Tottenham Hotspur are still in the tie but have plenty of work to do to overturn a first-leg deficit away to Ajax in the return match of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday (8pm live on BT Sport).
Ajax were 1-0 victors in North London last week. They dominated much of the early running and took the lead on the quarter-hour mark when Donny van de Beek calmly finished a neat move. Spurs gradually worked their way into the match and edged the second half.
The fact that they were able to match and at times overpower Ajax after the interval, with the enforced introduction of Moussa Sissoko in place of the injured Jan Vertonghen bringing about a change of formation that allowed Spurs to take better control of the midfield zone, provides some hope ahead of the second leg, even if chances were few and far between.
Without the suspended Heung-Min Son and injured Harry Kane, Spurs largely relied on aerial deliveries to Fernando Llorente and the occasional pacey burst from Lucas Moura to upset the Ajax defence. It was not a particularly efficient strategy, but given the absentees, it was probably the only approach realistically available to coach Mauricio Pochettino.
The hope would be that with Son back in the team, a more mobile attacking line could be capable of causing Ajax more problems on Wednesday. With little movement around them, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli struggled to make decisive contributions in the first leg. As well as being a volume shooter, Son is a willing off-ball runner. That alone should make Tottenham a more dangerous attacking outfit than they were in their own stadium.
That is the optimistic argument and one that could play out. It is worth tempering that with a few cold hard facts. Firstly, Tottenham’s recent away form has been atrocious. Following Saturday’s 0-1 defeat at Bournemouth, they have now lost nine of their last 10 away matches in all competitions. They have also lost all three of their previous European ties in which they were defeated at home in the first leg.
Ajax will also have a slightly different reading of the first encounter. While it was true that they were unable to work the ball as slickly and incisively after an excellent opening half-hour, they could easily argue that they thereafter limited Spurs to no more than half-chances. They came closer than their hosts to scoring, when David Neres struck the post with a low shot during the second half.
In the immediate aftermath, there was acknowledgement that Tottenham’s change of formation and more physical approach in the second half had somewhat unsettled them. It was, though, matched with a determination not to allow the return match to devolve into a similar physical contest. “We just have to make sure that we play the way we did in the first half,” forward Hakim Ziyech explained. “Then everything will be fine.”
That sort of assurance and confidence has played a role in carrying Ajax this far. They have never felt the need to neuter their approach and have instead taken on major European powers toe-to-toe. As underdogs, they eliminated three-time holders Real Madrid and perennial Italian champions Juventus. The question is how they will now deal with a clearly favourable position ahead of the second leg against Spurs?
Ajax dealt well with a position of expected superiority on Sunday, thrashing Willem II 4-0 in the final of Dutch Cup to claim their first silverware since 2014. Spurs will obviously represent tougher opposition, but there was a line in the response of captain Matthijs de Ligt when questioned about their favourable odds of progression that underlined what to expect from the Dutch side. “A favourite role makes a difference,” he said. “I am extra focused.”
Focused is exactly what Ajax have been since their Champions League campaign got underway in the second qualifying round last July, and even before that, earlier in the summer, when key young players were convinced to stay together for one more year and have a good go at winning the competition for the fifth time in the club’s history.
That focus is likely to be enough to see them over the line on Wednesday, with a victory on the night.
Our Preview’s Ajax vs Tottenham Hotspur Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Ajax to win @ best odds of 6/5 with Betfair.