Last week, as the dust settled on the semi-final first legs in the Champions League, the hopes of an all-English final seemed to be in tatters. Liverpool had lost 3-0 in Barcelona and faced seemingly insurmountable odds, while Spurs’ 1-0 home defeat left Ajax in pole position for a final against the Catalan giants. However, if Tottenham are seeking an inspiration for the exacting task that faces them on Dutch soil this evening, they need only think back 24 hours. Liverpool, shorn of 66% of their first-choice attack at the outset and with the excellent Andrew Robertson kicked out of the game by half-time, may have seemed dead and buried. By 10pm last night, they’d swept Messi, Suarez and co. out of the competition with a superb 4-0 thrashing.
By comparison, Mauricio Pochettino’s charges face a fairly simple task. They need only overturn a 1-0 deficit, and if anything the away goals rule is in their favour – if this meeting ends up tied on aggregate, then they will at least force extra time. Consider, also, that Ajax’s path to the final has seen them win ties away from the Johan Cruyff Arena after drawing or losing at home. Defending a lead on their own turf is uncharted territory for the hosts – they’ve shown they know how to twist, but how good are they at sticking? As we look at this match for the best bets of the day, we’ll try to unpick how we see it unfolding tonight.
Tactically fascinating battle awaits
It’s tough to know what each team’s best option here is: Do Ajax, with an advantage, allow Spurs to take the game to them and hit on the counter? Do they, mindful of the slenderness of that advantage, look to put the tie to bed by getting in front on the night? As for Spurs, there are plenty of questions too: Do they look to attack early on, take the initiative and nullify the deficit? Or do they take a cautious approach, in the knowledge that their hosts’ free-running attackers would love to have space to burst into? Until at least five minutes after kick-off, it’s impossible to say.
One thing we can be sure of is that nerves will play a part. Tottenham have been in poor form domestically, and lost again at the weekend to a Bournemouth side that has seemed for months to be on holiday. They’ll almost certainly be back in this tournament next season, but finishing fourth would be a worse showing than last campaign, and if they are eliminated here then there will be a sense of frustration. As such, we expect a cagey outing here, and with William Hill offering 11/10 on fewer than 2.5 goals, you could do a lot worse than backing that outcome.
Will Son shine on his return to Champions League action?
Much was made, in the aftermath of Tottenham’s home defeat last week, of the absence of Son Heung-Min. To put it bluntly, Spurs can seemingly absorb the loss of Harry Kane as long as Son is around. With both players missing, they seem to become a lesser team, and they certainly looked it a week ago. Having served his one-match suspension – and being unavailable for this weekend’s game against Everton due to a separate domestic ban – Son will be back tonight. Spurs need him to deliver the attacking thrust that was largely absent in the first leg.
Paddy Power are offering 6/4 on the South Korean to score this evening. With Spurs needing a goal, it’s hard to see them not focusing their efforts on getting the attacker into goalscoring positions. No matter the result, it would not be a surprise to see Son getting on the scoresheet. Backing him to get the first goal, at 9/2 with the same bookmaker, offers less value; as we saw last week, Ajax can strike at will, and they may well have scored here before Spurs can fashion a chance.
Ajax to progress in a keenly-fought battle
It’s far from out of the question that Spurs could deliver the win they need in order to progress this evening. Literally in the last 24 hours we’ve seen much stranger things happen. There remain questions on how well Ajax will handle being in the ascendancy after the first leg – particularly as that margin is so narrow. As much as there is a feeling of destiny about this Ajax side, and winning a Champions League trophy before this collection of excellent young players can be picked over by richer clubs, they still have to make it happen on the pitch.
We think they will. Ajax have given no reason to doubt them, while Spurs have given several. However, there isn’t much value in backing Ajax to progress, and the result on the night is incredibly hard to predict, so we’d shy away from betting in those markets. What we would say is that Spurs have developed a tendency to let tempers fray when things aren’t going in their favour. 888sport have odds of 5/2 on Spurs picking up more than 3.5 cards in this game. Given that they ended the Bournemouth match with nine men, and knowing how much Ajax like to run at the opposition, we’d definitely take the Over on that market.
Bet of the Day
Son to score (Paddy Power, 6/4); Fewer than 2.5 goals (William Hill, 11/10); Spurs to get more than 3.5 cards (888, 5/2)