Underdog Ajax bite hard and earn right to be favourites next week
They did it again. They only went and did it again. After making light work of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the last 16, and taking Juventus to the woodshed in Turin in the previous round, Ajax have the advantage going into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Tottenham, after winning at White Hart Lane.
This time they did the job early. Donny Van de Beek’s goal in the 15th minute was enough to see off Spurs in North London, and give Erik Ten Hag’s side a lead halfway through the tie. And this time, this was their least convincing performance. Unlike the games against Real Madrid and Juve, Ajax weren’t as dominant.
They did start well, and had the better of the first half-hour, putting Spurs defence in panic mode, and making Mauricio Pochettino change his system. In fact, but Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Van de Beek’s selfishness, the Dutch side would have had a two-goal lead with a third of the game played.
But Spurs changed from a back three to a back four, and ditched their original game plan, opting to go more direct. That led to the Lilywhites becoming a bit threatening, and Ajax weren’t as free-flowing as they had been in previous games in the Champions League this season.
But it says so much about them that despite not being at their best, Ajax still took a very much deserved victory. It says so much about their season that even when Spurs went direct and upped the ante, and the fans raised their noise levels, they didn’t quite trouble their visitors.
There was hardly any panic from the Dutch team, who – except in situations when they had players closed down from goal-kicks – still very much played out from the back. And for all of Spurs’ urgency in the second period, only the post prevented David Neres from doubling Ajax’s lead. A few more inches and they’d have a two-goal advantage.
As it stands it’s just one, which means Spurs are still in this, very much so. A one-goal deficit, particularly with the second leg coming away from home (all but nullifying the away goal they conceded) isn’t the worst deficit, and Spurs would still back themselves to go through. But Ajax have the advantage – however slim – and, given the season they’ve had, have definitely earned the right to seen as favourites going into the second leg in Amsterdam next week.
When they started their Champions League campaign in July, not many thought they’d be 90 minutes away from making the final. But they’ve come through games against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Juventus with just one defeat to their name. Who gives a toss what your reputation means? Not them.
Kunle Ajao57 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not