after being substituted.
Youngster Curtis Jones’ full Champions League debut lasted just 45 minutes but that was because Jordan Henderson was not fit enough to play more than half a game.
We are not dumb enough to think we didn't need a bit of luck
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
“It was not the most easy-on-the-eye performance from both teams, both teams can play much better football,” Klopp added.
“Pretty much the medical department made the line-up – and then you have to win the game and that is what the boys did and I think it was pretty much deserved.
“They had their moments but apart from that we were pretty dominant on a difficult pitch.
“It will not be on the front page of our history book but it is an important moment and I am pleased with that.”
Ajax coach Erik Ten Hag felt his players wasted an opportunity against a Liverpool team missing Van Dijk and obviously not at their fluent best.
“It was a good team performance. We didn’t score but we did have enough chances,” he said.
“They (his players) had Liverpool around their finger for a while and we are very happy about that. Liverpool were fragile tonight but we didn’t take advantage of that.”