Liverpool began their latest Champions League campaign with an away win against Ajax in a narrow and at times nervy affair.
A single own goal was enough to separate the sides with Jurgen Klopp without some key players including now long term absentee Virgil van Dijk.
With Joel Matip also ruled out for the trip, Fabinho stepped up into defence while Adrian also continued in goal in place of the recovering Alisson.
The Reds had not traveled to Amsterdam for a European fixture in over 40 years and unfortunately, this time around they did so without a cohort of away fans to cheer them on.
It was Klopp's defence getting all the attention ahead of the game, with speculation over how they would perform without their talismanic Dutchman and they also feature prominently in how papers around the country have reacted to the result.
Here's a round-up of what the national media made of Liverpool's 1-0 win.
'Liverpool know what they are missing'
Martin Samuel, The Daily Mail
There were four minutes of injury time gone when Nicolas Tagliafico lofted a ball into the Liverpool area. Adrian came out to clear it but his punch fell short to midfielder Jurgen Ekkelenkamp.
For a split second it looked as if there may be another late sting in the tail for Liverpool, more of the frustration felt at Everton; but Ekkelenkamp shot over, and the win was safe. A good win, too. Liverpool haven't lost to Dutch opponents since 1966, but Ajax are a useful side and certainly had their moments. An away win, and a clean sheet, in Liverpool's first match without the talismanic Virgil van Dijk is not to be sniffed it.
Yet that little vignette at the end of the second-half told its own story. It is not just Van Dijk that Liverpool are weaker without. When Alisson does not start, they are a different team, too. Adrian, his understudy, is similar in many ways to Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana; capable of a fine save one minute, a fine mess the next.
In the second-half, Onana produced a good save from Takumi Minamino swiftly followed by a chaotic clearance almost charged down by Diogo Jota. Yet Onana is Ajax's number one. The players do not have a superior team-mate to compare him to, and that makes a difference.
All goalkeepers make mistakes, but some continue to inspire confidence despite it. Onana does, for Ajax. His defenders do not seem greatly skittish around him. It is different for Liverpool. Maybe because they know what they are missing. From Ajax's first attack to the last, there was a feeling a fleeting misjudgment could change this game.
It did, of course, but not in a way it was imagined. The goal that divided these teams was flukey, and nothing less. As unfortunate as Liverpool were last weekend at Goodison Park so the balance was redressed in their favour in the first half here.
For all the moments of fragility that Adrian had displayed, it turned out to be a panicked defensive error by Ajax that separated the sides.
'A timely reminder of the strength in Liverpool collective'
Andy Hunter, The Guardian
Under normal circumstances the Liverpool manager would have embraced an away win at a difficult venue at the start of a Champions League campaign. To triumph following a hugely turbulent and damaging few days – and with the added bonuses of a clean sheet, a slice of good fortune plus a commanding defensive display from Fabinho – underlined the European pedigree and vast experience available to Klopp even without Virgil van Dijk to marshal his backline.
Luck played its part in Liverpool’s victory with the Ajax defender Nicolás Tagliafico settling the outcome with an outlandish own goal. Klopp will feel it overdue given the injuries that dominated the buildup and shaped his team selection. “The medical department made the lineup pretty much,” he said. But there was determination and resilience in the visitors’ performance, typified by Fabinho denying Dusan Tadic an equaliser with a spectacular overhead clearance on his goal-line.
The Brazilian was forced into central defensive duties once again with Joël Matip joining Van Dijk on the sidelines and, on this evidence, he is likely to remain there. Liverpool started nervously in defence, which was hardly a surprise given the recent disruption. But Fabinho brought composure and assurance from the start and produced a series of timely interceptions that thwarted promising Ajax moves. One led to Mohammed Kudus injuring his right knee in an awkward landing and the Ghanaian forward had to be replaced by Quincy Promes.
For all the disruption in defence and midfield, Liverpool were still able to call on the formidable talents of their established front three. It required a superb challenge from Danny Blind to prevent Roberto Firmino latching on to Mohamed Salah’s back-heel into the penalty area. Sadio Mané was a constant threat from the left and engineered the breakthrough without knowing too much about it. The Senegal international spun away from Perr Schuurs expertly when receiving a throw-in from James Milner. He then completely scuffed his shot across goal only for the Ajax left-back, Tagliafico, to steer the ball into his own net under zero pressure.
'Impossible to replace irreplaceable'
Jason Burt, The Telegraph
It is impossible to replace the irreplaceable, but Liverpool have surely found the solution for now to the loss of Virgil van Dijk, with Fabinho producing an outstanding performance in the centre of defence as they began their Champions League campaign with a precious away victory.
