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The Clash of the Underdogs
Clash of the “underdogs” isn’t really a fair assessment of this matchup — but according to the bookies in the early season, neither of these teams were supposed to get this far. Ajax opened at +25000 and Tottenham at +2500 compared to the top 2 (Barcelona +600) and Liverpool (+1300) these two were long shots to get here.
Tottenham beat widespread favorite-Manchester City in what’s been billed as one of the most entertaining games (definitely first halves) in recent memory. Pep Guardiola once quipped that Tottenham was the “Harry Kane” team — but the irony in that is that their team was knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by the “Harry Kane team” that played without Harry Kane. Tottenham is not in contention for the Premier League trophy this year, but seem to have third-position and another lucrative visit to the Champions League on lockdown.
Tottenham have by no means had an easy route to this semifinal, they’ve had to overcome Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in knockout rounds as well as Inter and Barcelona in the group stage. Their advancement past the group stage was a case of sneaking through; they won passage through the group stage on tiebreakers. Their previous game against Manchester City featured seven goals, five of which came inside the first half hour. It was a very nervy (for both sides) game up until the last possible moment when a goal was waived off for offsides securing Tottenham’s place in the semifinal. Before I continue, I want to make one thing clear; I think Tottenham is highly underrated, especially in consideration of the fact they didn’t spend a penny in the transfer window. Also, (it’s probably assumed, but I’m good at stating the obvious) it’s a massive vote of confidence by Mauricio Pochettino to not bring in anyone else. His board should be ecstatic because of the haul they’ll receive from a 3rd-place finish in the EPL and a semifinal (at worst) place in the Champions League.
Inevitably in discussing this game, Manchester City fans feel aggrieved for the use of VAR and goals being called offside. However, I think it’s in poor taste to not give credit to the Spurs where it’s due, VAR nor the officials caused Ayporte to make not one, but two errors leading two goals. I would perhaps argue that Tottenham should be praised for converting those opportunities that might have been missed by others. In short, you’re entitled to your opinion regarding the official’s involvement in the game. However, Tottenham won the game and advanced.
Players to watch:
– Heung-Min Son: Son has possibly never been as visibly important for Tottenham as he had been recently. With the injuries to Harry Kane, it’s been imperative that someone else steps up. Son has done so with four goals and an assist in the Champions League. His performance in the Premier League might be a better indication of his value where he’s scored 12 goals in 21 starts (8 additional substitute appearances) compared to Harry Kane’ 17 goals in 27 starts.
– Christian Eriksen: Eriksen has also been forced to step up with Kane’s injuries. He’s done so in a playmaker role (mostly), with four assists and two goals in eight appearances. Eriksen has provided 2.6 key passes per game, which leads the team (for those playing at least half the games). He also adds nearly 2.5 shots per game.
– Hugo Lloris: This section doesn’t often contain goalkeepers, but it’s also not often that has 33% of the total man of the match awards won by the team (2 of 6). Perhaps more interesting is that defensive players have won more man of the match awards than the offensive ones. Lloris has been really solid for the team and has helped them along each step. I don’t think this series will have nearly the same frenetic pace as the last one.
Immense underdogs to Semifinalists
As I discussed earlier, the bookies didn’t seem to see this coming. While Ajax hasn’t been as prolific of scorers as some Champions League teams had, they also have conceded far fewer. Don’t take my last statement the wrong way; Ajax might not keep pace with the top scorers in this competition, they have, however, scored well over 100 goals in league play. As some of my previous posts about Ajax have alluded to, this level of disbelief in their ability is somewhat shocking given the ridiculous pedigree from which they come. Ajax is in a fierce competition with PSV Eindhoven for the Eredivisie League title.
Similar to Tottenham, this Ajax team had no easy path having overcome Real Madrid and Juventus in the knockout stage and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Can we take a minute on this? Real Madrid isn’t the side that it once was, but this is the Juventus side that’s won the Serie A by leaps and bounds. Moreover, despite the dip in quality from Real Madrid, they still managed to work their way out of the group stages. While the Juventus and Ajax game didn’t have quite the same flurry of goals it was still a quality match. Ajax allowed three goals along the two legs of the quarterfinals, both to Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard to fault a side for conceding goals to a player of his caliber (helped even more by the supporting cast). They did manage to score three goals to win the tie, and unlike their opponent, all three goals came from different team members.
Ajax will be missing Hassane Bandé, Carel Eiting, and Noussair Mazraoui all of which have no anticipated return date at this time.
Players to Watch:
– Hakeem Ziyech: Ziyech has two goals and two assists. As he’s gone, so has the team gone. During the Eredivisie season, he’s provided 16 goals and 12 assists. Not only has he been lethal in front of goal, but he’s also provided phenomenal service to his teammates, especially to Tadic.
– Frankie de Jong: de Jong has not contributed in a manner that gets him on the scoresheet in the Champions League, but that hardly tells the full story. Put shortly; de Jong is the midfield general for Ajax. He draws fouls, adds key passes, interceptions, clearances, etc. basically he does whatever the team needs him to do. In the Eredivisie, he’s also added three goals and three assists as well. Don’t underestimate his influence; it goes well beyond just the scoresheet.
– Dusan Tadic: Tadic inspires fear into goals everywhere; he’s been absolutely torching the net. He has six goals, and three assists in the 10 Champions League games played. He’s contributed a ridiculous 24 goals and 13 assists across his Eredivisie time.
What to expect in this Champions League game:
I don’t expect this game to be anything like what Tottenham faced in their last game with an absolute goal-fest. I think it’s much more likely to be a more defensive game, but I still think the offenses will be involved. I expect some brilliant saves on both sides, and both defenses digging in to block shots, collect interceptions and clearances, and trying to counter-attack. Tottenham is denoted as the favorites by most bookies at home, but it’s not by much and a few bookies even have Ajax as favorites.
Last Updated: April 24, 2019