The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League semi-final stages kick off this Tuesday night, when Tottenham Hotspur play hosts to giant-killers AFC Ajax.
We’re in the endgame now. The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League is in its final stages as just four teams remain in the hunt for glory. In the first of the two semi-final contests this week, Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur will welcome Dutch heavyweights AFC Ajax to their new stadium for the first leg of their final four battle on Tuesday night.
Tottenham have been a hard nut to crack throughout this season’s European competition. After finishing runners-up in Group B that also had fellow semi-finalists Barcelona, along with Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven, Mauricio Pochettino’s men overcame German giants Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16.
The quarter-final contest with Manchester City was one of the most epic battles this season, as Spurs edged out their Premier League rivals on the away goals rule, despite losing the second leg 4-3. Since that match, the Lilywhites have lost two of their three league games, with their most recent fixture ending in a 1-0 loss to West Ham United at home.
Ajax, on the other hand, have been the giant-killing team of the Champions League this season. Having made it through the qualifying stages, Erik ten Hag’s men finished behind Bayern Munich in the group stage. The Eredivisie outfit then ousted holders Real Madrid in the Round of 16 (5-3 on aggregate), with a scintillating display at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg.
Ajax followed it up with another big scalp as they sent Juventus, who were one of the tournament favourites, packing out of the tournament (3-2 aggregate) to make it to the semi-finals for the first time since 1997. Having beaten Vitesse Arnhem 4-2 a week ago, Ajax will come into Tuesday’s game well-rested as the Eredivisie cancelled all league games for this past weekend to help their team.
Tottenham and Ajax have met just twice in competitive matches till date, in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup way back in 1981. Ahead of the mouth-watering contest on Tuesday night, we at The Hard Tackle take a close look at both the teams;
Team News & Tactics
Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham have a lot of injuries to contend with ahead of the crunch clash on Tuesday night. Star striker Harry Kane is ruled out with an ankle injury while Erik Lamela (hamstring), Harry Winks (groin) and Serge Aurier (hamstring) are all unavailable as well.
Son Heung-min, who has stepped up brilliantly in Kane’s absence, will miss out with suspension, while Vincent Janssen is ineligible to feature. Moussa Sissoko and Jan Vertonghen trained with the team on Monday and could be ready to return to action, which will be a boost for the home team.
Having fielded a flat back-four in the past few games, Pochettino is likely to switch to a three-man defence on Tuesday, which will comprise of all former Ajax players in Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez and Vertonghen. Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose should slot in as the wing-backs on the right and left sides respectively.
Victor Wanyama should start as the holding midfielder, having only made a cameo appearance against West Ham at the weekend, with Christian Eriksen accompanying him in a slightly deeper role than usual. Dele Alli will line up as the lone attacking midfielder for Spurs, with Lucas Moura and Fernando Llorente pairing up in attack.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Lloris; Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Eriksen, Wanyama, Rose; Alli; Llorente, Moura
Nicolas Tagliafico is back in contention for selection after serving out his one-match ban against Juventus. Noussair Mazraoui, who missed the game against Vitesse last week, is fit and has travelled with the rest of the squad to London. No other major injury concerns for Ajax coach Erik ten Hag to deal with.
No changes are expected in the 4-3-3 formation that Ajax have stuck to this season, with Andre Onana lining up between the sticks. The fit-again Mazraoui could replace seasoned campaigner Joel Veltman at right-back, while Tagliafico will slot in on the opposite side. Matthijs de Ligt and former Manchester United man Daley Blind will pair up at the centre of the backline for the visitors.
Ajax’s midfield three pretty much pick themselves, with Lasse Schone sitting deep in the centre of the park, while Donny van de Beek and soon to be Barcelona player Frenkie de Jong will work to create chances for their attacking teammates.
Dusan Tadic, a player that has faced Spurs during his time at Southampton, will line up as the centre-forward, but will have the freedom to drift out to the flanks as and when needed. Hakim Ziyech and David Neres will carry the threat from the wide areas on either side of Tadic, with the likes of Kasper Dolberg and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar providing options from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Onana; Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; van de Beek, Schone, de Jong; Ziyech, Tadic, Neres
- Tottenham are looking to become the 40th different team to reach the final of the European Cup/Champions League, and the eighth different English side (already more than any other nation).
- Ajax have won just one of their six previous Champions League meetings with English opposition (3-1 vs Manchester City in October 2012), with all three of their away games finishing as draws (twice vs Arsenal, once vs Manchester City).
- Tottenham are playing in their first European Cup/Champions League semi-final since 1961-62, when they were eliminated by eventual winners Benfica.
- After knocking out both Real Madrid and Juventus, Ajax became the first side in European Cup/Champions League history to progress from two different knockout rounds within the same campaign when failing to win their first leg at home.
- Tottenham have won eight of their last 10 Champions League home games (L2), including each of the last four in a row. They’ve also kept a clean sheet in each of their last three.
Player to Watch
The former Ajax star will be in the spotlight when his old team come visiting London for the Champions League semi-final first leg. Eriksen has been the creative hub of this Tottenham side for years now and has once again been one of their MVPs in the ongoing campaign.
The 27-year-old Danish midfielder has come up with impressive returns of 9 goals and 17 assists from 46 matches across all competitions this season. Eriksen set up a goal each in both the legs in the quarter-final against Manchester City and will once again be key for Spurs to be able to open up the Ajax defence and create chances for Lucas Moura, Dele Alli and Fernando Llorente.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Ajax
Tottenham come into the game with an injury-riddled squad and an underwhelming run of results. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have won just one of their last four matches in all competitions, which came against a lowly Brighton outfit. The fact that they will be without Harry Kane and Son Heung-min will be a huge blow for Spurs.
Ajax, on the other hand, are currently on an eight-game unbeaten streak and have not tasted defeat in a single away game in Europe this season, including the qualifying stages of the Champions League. Erik ten Hag’s men have shown that they can hurt the best of the teams and that is why we at The Hard Tackle are expecting them to eke out a narrow win against a depleted Tottenham side.