A place in the UEFA Champions League final will be up for grabs when Ajax welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Johan Cruijff ArenA in the semi-final second leg.
The Madrid finale later this month is almost set up, with Liverpool progressing from the first semi-final. The attention now turns to the penultimate contest of this season’s UEFA Champions League, as Ajax welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, hoping to complete the job they started last week.
Ajax have been the story of the season in Europe, having gone toe-to-toe with the who’s who of the continent and prevailed every single time thus far. The Dutch giants first stood up to the challenge of Bayern Munich in the group stage before getting past Real Madrid and Juventus in the two knockout rounds thus far.
Tottenham, on the other hand, progressed to the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth, having finished level on points with third-placed Inter Milan in Group B. In the previous two stages, Spurs have knocked out two big hitters in Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City, although their prospects of continuing that run are not that high.
On the domestic front, Ajax have been on a roll, having last been beaten nearly two months ago. Erik ten Hag’s men will further be buoyed heading into Wednesday’s game after winning the Dutch Cup this past weekend. Tottenham, meanwhile, are slumping towards a top four finish, having won just one of their last four Premier League games.
The first leg, played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last week, saw Ajax triumphing narrowly thanks to an early goal by Donny van de Beek. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Erik ten Hag does not have many pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Tottenham. On Wednesday, the Ajax manager will only be without two first-team players, with Carel Eiting (knee) and Hassane Bande (calf) the only ones unavailable.
With all his regulars at his disposal, ten Hag can name his strongest eleven once again, starting at the back. Andre Onana has been one of the standout goalkeepers in the UEFA Champions League this term and the Cameroonian will be a key figure for Ajax once again, when Tottenham come visiting.
Noussair Mazraoui is expected to return to the right-back slot, having not featured in the role in the last couple of games. The rest of the backline, however, picks itself, as Daley Blind is set to start with Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt as his partner at the heart of the defence, while Nicolas Tagliafico provides a creative presence on the left.
In the middle of the park, Frenkie de Jong will be the orchestrator for Ajax, and it will be up to the young midfielder to help the hosts assert their authority on Wednesday. Lasse Schone will line up alongside de Jong, and will be the workhorse for Ajax, while also posing a threat with his prowess on set-pieces.
Donny van de Beek, who has recently been in the news for his links over a summer move, including with Tottenham, will be handed a free role in the final third. David Neres and Hakim Ziyech will be the two wide men, who will primarily look to drift in, while Dusan Tadic will lead the line for ten Hag’s side.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Onana; Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schone, de Jong; Ziyech, van de Beek, Neres; Tadic
Mauricio Pochettino has already been struggling with a number of injuries troubling his key men. Harry Kane is a long-term absentee due to an ankle injury, Harry Winks misses out as well. Tottenham though, are now set to be without Davinson Sanchez, who picked up a thigh injury against Bournemouth last weekend.
The absence of the Colombian renders Pochettino with one of two options. The Tottenham manager could either choose to stick with his usual 3-4-2-1 formation, as has largely been the case in Europe, or deploy a 4-2-3-1 in order to get more bodies into the final third. With a turnaround being the objective, the 4-2-3-1 could be preferred.
The good news for Spurs is that Jan Vertonghen is available after being forced off the pitch with a concussion in the first leg last week. The Belgian has been instructed to play with a face mask, meaning he is likely to start at the heart of the Tottenham defence, with Toby Alderweireld being his partner.
The two Spurs full-backs ought to be Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose again, although the duo need to improve their output in the final third. Hugo Lloris is set to be a busy man in goal and his performance will hold the key for the visitors. Up ahead in midfield, Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko are likely to form the double pivot.
Christian Eriksen will pull the strings for Tottenham by sitting in central areas, allowing Rose to charge forward on the left flank. Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min will complete a fluid attacking unit that will see the four players take up various positions, although Son will be the furthest man forward on most occasions.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Sissoko, Dier; Lucas Moura, Alli, Eriksen; Son
- Only one of the 17 previous teams to lose the first leg at home in a Champions League/European Cup semi-final tie has progressed to the final – Ajax in 1995-96, the Dutch team losing 1-0 at home against Panathinaikos before winning 3-0 away.
- Ajax will attempt to reach their first Champions League/European Cup final since 1996 (losing finalists against Juventus) while Tottenham would become the 40th different team in Champions League/European Cup history to make the showpiece game, and the first to reach their first such final since Chelsea in 2008, should they complete a comeback.
- Tottenham’s two previous Champions League away games against Dutch opposition ended in draws with a grand total of 10 goals. Also, since the start of 2018, Spurs have won only one of their six Champions League away games, a 1-0 victory at Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Round of 16 (drawn three, lost two).
- Ajax are winless in their last three Champions League home games (drawn two, lost one). They could become the fourth team to reach the Champions League final with more away wins than home wins that same season, after Manchester United (2010-11), Juventus (2016-17) and Real Madrid (2017-18).
- Son Heung-min has scored 50% of Tottenham’s goals in this season’s Champions League knockout stages (four out of eight). He is the highest Asian goalscorer in the competition’s history (12 goals).
Player to Watch
The absence of Harry Kane has been the major talking point for Tottenham in recent weeks. But, while Son Heung-min has stepped up in this period, the South Korean attacker has not always had ample support from his teammates in the final third. One such player who desperately needs to step up is Dele Alli.
Like Kane, Alli has endured a campaign riddled with injuries, which has affected his rhythm adversely over the course of this season. Now though, with the team’s fortunes hanging by a thread, the time is perfect for the English international to step up and inspire a stunning turnaround, on the back of one on Tuesday.
At his best, Alli has the talent to trouble the Ajax defence with his ghosting runs and it will be interesting to see if he can produce those levels on Wednesday.
Ajax 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
This season’s UEFA Champions League has already produced a number of stunning comeback stories across the different stages. The latest came on Tuesday as Liverpool overcame what seemed like an insurmountable three-goal deficit to down Barcelona. And, one cannot help but wonder if another could be on the cards on Wednesday.
The catch in this case though, is the form that the two sides bring with them into the game. While Ajax are riding a wave of confidence, and have won the Dutch Cup in the last week, Tottenham are struggling to string together a run of wins.
Having said that, Spurs have reserved their best for Champions League football this season, and they will surely give the hosts a run for their money. In the end, however, Ajax should have enough quality to get a narrow win and return to the UEFA Champions League final. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Erik ten Hag & co.