Of the 17 sides who have lost the home first leg of a semi-final in the UEFA Champions League era, only one has recovered to win on aggregate – Ajax themselves, against Panathinaikos in 1995/96. Such is the size of the task facing Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur side if they hope to advance to the Champions League final for the first time in their history.
Ajax followed up last week’s comprehensive victory in London with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Willem II on Sunday to win their first Dutch Cup since 2010. The Amsterdammers go into this tie in high spirits, riding the wave of an unexpected surge through European football’s premier competition and on a run that has seen them gain away victories in Spain and Italy, ousting holders Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus in the process.
While Ajax have a proud European history and a great record in European semi-final ties, with six victories and two defeats, those defeats have come in their past two appearances. And their last appearance was back in 1997. This fixture is, therefore, unchartered territory for many at the club, especially the young playing squad that has now scored 165 goals in all competitions in 2018/19.
At the current time, Spurs – who have suffered defeat on 19 occasions this season – could be considered the polar opposite of Ajax. Out of form (one win from six games, seven losses in their last 11 games) and blunt in front of goal (one goal in five games), Spurs have slumped since overcoming Manchester City in the previous round. Their qualification for next year’s tournament having been aided by the complete lack of form of Manchester United and Arsenal.
Spurs have one boost coming into this fixture; the return from suspension of the man who scored three goals in the previous round (and got himself sent off at the weekend against Bournemouth in the Premier League) Heung-Min Son. With talisman Harry Kane injured, all hopes of advancing to the final will fall on the South Korean superstar who’s emerged as a key player for the London side this season.
Sure, Ajax are favourites and have lost only once during their marathon of European fixtures this season. BUT, that loss did come on home turf against Real Madrid and Ajax have not won any of their last seven home UEFA Champions League knockout phase matches (D4 L3).
Spurs are unbeaten in their last four visits to the Netherlands, have the memory of their dramatic tie against Man City to draw from and have nothing else to play for this season. This is their chance to make history and reach the club’s first ever European Cup final. We believe they’ll be fighting for their lives and we’re hoping for more knockout drama, so we’re backing Spurs to win and over 2.5 goals at 7/2 (4.50).
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