Jurgen Klopp hailed one of the biggest Champions League nights of his time as Liverpool manager after the Reds progressed to the knockout stages with a 1-0 win over Ajax.
Liverpool – winless in their last two outings and struggling to cope with a lengthy injury list – secured an important three points on Tuesday thanks to Curtis Jones’ second-half strike against Ajax.
Jones became just the third teenager to score for Liverpool in the Champions League after David N’Gog in 2008 and Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2017, per Opta.
Victory was made even sweeter by Atalanta’s draw with Midtjylland in Italy, which ensured Premier League champions Liverpool will win Group D regardless of their result on the sixth and final matchday.
And that fact, combined with battling performance he had just witnessed from a somewhat patched up team, meant Klopp was in celebratory mood at full-time.
“It feels [like] one of the biggest Champions League nights we had for sure; without supporters in it was the most important and the most difficult and the most exceptional game,” Klopp told BT Sport.
“All the circumstances, all the things going around, not a lot of things that make you smile over a day just because of the injuries, it’s tricky.
“And then the boys throw themselves into the game, how the kids played, how [Andy Robertson] Robbo with a proper, proper knock on the ankle pushed himself through; [Jordan Henderson] Hendo, with a proper knock in the back, stiff back, pushed himself through, [Georginio Wijnaldum] Gini I have no words for him, Curtis, what a game for a 19-year-old boy.
“All that stuff, it’s just amazing and I’m really, really proud tonight.”
With first-choice goalkeeper Alisson having joined a number of team-mates in the treatment room ahead of this tie, it was expected that Klopp would name usual stand-in Adrian between the sticks.
Klopp instead opted for academy prospect Caoimhin Kelleher in goal – the 22-year-old produced an impressive performance that brought a deserved clean sheet.
Kelleher – the first Irish player to appear for Liverpool in the Champions League since Robbie Keane in 2008 – became only the second goalkeeper to keen a clean sheet on his debut for the Reds in the competition after Chris Kirkland against Galatasaray in 2002.
Discussing the reasons behind his decision, Klopp said: “I really think Adrian did an incredible job for us; when he came in and played last season at the beginning of the season, I don’t know how many clean sheets, Super Cup final, Champions League, played everywhere.
“But now, in this game, we needed the natural football-playing ability of Caoimhin and, because he is a really good shot-stopper as well, we made that decision.
“But you never know, they are all calm the moment they get the information, but it’s different to be then on the pitch. I’m really happy with how calm he was and how good he was. It was a good game.”
Klopp also praised match winner Jones, who also hit the post over the course of another fine showing at first-team level.
“If I would be sure that he wouldn’t watch my interview I would say something else but he’s a really good kid to be honest, a really good player,” Klopp added.
“I’m really happy to have him around. That’s how it is sometimes, situations when you have problems there’s always an opportunity for someone else and he took it just exceptionally well. I’m really happy for him.”