LONDON • Anfield was empty, his Liverpool team depleted by injury and it was hardly a vintage performance but the 1-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam on Tuesday still left manager Jurgen Klopp bursting with pride.
“Honestly since I was at Liverpool that feels like one of the biggest Champions League nights. Without supporters in, it was the most important, most difficult, most exceptional,” said the German after his side secured top spot in Group D with a game to spare.
“With the circumstances, there hasn’t been much to smile about, it’s been tricky, and the boys throw themselves into the game.
“Robbo (Andy Robertson) has a proper knock on the ankle and pushes himself through, Hendo (Jordan Henderson) with a sore back, Gini (Wijnaldum) – I have no words for him.
“Curtis Jones, what a game, I’m really proud.”
Jones, 19, got the second-half winner and was one of the brightest players in midfield.
Klopp had another injury to contend with before the game, with goalkeeper Alisson Becker ruled out with a hamstring strain. Reserve Irish goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher was picked ahead of the more experienced Adrian.
Kelleher, 22, responded with a vital save in the closing moments of the match to secure three points.
“That’s what I’m there for, I work every day in training to make sure I am ready and I was able to make a good few saves,” he said.
“It was an amazing one for me, to make my Champions League debut. It was massive and we got the win and qualified. A great night.”
Liverpool were already without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner through injury and Klopp was pleased that Jones took his chance.
“That’s how it is sometimes, in situations where there are problems there is always an opportunity for someone else and he took it just exceptionally well,” he said. “Curtis is a really good player and I am happy to have him around.”
Ajax now must beat Atalanta next week to make the last 16.
Elsewhere, Porto also qualified for the last 16 while Manchester City sealed first place in Group C after a 0-0 draw at the Estadio do Dragao.
Pep Guardiola’s side surrendered their 100 per cent record in the Champions League this season but the City boss still praised his players for their display.
“In all the games away we have played a really high level. In general, I am more than delighted with the performance in these games,” he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS