Rangers’ defeat by Ajax sets new low and seals Champions League misery | Champions League

Ajax made sure of a place in the Europa League after beating Rangers 3-1 at Ibrox on Tuesday to heap further Champions League misery on the Scottish club.

Ajax finished third in Group A, behind Napoli and Liverpool, and will compete in the Europa League knockout round playoffs as Rangers finished bottom after losing all six group games – the first Scottish side to suffer the fate – and returned the worst figures in the three decades of Champions League group competition.

Steven Berghuis put Ajax ahead with a miscued effort in the fourth minute after being teed up by Mohammed Kudus, who then added a second with a deflected shot in the 29th minute.

Rangers captain James Tavernier pulled one back from the penalty spot four minutes from time, for only their second goal of the group stage, but Ajax restored their two-goal advantage through teenage substitute Francisco Conceição two minutes after.

Rangers, who needed to win by five goals to move above Ajax and take the Europa League berth, were jeered off at half-time.

They conceded 22 goals in their six group games for a goal difference of minus 20, which beats the previous worst group return by Dinamo Zagreb in the 2011-12 campaign when they lost all six games and finished with a goal difference of minus 19.

Czech club Viktoria Plzen also lost all six games this season with a minus 19 goal difference after losing 4-2 at home to Barcelona on Tuesday.

Qualification for knockout stage should never be taken for granted, says Klopp | Liverpool

Jürgen Klopp said qualification for the Champions League knockout stage should never be taken for granted after Liverpool secured their passage with an ultimately comfortable defeat of Dutch champions Ajax.

Liverpool progressed from their group for a sixth successive season, and with a game to spare, courtesy of goals from Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez and Harvey Elliott in Amsterdam. Ajax were the better team until Salah opened the scoring with his 40th European goal for Liverpool and Klopp, full of praise for his team’s tactical response, insisted the achievement of reaching the last 16 was one to savour.

The Liverpool manager said: “Nobody should ever take for granted qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League. We did it again in a game that started off really tricky and that makes victory even sweeter. Ajax are a really good team and we beat them twice. They were the better team for the first 35 minutes, they were more settled than us, which is normal because we changed again slightly and pressed different and we had to get used to that.

“We came through that, one situation where we were lucky and the other with a good block and then we scored our goal, which was brilliant, and the next situation was a sensational football moment but unfortunately we hit the post. Then we scored the two goals in the second half and controlled the game. We are really happy about going to the last 16. It’s great.”

Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson, who created Salah’s opener with a superb pass, was forced off with a knee injury late on but Klopp believes the problem is not serious. “I was worried because it was in front of me,” he said. “But it was knee-on-knee so painful, a bruise, but as far as I know now nothing else. He should be fine.”

Klopp admitted he would have been satisfied with just the draw that Liverpool needed to qualify. But he added: “I’m not sure what is better – to fly through a game, which everyone would like,or to overcome difficulties and develop into your best self like we did today. That stays with us. I would be over the moon if we played 0-0 and got through, it is all about getting through, but we did it winning 3-0 and with wonderful goals.”

Liverpool secure Champions League spot after Elliott seals win against Ajax | Champions League

The Champions League has brought familiar comfort in a season of maddening inconsistency for Jürgen Klopp. Liverpool secured their place in the knockout stage with a game to spare, their troubled away form and injury problems forgotten as Ajax were ultimately eased aside in Amsterdam.

Mohamed Salah opened the scoring shortly before the interval to move a step closer to becoming Liverpool’s all-time leading goalscorer in European football. Liverpool had been second best until that point but with one delicate flick Salah changed the complexion of the entire night. Ajax, after a determined start that should have delivered a two-goal lead, wilted on the spot. Two second‑half goals in quick succession from Darwin Núñez – his fourth in his past four starts – and Harvey Elliott consolidated second place in Group A behind the rampant leaders Napoli.

The roles will be reversed should Liverpool beat the Italian club by a four‑goal margin at Anfield next week. The opportunity may feel like a luxury to Klopp after the way this Champions League campaign opened in Naples. The response to that 4-1 reverse has been an emphatic demonstration of Liverpool’s European experience and pedigree.

