After being humiliated by Napoli last week, Jurgen Klopp’s side appeared to be under even more scrutiny as Mohammed Kudus cancelled out Mohamed Salah’s opener early on.
But Matip rose to head home with minutes remaining to give Liverpool the victory.
European nights at Anfield are generally exciting occasions, but the feelings were different this time after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday.
There is no Champions League anthem. Instead, a moment of quiet was observed, with the exception of a few stray yells from a small group of supporters.
Following that, the action took centre stage, and Liverpool’s aggressive style was encouraging from the start.
Diogo Jota was energetic up front, while Thiago assisted the team in regaining some of the rhythm that had been lost during his recent absence.
Jota was the creator of the game’s first goal, sliding a pass through to Salah, who did the rest. The Kop had been chanting the Egyptian’s name only moments before, hoping he would snap a four-game goalless streak. Their trust was immediately rewarded.
Although Luis Diaz, Jota, and Salah all had additional chances, there was a familiar flaw on display as well.
In one sense, Kudus’ equaliser came from nowhere, but it came from a totally predictable source in another – Liverpool’s right flank, which is so often so open.
Trent Alexander-Arnold represents a similar trade-off. The right-back quickly demonstrated his ability at the opposite end, forcing Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer into a double save.
Virgil van Dijk’s headers could have been better as well. The goal simply would not appear.
Those missed opportunities almost cost Kudus a second goal on the counter-attack after the break, when Daley Blind headed just wide of the far post with Alisson beat. Matip, though, had the final say.
This was not the Liverpool transformation that Klopp had dreamed for. In truth, had Ajax not wasted those occasional chances in the second half, it could have been a devastating defeat.
However, the Liverpool manager couldn’t disguise his excitement after the game.
And not without reason. This was enormous.
Going into a double header against Rangers with one point from two Champions League games would have been difficult. Now there is some relief, some hope, and possibly something to build on for the rest of the season.
The atmosphere had been a little subdued in the early part of the game but it reached a crescendo in those closing moments and that was a credit to Liverpool’s ambition.
Klopp threw on the attacking substitutes and was rewarded with the winning goal.