LONDON – Tottenham Hotspur is gearing up to host an in-form Ajax in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals, in which the London club will not be able to count on two of its top goalscorers, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
Ajax’s sprightly and youthful side has dazzled in the Champions League this season, felling giants like Real Madrid and Juventus to make it into the last four and heads to North London on Tuesday evening with the added advantage of having had four more days of rest than Spurs.
Spurs’ Premier League campaign is also beginning to stutter, perhaps due to European fatigue. Mauricio Pochettino’s side has lost two of its last three games, its most recent at the hands of rivals West Ham United, which became the first team to beat Spurs at their new stadium.
England striker Kane suffered an ankle injury in the CL quarterfinal match against Manchester City and his absence from the Tottenham team sheet will be significant. Although Spurs managed to rout Huddersfield 4-0 on April 14, they failed to score against Manchester City in a league tie, losing 1-0 at the Etihad, and against West Ham, losing 0-1 at home.
Christian Erikson came to the rescue in a duel at home to Brighton and Hove Albion last week, scoring the Spurs’ only goal in the 88th minute.
Kane’s absence has seen the Argentine head coach experiment with a false nine role in the form of Lucas Moura.
In the West Ham match, Pochettino brought on Fernando Llorente for Moura and the little-used Dutch striker Vincent Janssen for Danny Rose but the Hammers held on to take the win.
Llorente is emerging as a natural replacement from Tottenham’s missing strike force as the London club sets its eyes on Ajax.
South Korea international Son has to sit the first-leg out because of a suspension for accumulating yellow cards.
Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko are also unavailable for the date with the Dutch team although Dele Alli looks set to feature in the first 11.
It is only the second time Tottenham have competed at such as high European level, the last occasion being in 1961-62 when they tumbled out against Benfica, the eventual winner.
Ajax will come into the tie well rested after the Dutch Football Federation decided to cancel a round of Eredivisie fixtures so the Amsterdam side did not have to play on Sunday and then again on Tuesday.
Erik ten Hag’s squad has, therefore, had seven days of rest, four more than Spurs.
The head coach also has the fortune of being able to call on all his players, despite a particularly hard-working season so far.
He surprised fans when he included Noussair Mazraoui in the squad despite the Dutch-born Moroccan’s ankle injury against Juve, from which he seems to have recovered quickly.
His substitute, Jöel Veltman, has performed well in his stead, so it will be up to Ten Hag to choose who starts in the Spurs clash.
Argentine Nicolas Tagliafico is expected to return at left-back having been suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards against Juve.
If Ten Hag opts to repeat the formula he used against Real Madrid, he will draw up a 4-2-3-1 formation with Frenkie de Jong, the brains of the team, and Lasse Schöne just ahead of the central defense.
David Neres is expected to play out left, with Donny van de Beek in the center on Hakim Ziyech on the right in midfield while Dusan Tadic will most likely play as a false nine.