There were shades of Napoli to Liverpool’s start at a raucous Johan Cruyff Arena where their defence was prised apart and their woodwork was struck from Ajax’s first attack. In Naples Victor Osimhen had struck the base of a Liverpool post after 42 seconds. This time it was Steven Berghuis who hit the frame of the goal with only 128 seconds gone to intensify an impressive atmosphere. He should have accomplished far more.

Davy Klaassen and Daley Blind combined near the corner flag with the former Manchester United defender’s pass deflecting to Brian Brobbey inside the Liverpool area. The Ajax centre-forward held off Virgil van Dijk and laid the ball off to Berghuis, who stepped around Andy Robertson on his 50th Champions League appearance for Klopp’s team. The goal was at the mercy of the midfielder but, with Alisson to beat from close range, his low shot cannoned off a post to safety.

Mohamed Salah lifts the ball over Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer to give Liverpool the lead
Mohamed Salah lifts the ball over Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer to give Liverpool the lead. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Unlike in Naples, Liverpool learned from the reprieve, although it took a while. Alisson made his 200th appearance for the club and overcame sustained early pressure to preserve a 90th clean sheet in the Liverpool goal. The Brazil international intervened to prevent Jorge Sánchez’s cross reaching the unmarked Dusan Tadic at the back post.

Berghuis curled just wide after Trent Alexander-Arnold had given the ball away cheaply, Sánchez shot straight at Alisson from 25 yards and Tadic had a glorious chance when Brobbey broke down the right and centred for his captain standing unmarked inside the area. Alexander-Arnold recovered just in time to block Tadic’s powerful drive.

“I should have scored,” the winger said. “If I had scored or Steven had scored it would have been a different game. They scored from their first situation. Top teams always punish you if you don’t score.”

Liverpool threatened little initially. Salah’s blocked volley from Robertson’s delivery in the 29th minute was the visitors’ first genuine chance of note. Klopp deployed Núñez and Salah at the top of a 4-4-2 diamond with Roberto Firmino dropping deep to orchestrate attacks, but it was not until the closing moments of the first half that the plan clicked into place. The Uruguay international, who missed Saturday’s defeat at Nottingham Forest with a slight hamstring problem, reverted to theatrics when going to ground holding his face after non-existent contact from Calvin Bassey.

The moment appeared to sum up Liverpool’s frustration in the final third. But then, from almost out of nowhere, they claimed an invaluable lead. It was a goal created superbly by Jordan Henderson and executed brilliantly by Salah. Receiving a Firmino pass out on the left, the Liverpool captain rode a challenge from the Ajax right‑back Sánchez and flicked a beautiful, instant pass with the outside of his right foot into Salah’s darting run through the middle of the home defence. Remko Pasveer came racing off his line and succeeded only in inviting the Egypt international to clip a first-time finish over him and into a gaping goal. It was Salah’s 40th European goal for Liverpool, taking him to within one of the club record established by Steven Gerrard.

Darwin Núñez celebrates scoring Liverpool’s second goal of the game.
Darwin Núñez celebrates after doubling Liverpool’s lead against Ajax. Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

Belief immediately drained from Ajax, players and supporters alike. Liverpool should have doubled their lead before half-time when Robertson took Joe Gomez’s pass in his stride, darted away from Steven Bergwijn, and pierced the Ajax defence with a precise pass into Firmino. The Brazilian opted not to shoot and picked out Núñez completely unmarked at the back post instead but, with an open goal to aim for, the striker’s effort struck the post.

Amends were made quickly in the second half when Núñez headed Liverpool into a two-goal lead from a Robertson corner. With Fabinho taking care of Jurriën Timber around a crowded penalty spot, the centre‑forward spun away from Sánchez to send a stooping header beyond Pasveer and into the far corner.

It was only three minutes later Elliott rounded off a flowing move with a fine finish into the roof of the Ajax keeper’s net. Salah turned exquisite provider this time, receiving Alexander-Arnold’s pass in a central position and releasing the young midfielder with a superb ball behind the Ajax defence. Elliott applied the final touch that the pass deserved to beat Pasveer from a tight angle.

The Ajax coach, Alfred Schreuder, heard his substitutions heckled and jeers accompany a home performance that went rapidly downhill following Salah’s opener. Dropping down into the Europa League beckons for the Dutch champions in the spring.

For Liverpool, it is the familiar ground of the Champions League knockout phase that awaits for a sixth successive season.

