Analysis: Tactical changes help Tottenham to seal UEFA Champions League final berth
Written by: Ajay A K
A first-half brace by the Dutch side wasn't enough as they came crashing down in the second-half.
Madrid gears up for the first All-English final in the UEFA Champions League, since 2008, as Tottenham defeated Ajax in thrilling fashion, to join Liverpool in the ultimate clash. Mauricio Pochettino’s side came into the second leg trailing 1-0, due to a Donny van de Beek goal and faced what was a seemingly uphill task away from home.
Two goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech all but made sure of their semifinal exit. But led by the energetic Lucas Moura, Tottenham pulled off a stellar comeback to score three goals in the second half, the last one coming in the last minute of injury time, to progress to the final.
Watch: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham, Goals and Highlights
The first leg was a pretty affair for the away side. Ajax were set up in their usual 4-3-3 with Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong pulling the strings from Midfield. Their passing triangles and quick one-touch exchanges were creating various problems for Tottenham who failed to muster a proper chance to test Onana despite having more off the ball.
It was one such sublime move, that allowed Ajax to take the lead as Ziyech’s accurate through ball, allowed Donny van de Beek to break the offside trap and slot in calmly past Lloris. Despite, trying their best, Tottenham were unable to sting a strong Ajax defense composed of veteran Daley Blind and the dependable de Ligt.
The second leg, itself can be portrayed in two ways: a first half in which Spurs were clueless as to what they were supposed to do and a second half in which everything just happened to fall in their favour. One crucial entity stands out as the difference-maker. Fernando Llorente’s introduction in the second half completely changed the momentum for both the teams.
Ajax were outplaying Tottenham in all aspects in the first half, as de Jong’s well-commanded midfield and de Ligt’s solid defensive wall thwarted almost all Spurs forays. While the first goal came through a set-piece, the second goal was a typical Ajax goal – well-made, clinical and devastating for the opposition. Spurs unsuccessfully tried to influence the game, only for Ajax to push them back even further.
Mauricio Pochettino produced a tactical masterclass
The introduction of Llorente saw a big shift in the power race. Pochettino changed the 4-3-1-2 into a 4-3-3 with Llorente manning the middle. Llorente’s presence allowed the Argentine gaffer to add another dimension to the game, the direct approach. Going route one allowed Tottenham to negate the Ajax midfield dominating presence in the middle and with Llorente involved, the likes of Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son were given the drift inside and use their pace for good effect. It proved to be the game killer as two quick-fire chances pulled Tottenham into the game, and Llorente was a pivotal figure in both. His knock-downs and hold-up allowed Tottenham to exploit the back-line before help arrived from midfield and made it more difficult for Ajax to counter.
But Ajax did play well. In the first half, if it weren’t for Hugo Lloris’ brilliant performance between the sticks, Erik ten Hag’s squad could have run away with the tie, nullifying any chance for a comeback. It was their midfield dominance that forced Pochettino to go direct in the second half and the Tottenham players respond with a motivated performance to repay the Argentine’s faith in them.
Tottenham prepares for the biggest ever final in their history while Ajax will stay home to fight and win the Eredivisie with their heads held high after a miraculous Champions League campaign.
Published: Thu May 09, 2019 07:39 PM IST