Ajax or Spurs – The New Porto of 2004?
May 8, 2019
In the 21st century, the Champions League has been ruled by the European elite. Each winner of the tournament since the turn of the millennium have not exactly been names that have raised eyebrows. However, amongst the list of heavyweights like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich etc, you stumble across the name of Porto.
The Portuguese club won the CL back in 2004, with their achievement in the competition remaining unmatched by fellow underdogs this century. However, both Spurs and Ajax are aiming to become the next club to defy the Champions League odds to such a similar extent.
With their semi-final second leg looming, where would each team’s potential success rank in regards to Porto’s?
Re-Writing the Script
Last week’s first leg was one dominated by praise for both clubs. It didn’t feel like an ordinary Champions League semi-final, simply because neither side has even come close to winning the tournament in the 21st century.
It may have been a tense affair, but both clubs had the opportunity to cherish such an evening, as there isn’t an expectation from either set of supporters to reach this stage of such an elitist competition. Reaching the semi-finals can be regarded as an achievement in itself, particularly when we consider the spending power that other European clubs have at their disposal.
When scrolling through the list of Champions League winners, it isn’t surprising to see the names of Real Madrid and Barcelona creep up consecutively, as they are two teams that spend lucratively every summer. The same can also be said about Bayern Munich and even the last English winners in Chelsea – there is a clear pattern between spending big and reaching the latter stages of the tournament.
Porto defied this pattern of play in 2004 under the leadership of Jose Mourinho, with the majority of their squad being comprised of Portuguese talent acquired from their youth academy and the Primeria Liga. Take into consideration that their net spend in the summer was £500,000 and their success looks all the more impressive. Sound familiar?
Both Ajax and Tottenham are not two clubs that boast wealthy net spends, as both sides have become accustomed in seeing a star name depart, before fellow recruits join. This has been the common philosophy from both boards, which makes their CL semi-final status such a surprising sight for football fans across the globe. And what a remarkable one it is too.
The first-leg last week was certainly a nervy affair, with Ajax grabbing the crucial away goal through Donny van de Beek. There was only three shots on target over the course of the ninety minutes, but it was the Lancers who looked the more creative and dynamic when going forward.
This has been the tale of Ajax’s season so far, with their frontmen linking up fluidly and causing opponents issues with their movement off the ball. Dusan Tadic spearheaded the frontline ahead of Hakim Ziyech and David Neres, with the latter narrowly hitting the post on the 77th minute.
The trio worked well and they created openings rather easily at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. A makeshift midfield of Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose struggled with their shape defensively, but Ajax couldn’t find a second goal to take back to Amsterdam with them.
In terms of Spurs’ openings, they were very limited, as they struggled to create without Son Heung-min up-top. Lucas Moura and Fernando Llorente failed to inter-link and the play in the middle of the park often became congested.
At the Johan Cruyff Arena, Tottenham will need to be much slicker on the ball, if they are to have any chance of progressing through to the final.
Team News and Prediction
When Tottenham experience injuries, they tend to suffer. This was certainly the case last Wednesday, as they don’t have the quality in the squad to deal with the absentees of significant players. Without Harry Kane and Son, Spurs lack that quality up-front, specifically in relation to movement off the ball.
Fans will be delighted to hear that the South Korean is available to play against Ajax, as he is their club’s most prolific attacker. Moussa Sissoko will also be a big boost to their midfield, which will need much more energy against the dynamic Lancers. Both these players will help push Dele Alli and Eriksen into more advanced positions, whilst it remains to be seen whether Llorente will drop to the bench or not.
There is even less speculation surrounding Ajax’s starting XI, as Erik ten Hag clearly has a preferred team in mind. The notorious trio up-top will occupy their usual positions, whilst the reliable figures of Frenkie de Jong and Lasse Schone will look to break the lines to find their fellow attackers. In terms of injuries, the Dutch manager has no issues at his disposal.
At home, Ajax are strong and they often find goals easy to come by. In their last 4 fixtures in-front of their own crowd, they have registered an impressive 14. Keeping a clean-sheet does not look an easy task for Spurs, meaning that qualification looks bleak for them. At 6/5, Ajax hold good value to win the match in 90 minutes. They have won six on the bounce and their firepower should be too much for Tottenham to handle.
Prediction: Ajax 2-1 Spurs – 15/2 with Unibet
As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.