UCL: Tottenham vs Ajax Preview
Fresh from memorable quarterfinal victories, Tottenham and Ajax meet in the UEFA Champions League semifinals with a place in the Madrid final on offer for the winners.
Both sides have ended long waits to make it to this stage. While the most recent of Ajax’s eight European Cup semifinals came in 1997, Spurs have featured in the competition’s last four only once previously – 57 years ago, in their debut season of European competition.
Ajax have ousted holders Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus in this season’s knockout rounds, while Spurs have made it to the semi-finals by beating Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.
The teams have met in only one previous European tie, Spurs winning 6-1 on aggregate in the 1981/82 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round.
Goals from Glenn Hoddle, Mark Falco and Ricardo Villa helped the English club to a 3-1 first-leg win in Amsterdam, the home side’s sole response coming from Søren Lerby.
Falco was again on target in the return at White Hart Lane, scoring the second goal in a 3-0 home win with Tony Galvin and Osvaldo Ardiles also on target.
Spurs went on to reach the semi-finals of that season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup, eventually losing 2-1 on aggregate to Barcelona.
Spurs were beaten in their only previous European Cup semi-final: 1961/62: L 3-4 Benfica (1-3 a, 2-1 h)
Tottenham are the seventh English club to reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, an outright competition record that was previously shared with Spain. They are the only one of the four semi-finalists yet to win the European Cup – or indeed reach the final.
Tottenham have already faced Dutch opposition this season, taking four points from their two group games agains PSV Eindhoven (2-2 away, 2-1 home) with Harry Kane scoring three of their four goals.
Those results made it six games without defeat against Eredivisie clubs (W4 D2), since a 1-0 loss at home to PSV in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup round of 16 first leg.
Spurs went on to lose that 2008 tie on penalties despite a 1-0 away win in the second leg, giving them the overall record W3 L3 in two-legged aggregate contests against Dutch teams.
That 2007 defeat by PSV at White Hart Lane is Spurs’ sole home reverse against Dutch clubs (W4 D3) – they have won the last two.
Tottenham have lost a European final to a Dutch club, going down 4-2 on aggregate against Feyenoord in the 1973/74 UEFA Cup final (2-2 home, 0-2 away).
Before beating Dortmund 3-0 in this season’s round of 16 first leg Tottenham had never won a home match in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds (D1 L2), scoring just one goal in those first three fixtures.
Having beaten Dortmund 3-0 at Wembley in the round of 16 first leg (4-0 aggregate), they were also victorious at home in the quarter-finals, beating Manchester City 1-0 in the first European game at their new stadium to set up an away-goals success after a 3-4 away defeat.
This season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side lost 4-2 at home to Barcelona in their first home game, but beat PSV and Internazionale (1-0) in the next two. That helped them overtake Inter to snatch second place in Group B behind Barça; Spurs had just one point after three matches.
The London club have won eight of their last ten UEFA Champions League home matches – including the last four – losing the other two. Before beating Dortmund on matchday one in 2017/18, they had won just one of their previous five European home fixtures (D1 L3).
This is Tottenham’s most successful UEFA Champions League campaign; their previous best came in 2010/11, when they reached the quarter-finals.
Ajax’s record in European Cup semi-finals is W6 L2:
- 1968/69: W 3-2 Spartak Trnava (3-0 h, 0-2 a)
- 1970/71: W 3-1 Atlético Madrid (0-1 a, 3-0 h)
- 1971/72: W 1-0 Benfica (1-0 h, 0-0 a)
- 1972/73: W 3-1 Real Madrid (2-1 h, 1-0 a)
- 1979/80: L 1-2 Nottingham Forest (0-2 a, 1-0 h)
- 1994/95: W 5-2 Bayern München (0-0 a, 5-2 h)
- 1995/96: W 3-1 Panathinaikos (0-1 h, 3-0 a)
- 1996/97: L 2-6 Juventus (1-2 h, 1-4 a)
One of Ajax’s two European Cup semi-final defeats came against English opponents, Nottingham Forest – then the holders – beating them in the last four in 1980 en route to retaining the trophy.
Ajax’s away record at this stage of the European Cup is therefore W2 D2 L4.
Ajax’s last experience of English opposition came in the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League final, when they lost 2-0 to Manchester United at Sweden’s Friends Arena. That ended a three-match unbeaten run against English clubs (W2 D1).
The Amsterdam club have not lost in their last two visits to England, most recently a 2-2 draw at Manchester City in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League group stage. A 2-1 reverse at Aston Villa in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup group stage is Ajax’s sole defeat in their last five visits (W1 D3).
