The Champions League returns with two fantastic semifinals; Ajax/Spurs and Liverpool/Barcelona. In this preview I’ll focus on Tuesday’s match where Ajax will be travelling to London to participate in their first Champions League Semifinal since 1997 against Spurs who will be in their first Semifinal since the 80’s.
This Season’s Record: 198-159-46 (+10.7 Units)
Matchweek 36 Record: 1-5-2 (-4.3 Units)
Not my best weekend but I was due for some sort of regression. Let’s keep trucking…
Ajax @ Tottenham (TV: TNT) – Ajax have shown they could arguably beat anyone in the world right now. Forget the fact that they play in the Dutch Eredivisie, they’re a team that has beaten the back-to-back-to-back champions and the two times runner ups in the last four years in the previous two rounds. They’re one of the youngest teams to ever make a semifinal and are led by a 19-year-old captain, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them play. Their free-flowing and confident style has turned heads across the world and some even have them as favorites to advance to the Final.
They’ll face a Spurs team who, although they advanced against Man City in the last round, haven’t shown much promise as of late. They’re coming off of a home loss to West Ham on Saturday, they had trouble beating a Brighton team last week and before that had back to back losses to City in the league and the second leg of the Champions League. Adding to Spurs’ woes, they’ll be without Harry Kane AND Son who have combined for 60% of their goals/assists in the Premier League and 65% of their Champions League goals/assists. They held their own without Kane initially after his injury but in their last three matches they’ve scored only 1 total goal.
Spurs will now have to rely on Llorente and Lucas Moura up top who aren’t bad options, but they haven’t started in this type of situation all year. They’ll also be going against an Ajax defense who limited Real Madrid to 1 goal at the Bernebeau and Juventus to 1 goal in Turin, stats that should spark fear into Tottenham fans. Yes Eriksen and Alli have the potential to score goals, but their role is still primarily creating chances not putting them away. Not having Kane or Son will also allow Ajax to focus more on shutting down that Spurs midfield, knowing that Llorente will be utilized as a target forward instead of in the build up play. They will need to contain Llorente’s threat in the air though, something he’s done well throughout his career. Expect De Ligt to be marking him on set pieces which is a fantastic matchup.
Ajax meanwhile will have everyone available and healthy, and will have had a week’s rest compared to Spurs’ three days. The reason why that rest might be a big deal is because Spurs are already short-staffed and that rest will likely only exacerbate that problem. At this stage in the season, the team with the fresher legs tends to dictate the pace which is crucial in Champions League ties.
Ajax will cause Spurs serious trouble with their ability to build out of the back while also having the pace on the wings to counter attack. Pochettino will likely press but both Madrid and Juve resorted to that strategy in their second legs and it didn’t work. If Spurs do press, expect Ajax to pass out from the back comfortably and then burst forward with Ziyech and Neres on the wings to feed Tadic up top. Like I said, that’s where they killed Madrid and Juve who doubted their ability to break a press and push forward.
Not only do I love Ajax as underdogs on the spread, but I love them on the moneyline as well at over 2/1. I have Ajax winning this game and taking a commanding lead on aggregate back to Amsterdam. Ajax (+220) and (+0.5, -145).
Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.