Big Midweek: Ajax v Liverpool, Ten Hag v Ronaldo, Tottenham, Bellingham

Date published: Tuesday 25th October 2022 7:16 - Ian Watson

Antonio Conte, Dusan Tadic, Jurgen Klopp, Cristiano Ronaldo, Erik ten Hag.

Liverpool and Tottenham need a Champions League confidence boost, while Erik ten Hag has a massive decision to make over Cristiano Ronaldo.


Game to watch – Ajax v Liverpool
If Liverpool made a couple of steps forward by thrashing Rangers and beating Manchester City, they took a huge leap backwards while losing at Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp made it all about Liverpool’s wastefulness at the City Ground, and he’s right, they did miss “four or five no brainers”. But the fact his side were so reliant on set-pieces as a way to goal should be a cause for concern in itself. Forest sat in but still edged the xG count 1.85-1.66.

Klopp admitted that Liverpool “were lacking runs in behind, vision in the centre and we didn’t create that much,” but it could hardly deny what was staring him in the face: without Thiago in the side, the Reds were pedestrian and predictable.

It’s unclear yet if Thiago will return in time for the trip to Amsterdam after his early-morning dash to a Nottingham hospital on Saturday with an ear infection. Darwin Nunez was missing at the City Ground too and the Reds missed the chaos and penetration the Uruguayan brings. We all did.

At least Klopp need not fret greatly about his side’s predicament in the Champions League. Liverpool require only to avoid defeat in Amsterdam to qualify for the knockout round. But given their current form, you’d be brave to bank on the Reds to do the necessary.


Team to watch – Tottenham
It’s a similar situation for Spurs. If they beat Sporting Lisbon they qualify. Even at home, though, would you back Antonio Conte’s men?

Spurs could end Wednesday as group winners if they win and Marseille lose and they could certainly use a shot in the arm like that to alter the outlook. After defeats to Manchester United and Newcastle, some want Conte gone.

Which, of course, is mental. But so Spursy are Tottenham, coupled with Conte’s extreme mood swings, they need to arrest this recent run at the next available opportunity.

It could be that Spurs end the penultimate matchday in third place and playing catch-up if they lose again to Sporting and OM turn over Eintracht Frankfurt. That could push more Spurs fans over the edge after many showed their discontent at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, especially at the end of a first-half on Sunday that saw them trail 2-0 to Newcastle.

We’ve wondered for a while whether Spurs are actually any good and the last week has certainly suggested that optimism was perhaps mis-placed. Premature, certainly. Conte has asked for patience, but the home fans on Wednesday need reason to believe, especially while their defenders terrify them when playing out from the back.

READ MORE: Premier League winners and losers: Everton, Forest shine while Wolves, Leeds disintegrate 


Manager to watch – Erik ten Hag
Reports suggest the Manchester United manager will meet with Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday in a bid to move on from the row that is overshadowing the good progress the Red Devils are making under the new manager. If the Portugal superstar fails to show sincere remorse for acting like a whopper while making an early dart against Tottenham, then Ten Hag will, once again, be left with dealing with a problem he doesn’t need.

Roy Keane might disagree – actually, he definitely would if the nonsense he was spouting on Saturday is any indication – but Ten Hag has handled the situation with the steady, firm hand it required. As Gary Neville said, the manager “had no choice” but to fine and banish Ronaldo after his strop. Doubtless Ten Hag will have hoped that was enough to consider the matter dealt with but apparently Ronaldo is reluctant to let it lie.

Does the United boss maintain his stance and refuse to indulge his biggest name, or should he, like Keane suggests, show some discretion towards one of the greatest to ever play the game? Ten Hag may see United’s struggles in attack as a complicating factor, but it seems the manager views Ronaldo as a cause more than a solution.

A Europa League tie at home against Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol might be viewed as an ideal opportunity to reintegrate Ronaldo after his brief banishment from the first-team squad. But it hinges on how much Ronaldo is prepared to accept a reduced role and, more importantly, how willing Ten Hag is to indulge him.


Player to watch – Jude Bellingham
Manchester City have already qualified for the knockout stages and will seal first place if they avoid defeat in Germany against Borussia Dortmund. The hosts, however, still have work to do to seal their progression so we can, most likely, expect another all-action performance from Bellingham in Dortmund’s engine room.

Bellingham is in great form right now, which is handy for Gareth Southgate. More immediately, though, Dortmund are relying on the teenager to drag them through to the next phase.

The England midfielder joined Kylian Mbappe and his old mate Erling Haaland as the only teenagers to score in four successive Champions League matches when he scored against Sevilla on matchday four. At the weekend, he bagged a brace as Dortmund smashed Stuttgart 5-0 in the Bundesliga.

Dortmund and Bellingham caused City plenty of problems at the Etihad, with the England midfielder scoring while playing his part in a defensive performance that severely restricted City until John Stones’ thundertw*at and Haaland went peak Zlatan. Expect the same again in front of the yellow and black wall and keep everything crossed that Bellingham doesn’t break before the World Cup.

Jude Bellingham celebrates his goal against Manchester City


European game to watch – Benfica v Juventus
Matchday five could bring misery for a trio of Champions League knockout round regulars. Nothing less than a victory at Benfica will do for Juventus if they want to avoid missing out, which could stretch the Old Lady’s patience with Max Allegri towards breaking point.

The situation looks even more bleak for Barca, even if Robert Lewandowski gave them a lifeline with a late equaliser against Inter a fortnight ago. Inter can still kill Barca off by beating group C whipping boys Plzen at home. In the unlikely event they don’t, Barca would still have to beat Bayern Munich. The Catalans will know their predicament before they walk out at the Nou Camp since Inter occupy the early kick-off slot.

Elsewhere in Spain, Atletico Madrid are facing the prospect of elimination if they don’t beat Bayer Leverkusen and Porto triumph over Club Brugge.


EFL game to watch – Burnley v Norwich
Two televised offerings from the Football League this midweek: on Wednesday, third-placed Sheffield Wednesday host Bristol Rovers in League One; while on Tuesday night, two of the sides relegated from the Premier League last term meet at Turf Moor.

The hosts are flying at the moment, especially after a superb recovery to beat Sunderland 4-2 at the Stadium of Light after being two down at half-time. That fightback extended the Clarets’ unbeaten run to 13 matches, moving them to within a point of the summit.

Norwich went the other way and blew a two-goal lead on Saturday to draw at Sheffield United. They had the chance to take the points even after caving in but Teemu Pukki had a p*ss-poor late penalty saved when he was on a hat-trick. Instead, they’re five without a win and falling down the table.

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