OPPONENTS Ajax at White Hart Lane
COMPETITION Champions League  Semi-final First Leg
DATE Tuesday 30th April 2019
PREVIEW Going into this Champions League semi-final first leg,  Tottenham had a tough game against West Ham United London on Saturday, while Ajax had the weekend off.  Spurs have a litany of injuries, while Ajax have few.  The only similarity between the two sides is that they both have league battles to fight - Tottenham to be in the top four, with Ajax taking on PSV for the top spot.

But the odds on these two sides meeting in the semi would have been very long earlier in the tournament.  Ajax had to qualify before reaching the group stages and Spurs have been close to going out of the competition twice at PSV and Barcelona.  With both sides believing in playing the game it should be, it will be interesting to see what sort of match it turns out to be.  Will the cancel each other out or will it be a basketball match, with the attacks going one after the other.

Tottenham are light up front, with Harry Kane missing and Vincent Janssen not picked for the Champions League squad.  Erik Lamela is also out, with Heung-Min Son suspended for this leg meaning Lucas might play through the middle or Pochettino might continue with Fernando Llorente.

Ajax are a team full of fresh fruit waiting to be picked off once their season is complete.  It looks as though midfielder Frenkie de Jong is off to Barcelona, where defender Mathias de Lijt might join him.  Spurs and Arsenal are interested in Argentina international Nicholas Tagliafico; Brazilian striker David Neres is being watched by a number of European clubs; Spurs have been linked to goalkeeper Andre Onana and midfielder Donny van de Beek.  These youngsters are the heartbeat of the Ajax side, giving them a vitality and Hunger that they have fed on to produce great results, including victories over Real Madrid and Juventus so far.  With some experienced old heads in the side in Dusan Tadic (formerly of Southampton), Daley Blind (ex-Man U) and Klass Jan Huntelaar, they have a steadying presence to organise the youngsters, along with one-club defender Jeol Veltman and attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who joined from Twente Enschede three years ago.

For all their attacking flair, Erik ten Hag may well play a cagey game, but with the ability to break quickly, seek to grab an away goal.  Spurs are always likely to conceded, although a repeat of their performance against Manchester City at home would give them a real chance in the second leg, with players becoming available again.  I hope that it will be a game that pits the two like-minded sides against each other and produces a thriller rather than both sides setting up the same and producing a stifled match.

At the end, it will traditionally only be half-time, but Pochettino has to work out how to quell the youthful enthusiasm or at least manage it, while getting a goal of his limited resources and keeping it tight at the back.  So, not too much to ask for then !!

PREDICTION Tottenham Hotspur    1        Ajax   0
Missing for Spurs are Harry Kane (ankle), Harry Winks (groin surgery), Erik Lamela and Serge Aurier (both hamstring) and Heung-Min Son (suspended).  Both Jan Vertonghen (thigh) and Moussa Sissoko (groin) will face late fitness tests.

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Champions League Semi-final First Leg Kick off  20:00
Tottenham Hotspur  0 (0) Ajax  1 (1)




van den Beek  14m 25s

Tagliafico (foul on Lucas)  30 
Veltman (foul on Dele)  63




Crowd :   60,243 Weather :  Dry, mild
Referee :  Antonio Mateu Lahoz  (SPA) Assistant Referees :  Pau Cebrián Devís; Roberto del Palomar  (SPA)
Fourth Official :  Alberto Undiano Mallenco  (SPA)  
Video Assistant Referee :  Alejandro Hernández  (SPA) Assistant Video Assistant Referees :  Mr. Juan Martínez  (SPA)
Ajax kicked off and played towards the Park Lane end in the first half.
Game time : -  90 + 9 minutes.
Tottenham Hotspur : kit Ajax : kit
  -  Hugo LLORIS  (c)

  2  Kieran TRIPPIER  (21  Juan FOYTH  80)
  5  Jan VERTONGHEN  (17  Moussa SISSOKO  39)
  6  Davinson SANCHEZ
  3  Danny ROSE  (33  Ben DAVIES  70)