The winning goal against Ajax was freakish, but Liverpool will believe they have deserved some luck after the terrible anterior cruciate ligament injury that will require surgery and has ruled out their best defender, and probably the best in the world, for months and possibly the rest of this season.
All the talk had been of Van Dijk’s absence and the effect it would have on Liverpool, who will be almost as pleased with the clean sheet as the points, although they were fortunate not to concede against a typically vibrant young Ajax side in the heavy Amsterdam rain.
Liverpool defended differently without Van Dijk, dropping deeper, being more cautious and with Fabinho filling in from midfield as he has done on four previous occasions – and to great effect. In fact, this was the fourth time the Brazilian has taken the role without Liverpool conceding a goal. Can he stay there in the coming months? Probably so, but Jurgen Klopp’s options are still limited and surely Liverpool will be planning a signing in the January transfer window – they know they are one more injury away from a full-blown crisis.
Liverpool, despite Fabinho’s outstanding display, inevitably appear more vulnerable without Van Dijk and that will be a constant worry with the taxing schedule to come. Maybe with that in mind there was the unusual sight of Klopp, as he took full advantage of Uefa’s five substitutions rule, gambling by withdrawing Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino after an hour in what was a pre-planned move to give the attacking trio some rest, as was Jordan Henderson, only coming on at half-time. Moving Fabinho does create its own problems in midfield, with Curtis Jones drafted in for his Champions League debut and struggling.
The sight of Mane having bags of ice placed on a knee might have caused some additional alarm, especially with Liverpool already missing goalkeeper Alisson Becker, Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip – all out injured – and the anxiety from Klopp was clear in a fretful first half.
It was smoothed by the goal that was gained in the strangest manner and came soon after Ajax should have taken the lead.
It was Mane who turned sharply to spin 20-year-old centre-half Perr Schuurs from a throw-in and create the space to shoot, only to take a chunk out of the turf, miscuing the ball across goal.
Melissa Reddy, The Independent
Act 1, Scene 1 of Liverpool Without Virgil van Dijk was marked by Fabinho morphing into a centre-back extraordinaire in the 1-0 Champions League victory at Ajax.
England’s best began their European crusade with the objective of not letting the absence of the world’s best defender and Alisson, one of its foremost goalkeepers, colour their performance or the commentary of the result. Against expectation, Liverpool kept a clean sheet.
Stationed alongside the excellent Joe Gomez, Fabinho calmed the nerves and nullified the hosts in a largely untidy first half.
The Brazilian international produced a top-shelf clearance to thwart a certain goal, made three others, along with four tackles, two interceptions and a block – and that was just in the opening 45 minutes. By the end of the game, he’d won 80% of his duels.
Gomez, meanwhile, produced 11 ball recoveries and 10 tackles, winning 85.7% of his battles. The pair delivered a steely display to build on during Van Dijk’s lengthy absence.
Liverpool’s intention to hit their front three early was evident from the off. Mane, in particular, had looked in one of those him-against-the-world-moods, where his every action is shaped to win the game.
Klopp was able to withdraw the Senegal international, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino on 60 minutes for Diogo Jota, Xherdan Shaqiri and Takumi Minamino - the trio all lively as subs.
Jordan Henderson, on at half-time and only recently back from injury, was also granted more minutes as Klopp tried and mesh rhythm with rotation ahead of an intense stanza in the schedule.
Given the circumstances, this was a match for Liverpool to get through, to manage, to win with minimal fuss. In that context, it was mission achieved.
'A hero Klopp prayed for'
David Maddock, Mirror Online
It was the performance Jurgen Klopp promised, with the hero that he prayed for, to show there is life after Virgil van Dijk.
Amid all the dire warnings of a European meltdown, his replacement Fabinho produced an admirable impression of the absent Dutchman, with a towering display at the heart of defence to deny Ajax.
The Brazilian showed some of the dominance in the air, the same poise on the ball, and even found time to produce a brilliant match-turning goal-line clearance that had Klopp beaming at the end.
That was down to the clean sheet he prayed for, alongside the grit and determination he had guaranteed. As the first step on a long journey without van Dijk, it was a heartening one for the German coach.
It allowed the English club to escape from Amsterdam with a crucial victory - thanks to the brilliance of Sadio Mane - that sets them up nicely in Group D.
And while it was hardly a classic European display on a night of pouring rain that dampened any hope of a classic between these two European aristocrats, under the doom-laden circumstances, Klopp would certainly settle for it.
Inevitably, predictably, the forensic focus on this tie was lasered in on Liverpool defence, and the man charged with somehow achieving the impossible…replacing the best defender in the world.
Fabinho was not fazed. He is not even a centre half if truth be told, has played only a handful of games there. but he is versatile, and he is willing. He also showed he was up to the task - against Ajax at least.