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UEFA Champions League 2018-19: Ajax gains advantage with important away goal against Tottenham

Nnanna Mba
ANALYST
Feature
273   //    01 May 2019, 12:28 IST

Ajax's van de Beek scores the only goal of the game as Tottenham players look on.
Ajax's van de Beek scores the only goal of the game as Tottenham players look on.

In the buildup to their Champions League semi-final game, Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax's Erik ten Hag played the "Who has had it worse?" game.

Hotspur's manager complained about Ajax's "unfair advantage" of having rested a whole week before the game, while ten Hag responded saying,

"We get €10 million for playing in Eredivisie and they get many more millions for being in the Premier League. Is that not unfair on us? There are always differing circumstances. Everybody has different circumstances. You just have to deal with them. That's what we do."

It seems like rather odd pre-match talk from both coaches, but that isn't unexpected in itself. No one could have foreseen UCL semifinals that included two "lower classed" teams pitted against each other. But from Ajax trouncing Juventus and Real Madrid to Tottenham beating the formidable Manchester City in the quarterfinals, everything has turned on its head.

For the first thirty minutes in Tuesday's semi-final first leg, Ajax totally bossed the game. They created more chances than their English opponents, forcing them into making sloppy touches and poor defensive errors. Ajax dominated the ball consistently, and Donny van de Beek's goal in the 15th minute was quite deserved.

Getting the perfect through pass while staying just on-side, van Beek had all the space and time in the world in the ball at his feet. While he dummied twice before placing the ball onto Hugo Lloris' far right, Tottenham defenders were, I kid you not, standing and watching him. None of them rushed at him, none were even near enough to get a tackle; Such poor defending.

The game's turning point, however, was bringing in Moussa Sissoko to replace the injured Jan Vertonghen who couldn't continue the match because of a head injury. While Tottenham had switched formations from a back-three to a back-four, it wasn't until Sissoko came on board (and possibly Pochettino's halftime team talk) that the English side got their heads in the game.

While they not entirely dominant at any point in the game, there was something different about the urgency with which they played in the second half. Tottenham had a reasonable number of chances from indirect freekicks, which showed the weaknesses in Ajax's high-line and poor aerial capacity. However, Tottenham were unable to make something happen in those moments, with their headers going wide or over the bar.

While Ajax were more clinical in their passing rates and shooting, Tottenham were more physical, winning 6 out of every 10 aerial challenges.

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With the first tie over, it is clear that Tottenham still has a large fighting chance to turn things around, and it is expected that they will go to Ajax's home with that seriousness in mind. It's their first Champions League semifinal in nearly 60 years, and with all that has happened to Tottenham including their injury crises, they have a chance to make history.

Ajax, however, will be looking to thwart those chances, but they will need to be wary of Tottenham's physical advantage going into the next leg of their semi-final tie.

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