A dominating first-half display from Ajax helped them win the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Tottenham Hotspur. Here are five major talking points as Spurs ended on the losing side despite a positive display in the second half.
Pochettino can’t catch a break
It has been a season of milestones for Spurs so far. First, they became the first Premier League club ever to not sign any player in a season and more recently, they qualified for the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
Pochettino has done well to take his team this far while missing the likes of Harry Kane, Serge Aurier and Erik Lamela through injuries. In the first leg against Ajax, he was also without the in-form Son Heung-Min through suspension.
A day before the game, it was revealed that Harry Winks is unlikely to play again this season after undergoing surgery for a groin injury. To make matters worse, Pochettino was forced to take Jan Vertonghen out in the first half after the Belgian suffered a head injury.
The lack of squad depth due to injuries is clearly affecting Tottenham’s performance in the league and in Europe.
Ajax make early domination count
Ajax raced out from the blocks when the first whistle was blown and dominated the game for the first half an hour. They pinned Spurs back in their own half and made the opposition defence work hard.
At one point in the first half, the visitors had around 70% of the possession and was mopping up the occasional long ball to Fernando Llorente with relative ease. Unlike in the first legs against Real Madrid and Juventus, Ajax made their early domination count and scored the only goal of the game in the 15th minute through Donny van de Beek.
Spurs fought back fiercely in the second half but Ajax still had the best chance of the game when David Neres hit the post in the 78th minute.
Blessing in disguise
Ajax’s early domination had Pochettino worried and his problems were compounded when Vertonghen came off. Instead of bringing on another centre-back, Pochettino opted to change his team’s shape by throwing on Moussa Sissoko who returned from injury.
The introduction of Sissoko added some much-needed energy and pressing into the Spurs midfield that looked jaded early on. The Frenchman pressed, ran with the ball and stopped Ajax from counter-attacking as Spurs pressed hard for an equaliser in the second half.
Parity returned to the possession statistics after the former Newcastle United man was introduced and he made ten recoveries; no Spurs player made more.
Son Heung-Min was terribly missed
Son Heung-Min scored three of Spurs four goals against Manchester City in the quarterfinal and he was terribly missed against Ajax.
In Son’s absence, Fernando Llorente was given the task of leading the Spurs attack but he struggled to threaten Andre Onana in goal. Early in the game, the Spaniard struggled to hold on to the ball to bring his teammates into play and he wasn’t making runs in behind to trouble Ajax’s high defensive line. Son’s pace, dribbling and movement would have given Spurs that extra quality they needed to score a goal.
On the bright side, the South Korean has got some much-needed rest and Spurs fans can hope that his return will make all the difference a week later.
Ajax need to make the home advantage count
With their win at the New White Hart Lane, Ajax have now won three consecutive away matches in the knockout stage. What makes this run impressive is the fact that they’ve won at the home of some of the best teams in the world.
Away from home, Ajax have scored seven goals and conceded only two goals in their last three games. However, in stark contrast, at home, they’ve not won their previous two matches as they lost 1-2 against Real Madrid and drew 1-1 against Juventus.
In the previous two matches, Ajax played at home in the first leg which gave them a chance to turn things around in the second leg. They’ve to be wary of Spurs in the return leg as the North London club have to score as things stand.