23  Christian ERIKSEN
12  Victor WANYAMA
20  DELE Alli
27  Lucas MOURA

18  Fernando LLORENTE

Unused subs: 
16  Kyle WALKER
  Oliver SKIPP

  24  Andre ONANA

31  Nicolas TAGLIAFICO     
  4  Matthijs de LIGT  (c)
17  Daley BLIND
  3  Joel VELTMAN     

20  Lasse SCHÖNE  (12  Noussair MAZRAOUI  65)
  Dusan TADIC
21  Frenkie de JONG
22  Hakim ZIYECH  (  9  Klaas Jan HUNTELAAR  87)

  6  Donny van de BEEK 

  7  David NERES

Unused subs: 
28  Semedo VARELA
16  Lisandro MAGALLAN
30  Dani de WIT
25  Kasper DOLBERG


Manager :  Mauricio Pochettino Manager :  Erik ten Hag
Sponsor :   AIA Shirt sponsor :  ZIggo
Kit Supplier :  Nike Kit Supplier :   adidas
Match report

Against a  young, keen  Ajax side  fresh from a free weekend of domestic action, Tottenham struggled to keep up with them in the first half, but got back into it in the second half, although we rarely looked like scoring.  A 1-0 win for the Dutch was a disappointing outcome at home, but the second leg is still to play for an an early away goal could change the nature of the game entirely.

It was a tense night, with Ajax taking the advantage in the first half after a dominant performance of passing and movement, which would not have disgraced previous sides who graced the White Hart Lane pitch.  The shocking sight of Jan Vertonghen collapsing into Mauricio Pochettino's arms as he left the field after briefly returning from an unintentional clash of heads with Toby Alderweireld while attacking a corner, brought on Moussa Sissoko and a change of formation to open up Ajax's midfield and provide a more stirring second half show.  Unfortunately, that rarely looked like producing a goal, but with only three shots on target in the match, it wasn't going to be a goal-fest.

The deciding goal had come in the 16th minute.  Finding space on the left, Neres played the ball infield to de Jong, who in turn found Ziyech.  Seeing van de Beek in space in the box just onside, he put Hugo on his arse, before picking a spot wide to the keeper's right, but inside the post, to hand Ajax an early lead.  It was a well worked goal, but Tottenham's loose marking helped them find men in space.  Simple passing and moving into space, with the goal-scorer sneaking in behind Rose to leave him in the clear.  VAR was not the Tottenham saviour on this occasion. 

Van de Beek had looked sharp from the off.  He took the ball off Davinson Sanchez before racing towards goal, but the Colombian got back to take the ball off him, but from the corner, the Ajax midfielder shot wide.  Not only were the Dutch side making good forward runs, but also pressing all over the pitch, making it difficult for Spurs to play the ball out from the back.  With 24 minutes gone, van de Beek cold have made it 2-0, as he played a one-two setting him free on the left, but although Lloris went for the shot across him, he had left enough of his legs in the right place to block the shot that was going in at his near post.  But Tottenham hit back with a good chance after Lucas had been fouled on the right side of the pitch.  Trippier played the free-kick in from 25 yards out and Llorente rose highest to win the header, but steered it past the near post from the middle of the penalty area.  It was one of the only decent crosses he got all night.  

It wasn't as if Spurs were totally back in the game, but Ajax showed their anxiety, with Taglisfico putting in a rough tackle on Eriksen as he turned away from him just inside the Dutch team's half.   A yellow card was flourished by the flamboyant Spanish referee.  It was Trippier's free kick in form a little further back from the previous on that brought about the aerial challenge between Toby, Jan and Ajax keeper Onana that left Jan with blood streaming from a facial cut.  He was flat out and had five minutes treatment before coming back not the pitch following the medical team's checks.  The clean shirt he put on before re-entering didn't get the chance to see any action, as it passed by him, leaving him indicating that he needed to come off within a minute or two.  He almost collapsed and it was clear that he was going to play no further part in this match and maybe the rest of the season.

Sissoko came on to great cheers and slipped into midfield, with Spurs reverting to a back three, allowing the sub's role to be a ball-winner in midfield.  Fernando released Lucas with a neat flick, but the ball couldn't be pulled back far enough out of the keeper's reach at the near post.  Moura was getting the opportunity to run at the Ajax defence and they were terrified of him, but they stood firm when he ran into a wall of them inside the box, with the crowd wanting a penalty, but the ref did not look like giving one. 