Van Dijk insists Liverpool need to prove they are ‘one of world’s biggest teams’ | Champions League

Virgil van Dijk has said it is time for Liverpool to show they are “one of the biggest teams in the world” and improve their faltering away form, beginning at Ajax on Wednesday.

Liverpool can secure qualification for the Champions League knockout phase with a game to spare should they avoid defeat at the Johan Cruyff ArenA. That would be an impressive turnaround from Jürgen Klopp’s team in Europe having lost their Group A opener 4-1 in Napoli. But away results have continued to stall their overall momentum.

Defeat at Nottingham Forest on Saturday was Liverpool’s fourth loss in seven away matches in all competitions this season and Van Dijk has admitted there must be improvement before a sell-out crowd of 55,865 in Amsterdam.

“It is not something that we like [the away form],” he said. “It is something we want to improve as a group. We will try and show the intensity that we always want to show from tomorrow. We need that. Every game we play, whether it is away or at home, is always a difficult task and it is a different ask. From us as well.

“For example, the last away game at Forest we played against a very deep defending side and we tried to break them down and you have to be patient and do the right things. It makes every game different.

“We want to improve the situation, we want to improve the away results. It starts tomorrow. We want to show tomorrow that we are Liverpool, one of the biggest teams and clubs in the world.”

Ajax must win to retain hope of qualifying and the Netherlands’ captain believes it is vital Liverpool do not allow their opponents, who have lost their past three Champions League group games, to build any confidence on home soil.

“Ajax is a fantastic club, historically as well with the philosophy of how they want to play,” Van Dijk said. “They don’t have the best moment but I know how it can be here on a Champions League night when things go well for them. We have to be prepared for that and we have to match their intensity at least and then do even more.

“It will be interesting and something we should look forward [to]. We shouldn’t forget ourselves and who we are. We have to keep the confidence and try to be consistent.”

Jürgen Klopp speaks at a Champions League press conference
Jürgen Klopp said Liverpool have not had consistency in their line-up due to injuries which is why their performances have suffered. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

There are concerns over the state of the pitch at the Johan Cruyff ArenA after it was damaged during the Amsterdam Dance Event on Saturday. Ajax groundstaff have been working on repairs this week.

Klopp claimed he has been preoccupied with other issues since Saturday to worry too much about Liverpool’s away form – namely injuries, with Thiago Alcântara still absent with the ear infection that forced his withdrawal against Forest.

“It is not something that is on my mind at the moment,” the Liverpool manager said of the discrepancy between his team’s results on the road and at Anfield.

“I am not sitting here thinking about the away problem and that I have to say something special about it for tomorrow. I prepare the team for a very important football game. Sorry, but I am not prepared for this question in this moment. I have had other things to do in the last few days.”

Klopp insisted there is a direct correlation between Liverpool’s inconsistent season and the injuries they have sustained throughout the campaign. “What you need to click is consistency in a lineup, and we cannot do that. Not at all,” the manager said.

“We have to sort problems. The situation doesn’t just get sorted overnight. Naby [Keita] and Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] are not in the Champions League squad because everyone told me they would be out for longer. If they are back it is good but they are not back to play.

“I’m really looking forward to the game. It’s the Champions League, it’s Ajax – big names, big games. It’s all good.

“Our squad is not too small, it’s just that we have too many injuries. But we have enough players here and that is good news for the people who are with us.”

Champions League roundup: Bayern, Napoli and Brugge seal knockout places | Champions League

Bayern Munich cruised past Viktoria Plzen 4-2, putting them through to the knockout stage of the Champions League after punishing the Czech champions during a ruthless first-half display.

The victory combined with Barcelona’s 3-3 draw with Internazionale put Bayern through to the knockout stage while confirming the hosts’ exit. Bayern, who have now gone a record-extending 32 group matches in the competition without defeat, struck first after 10 minutes when Sadio Mané played a one-two with Leon Goretzka before putting the ball in the net.

An unmarked Thomas Müller doubled the visitors’ lead, before Goretzka nabbed two goals to round off the scoring for Bayern. Adam Vlkanova and Jan Kliment pulled goals back for the home side in the second half.