Ajax have, however, won only twice away to English clubs in their 11 visits (D5 L4). A 2-1 win at Manchester United in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League round of 32, in which Toby Alderweireld – now of Tottenham – got the second goal, ended a 40-year wait for an away victory over English opponents, although it failed to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
That 1981 loss at Tottenham is Ajax’s only away defeat in London, however, where they have otherwise recorded a win and two draws – all against Spurs’ local rivals Arsenal.
Ajax claimed their first European Cup in London, beating Panathinaikos 2-0 in the 1971 final at Wembley.
Ajax’s record in two-legged ties against English clubs is W3 L4; they have lost the last four, most recently that 2011/12 contest against Manchester United.
The Dutch club were without a win in seven UEFA Champions League knockout phase fixtures (D2 L5), since a 3-2 victory at Atlético Madrid in the 1996/97 quarter-final second leg that completed a 4-3 aggregate success, before this season’s knockout rounds, when they have won at Real Madrid (4-1) and Juventus (2-1).
Ajax had lost their last three UEFA Champions League away games in the knockout phase prior to winning at Real Madrid. Before that sequence started, they had won the previous three and were unbeaten in five (D2).
The Amsterdammers have lost only one of their 16 European matches in 2018/19 (W9 D6) – the round of 16 first-leg defeat at home to Madrid. They won their first away game at Sturm Graz in the second qualifying round (3-1), drawing the next four – including at Bayern München and Benfica in Group E, both 1-1 – and winning the last three.
Ajax are the sole side still involved who came through qualifying. They are the first side in European Cup history to reach the semi-finals having come through three qualifying rounds.
Ajax are the first Dutch club to have reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals since PSV in 2004/05.
Harry Kane’s next appearance in UEFA club competition will be his 50th.
Tottenham won their first four games at their new stadium without conceding, scoring eight goals, but were beaten 1-0 at home by West Ham on Saturday. Michail Antonio’s winning goal was the first by an opposition player in 427 minutes at the ground.
Spurs have won only five of their last 13 matches, losing seven – the loss to West Ham was their first at home in that sequence.
Spurs have drawn only four of their 53 games in 2018/19 in all competitions (W32 L17).
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have kept seven clean sheets in their last 21 fixtures.
Tottenham have lost 17 games in all competitions this season, their most since 2008/09 (19). They have lost six of their past ten league games (W3 D1), as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 28 (W22).
Kane was taken off in the quarter-final first leg against Manchester City with what Spurs described as “a significant lateral ligament injury” to his left ankle.
Dele Alli broke two bones in his left hand in the same game; he returned for the second leg against City and has been wearing a protective cast.
Moussa Sissoko went off just before half-time in the quarter-final second leg at Manchester City with a groin strain and has not featured since; Harry Winks has not played since the first leg of that tie, also due to groin problem.
Serge Aurier has not played since suffering a hamstring injury in Ivory Coast’s 3-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying win against Rwanda on 23 March.
Erik Lamela, who has not played since the round of 16 second leg at Borussia Dortmund, has a hamstring injury.
Eric Dier was forced off early in England’s 5-0 UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying win against the Czech Republic on 22 March with a hip injury, returning in the 1-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City on 20 April.
Ajax were without a game at the weekend; their scheduled fixture at De Graafschap was only two days before the first leg, so the whole 33rd Eredivisie round has been postponed as all clubs have to play at the same time in the final two matches. Ajax lead the Eredivisie on goal difference ahead of PSV Eindhoven.
Ajax have won 13 of their last 15 games, including the last four, in all competitions, the exceptions the quarter-final first leg against Juventus and a 1-0 Eredivisie loss at AZ Alkmaar on 17 March.
Dušan Tadic, who converted two penalties in a 4-2 win against Vitesse on 23 April, has 17 goals in his last 18 Eredivisie matches and 21 in his last 26 in all competitions.
That 4-2 home victory against Vitesse broke a Dutch record. Ajax have now scored 160 goals in all competitions in 2018/19 (league 111, UEFA Champions League 32, Dutch Cup 17), surpassing AZ Alkmaar’s 1980/81 mark of 158 goals.
Ajax have won seven of their last eight away games in all competitions, losing the other; they scored 24 goals in that sequence, conceding seven.
Donny van de Beek has scored in five of Ajax’s last eight away matches, including the equaliser at Juventus.
Noussair Mazraoui and André Onana have both extended their Ajax contracts until 2022.
Mazraoui suffered an ankle injury in the second leg against Juventus and has not played since.
On 27 February Ajax reached the Dutch Cup final with a 3-0 win at Feyenoord. They will play Willem II in the final, also in Rotterdam, on 5 May.