AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW: Spurs v Ajax

This year’s Champions League semi-finals are a tale of two different matchups; on Wednesday, two giants of the European stage take each other on in the shape of Liverpool and Barcelona, but first up two of the most swashbuckling young sides in Europe take each other on in the shape of Tottenham and Ajax.

Spurs have performed incredibly well to get here – indeed, during the group stages it did not look likely at all that they’d make the last 16 following dropped points in their first two games, but defeats of PSV and Inter at Wembley, followed with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Barcelona that snuck them through their group.

Since then they’ve kicked on, with the absence of Harry Kane not enough to stop them against Borussia Dortmund when they were far too good over two legs (4-0) and then that incredible, incredible game against Manchester City when Heung-Min Son’s two quick goals set up what was the game of the season, all decided late on by a VAR call.

For all it came down to that last minute call, Tottenham played with a great deal of intelligence over those two legs, rushing City off their feet at home and taking advantage of a cagey approach from Guardiola’s men, before then using their one-goal advantage beautifully on the break in a haywire second leg.

The hero over those two legs was Heung-Min Son but the Korean is suspended which will give not only opportunity but huge responsibility to Lucas Moura, who played a crucial role on the break in Manchester, along with midfield dynamos Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. That’s a lot of firepower but aside from that, Mauricio Pochettino has plenty of injury issues. The absence of Harry Kane hasn’t hindered Spurs too much but when Son is suspended and Vincent Janssen isn’t in the Champions League squad, forward duties all go to Fernando Llorente.

Llorente has come up with two crucial goals in the Champions League, but those are his only two and he carries far less pace than Moura or Janssen.

Ajax’s route to the semis has been incredible. Right from three qualifying rounds, they have taken and dominated the European elite, with wins against Real Madrid and Juventus that if anything, flattered that pair. They recorded combined XG scores of 4.8 v 3.5 for Real Madrid, and against Juventus, their total XG over the two legs was 3.3 – 1.4 in their favour.

Their 4-1 win at the Bernabeu took all the headlines but their success in Turin would have been even more impressive had it not been for the ridiculous performance of Wojciech Szczesny, who made a string of fine saves to keep Juve’s hopes alive, whilst Hakim Ziyech’s goal was ruled out for offside.

Ajax play a throwback style of total football, with a high pressing game in midfield that then switches to really focus on the flanks, especially when targeting fullbacks.

Hamik Ziyech is one of a whole host of players that can cut inside and shoot and he is made all the more dangerous by Dusan Tadic, who has had a remarkable tally of 32 goals this season, including nine in the Champions League. Those two overload the right side and they get their support from Frenkie De Jong and Donny van de Beek, who give the Dutchmen their relentless pace in midfield. Their games have involved goals, but they can defend too; Daley Blind brings experience to supplement 9-year captain Matthijs de Ligt, who is on every single transfer target list.

Whilst Tottenham were busting a gut in a defeat to West Ham (where boss Mauricio Pochettino said his side were suffering from “stress and fatigue”), at the weekend, Ajax were given the weekend off by the Dutch FA to help them prepare. This will be their first game in a week; Tottenham will be playing their eighth game of April.

Splitting the two sides is not an easy task but it seems fair to say that this will be an open game. Ajax don’t know any other way of playing and in the unfamiliar position of playing the away leg first (at least this season), they will want a lead to take back to the Johan Cruyff Arena. Spurs have won four of five games at home this season, with the scalps of Dortmund and Manchester City included in the knockout stages. What does seem very likely is goals. Only a mixture of wasteful finishing and the brilliance of Wojciech Szczesny prevented Ajax from having both their last 16 and quarter-finals going over 2.5 goals.

Tottenham Hotspur v Ajax
UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 1st Leg
20:00 BT Sport 2 / BT Sport 4K UHD

(Maximum 10 matches)
SEP 1981 EURO CUP WINNERS CUP Tottenham 3-0 Ajax
SEP 1981 EURO CUP WINNERS’ CUP Ajax 1-3 Tottenham

Spurs will relish having an open game to get Lucas Moura as many chances as possible, although Ajax will feel they can get at Spurs’ left-backs, and perhaps press them in the same way that City did. Fatigue will be a big factor too, given Spurs’ heavy schedule, and given that they’ve won at Madrid and Juventus, Ajax could be too big for another success here; the price on them doing so in a high scoring game is too tempting to pass up.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK OVER 2.5 GOALS 11 pts at 10/11 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 275.92 points
(excluding Premier League ante-post, RBC Heritage)