Into time added on for the injury to Vertonghen, Trippier played another decent free-kick in to Alderweireld's head and he nodded in just over the bar.  Then Llorente headed the ball down for Sissoko, who leathered his shot at goal from outside the box, but it went just wide.  So, a rousing finish to the first half when Spurs had looked like being on the rack, gave some heart for the second period. 

That attacking mode continued at the start of the second period, with Llorente taking the ball past one defender, came inside another and just on the 18 yard line inside the D, he shot, but someone got a toe on the ball that ran to Dele, who took the shot, with the ball rebounding out off a block.  Tagliafico ran forward and from the left side struck a low, skidding effort just wide of Lloris' far post.   A corner kept the pressure on, then Christian popped a shot off from the edge of the area, but it was blocked, with Dele  tuning the rebound on target, but into the arms of Onana.  It was becoming end to end stuff, with a slip by Toby letting Ziyech in and he should have done better, but a great last ditch tackle from Danny Rose.  Then our left sided player was involved, as a move progressed from him, across to Kieran Trippier on the other flank.  He put in a cross to the far post, but Dele's header went too high to trouble the keeper.  When called upon, Onana was pretty decisive and had no hesitation in coming form crosses and claiming most of them, thus relieving the pressure on his defence, who were aware he would make that move.

There was still enough desperation caused by Tottenham's play to bring another yellow card, this time for Veltman's foul on Dele, hitting him after the ball had gone.  The midfield of Ajax were still putting in the hard yards and getting back to defend in numbers, so, couple with Tottenham's inability to move the ball quick enough, made the threat less than it might have been with a couple of our strikers available.  It also caused us to be open to the counter-attack, with Wanyama and Trippier losing the ball, that presented van de Beek the luxury of striding forward before hitting a shot that was blocked. 

Llorente might not have presented a great goal threat, but he was trying to link play and prodded a bal into Eriksen, who held it until Rose was bursting into the box on the left.  Unfortunately, his pass was little too close and Danny hit a shot that went off for a corner deflected by a defender.  It didn't result in an effort on goal and nor did a free-kick soon after, but from that Ajax broke away and almost doubled their lead.  Mazrouai played a give and go, taking it level with the box on the right, before laying it inside to Tadic, who found Neres, just outside the corner of the six yard box.  He measured his shot, but, although it beat Hugo to his left, the ball fortunately bounce doff the base of his left post and out to be cleared.   goal at that point might have sealed the tie for Ajax, but with 13 minutes remaining, it is about the time in the game that Spurs have a meaningful moment.

Poch threw on Davies and Foyth for Rose and Trippier, with the Welshman immediately getting involved with Dele, who took a return pass from Llorente, but was tackled as he looked like he was going to get a shot off.  Lucas was again fouled, with the resulting free-kick headed over by Toby, with Juan Foyth getting forward on the right to put a cross in that Dele headed back into the danger area, but it was only full of black shirts.  There was one last chance for Spurs, when Dele headed the ball down for Lucas, who took on the volley, but sliced it horribly.

It did not turn out to be the one-sided game it looked like it might be after 20 minutes, but Spurs got into the match, although showed a lack of cutting edge around the box.  Dele played well, but looks off the pace a little, Llorente rarely got the service he needs and Lucas kept running at the visitors defence, but didn't get the ball in front of him to run at Ajax enough.  With the return of Son for the second leg, things might be brighter, but for all the talk of the beautiful game that Ajax play, they are still versed in the dark arts that sometimes Spurs lack.  Onana took a long time whenever he had the ball, tactical fouls were made when Spurs looked like getting forward and there was no lack of dissent towards the referee, who allowed it to go unpunished.

But the end result could not be complained about too much.  Ajax deserved the advantage and although the tie might only be at half-time, that means the need for an away goal is imperative and so we might see a different Ajax at times next Wednesday.  They will still look to go forward, but having only lost one game at home, they will be confident that they can take their place in the final.  We have to put up a performance of better than Manchester City level to go through ourselves.  It also means that there is more importance on our game at Bournemouth on Saturday.  Two games to salvage something from our season then.  Are two wins too much to ask for ?

Anthony the Gardener

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Score in this other Semi-final :
Barcelona 3 Liverpool 0 Wednesday


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