Napoli kept up their 100% record in the Champions League group phase and secured progress to the knockout stages by beating Ajax 4-2 at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Early goals from Hirving Lozano and Giacomo Raspadori put the Serie A leaders comfortably ahead by the 16-minute mark and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia added a second-half penalty after Davy Klaassen had pulled one back for Ajax.

The Dutch club made a desperate bid for a share of the spoils as Steven Bergwijn converted an 83rd-minute penalty to bring the score back to 3-2 but a terrible defensive error allowed Victor Osimhen to score Napoli’s fourth in the final minute.

Napoli’s 12-point haul means they are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group A, having scored 17 goals in four matches. Elsewhere in the section, Liverpool demolished Rangers 7-1 to put themselves a point away from qualification.

Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth.
Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth. Photograph: DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Club Brugge reached the knockout round after a 0-0 draw against Atlético Madrid guaranteed them a top-two spot in Group B. Atlético squandered a string of chances as they extended their winless streak in the competition to three games.

Elsewhere in the group, Porto’s Galeno scored one goal and earned two penalties for Mehdi Taremi to convert as they cruised to a 3-0 victory at Bayer Leverkusen, taking over second place with two matches remaining.

With manager Xabi Alonso making his Champions League debut on the Leverkusen bench, the German side quickly found themselves a goal behind after six minutes. Try as they might the hosts could not get back into the game with Porto keeper Diogo Costa pulling off several outstanding saves.

Porto’s win lifted them into second place on six points, Leverkusen are in fourth place on three points with only an outside chance of qualifying. Atlético are third on four.

In Group D, Marseille boosted their chances of reaching the last 16 with a 2-0 victory at nine-man Sporting. Mattéo Guendouzi and Alexis Sánchez scored before the break as Sporting, who lost Ricardo Esgaio and Pedro Gonçalves to red cards either side of the interval.

The result put Marseille in second place on six points, one behind Tottenham who beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2. Sporting are third on six points, two ahead of Eintracht.

Champions League roundup: Napoli pummel Ajax 6-1, Inter beat Barcelona | Champions League

Giacomo Raspadori scored twice as Napoli came from behind to deliver a masterclass and score a runaway 6-1 win at 10-man Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The captain, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Piotr Zielinski, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and the substitute Giovanni Simeone added the other goals for the Italian league leaders, after Mohammed Kudus had given the hosts the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.

Napoli, who might have scored more such was their dominance, have a 100% record at the halfway point in Group A, leaving Ajax with three points from their opening three games and in danger of missing out on next year’s knockout stages after their biggest defeat in European football.

Internazionale bounced back after two consecutive losses in Serie A with a crucial 1-0 win against Barcelona thanks to a Hakan Calhanoglu goal. The midfielder slotted home a clinical strike from just outside the area, with the ball going into the corner to the goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen’s right in added time before the break. The home win lifted Inter to second place in Group C on six points, three behind leaders Bayern Munich and three in front of Barcelona.

Bayern struck three times in the opening 21 minutes en route to a 5-0 demolition of Viktoria Plzen to set a record for the longest unbeaten run in group matches. The German champions have now gone 31 group games in the competition without defeat.

Elsewhere, goals from Club Brugge forwards Kamal Sowah and Ferran Jutglà saw the Belgian champions beat Atlético Madrid 2-0 at home to extend their perfect run in Group B this season. The hosts took the lead in the 36th minute when Jutglà’s low pass across the goal found Sowah, who tapped the ball into an empty net for his second European goal in three games.

Jutglà doubled the lead in the 62nd minute after winger Tajon Buchanan calmly waited for the right moment to set up the Spanish forward inside the box. Atlético had a chance to get back into the match with a penalty 15 minutes later but Antoine Griezmann lashed the ball against the bar and moments later the forward thought he had scored but his effort was ruled out for offside. Porto substitutes Zaidu and Galeno were both on target as they beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 to seal the Portuguese side’s first victory in the group stage. They are level on points with Leverkusen after three matches.

Marseille secured their first Champions League win of the season when they recovered from a shaky start to outclass 10-man Sporting 4-1 in an incident-packed Group D encounter at an empty Stade Vélodrome. The game, played behind closed doors after crowd trouble marred Marseille’s home match against Eintracht Frankfurt, was delayed by more than 20 minutes following Sporting’s late arrival at the stadium due to a traffic jam.