Tottenham Hotspur’s spectacular new North London home is a fitting venue to host what promises to be an enthralling evening of football on Tuesday, in Spurs’ Champions League Semi Final first leg clash with Ajax.
Both clubs left a trail of slayed giants behind them en-route to the competition’s penultimate round, though neither side will play the role of heroic underdog this week.
Ahead of the opening act of the teams’ double header, both Tottenham and Ajax will believe that they can reach the Final in Madrid – and those fresh expectations should add an intriguing layer to an already compelling contest.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important individual duels that could play a key role in deciding the outcome of Tottenham’s first leg tussle with Ajax this week.
Toby Alderweireld vs Dusan Tadic
Tottenham Hotspur centre half Toby Alderweireld will be taking a dualistic personal trip down memory lane when Spurs meet Ajax in the first leg of their Champions League Semi Final this week.
The 30-year old spent 9 years at the Amsterdam club between 2004 and 2013, making over 200 appearances for de Godenzonen before moving to Atletico Madrid in Spain.
Alderweireld spent a year on loan at Premier League club Southampton from the Spanish giants in the 2014/15 season, where he played alongside current Ajax star Dusan Tadic.
On Tuesday, the former teammates with 2 clubs in common, will be pit against each other from opposite sides of the dividing line.
Tadic has been in incredible goalscoring form for Ajax this season – netting 31 goals during his first year at the club, 6 of which were scored in the Champions League.
The Serbian plays an unorthodox deep lying centre forward role for Ajax, and Alderweireld will have to use all of his defensive nous to track his intelligent movement.
Jan Vertonghen vs Hakim Ziyech
Alderweireld’s Belgian compatriot Jan Vertonghen will also be feeling similarly nostalgic on Tuesday. The 32-year old spent 10 years at Ajax from 2003 to 2013, graduating through the ranks from the youth teams to the senior side in Amsterdam.
On Tuesday, the versatile defender will likely occupy the furthest left position in a central rearguard trio for Tottenham, placing him into the channels and areas that Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech likes to operate it.
Ajax’s 26-year old Moroccan attacker has been in scintillating form both domestically and on the continent for the Dutch club this season.
Ziyech has scored 18 goals and created 14 others for his teammates during an incredibly productive campaign in 2018/19, and the former FC Twente star notched 3 of his 4 Champions League goals and assists this season in the knockout stages of the competition.
Vertonghen will need to work in tandem with Spurs’ left wing back Danny Rose to limit Ziyech’s impact on proceedings this week.
Christian Eriksen vs Frenkie de Jong
Christian Eriksen completes a hattrick of former Ajax players in Tottenham’s ranks, and the Danish schemer goes head-to-head with another midfielder schooled in De Toekomst on Tuesday – the phenomenally gifted Frenkie de Jong.
Eriksen has once again been Spurs’ main creative conduit this season, amassing 16 assists collectively for Tottenham in the Premier and Champions League this term.
The 27-year old has also played more key passes domestically (2.2) than any of his teammates in 2018/19, and Eriksen ranks second in that metric (2.6) for the club in the Champions League behind Kieran Tripper (3).
Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong generally patrols more deeper areas for Ajax than Eriksen does for Spurs, where he recycles the ball and knits passages of transitional play together with devastating efficiency.
The roles Eriksen and de Jong play for their respective teams should ensure that they are in close proximity to each other on Tuesday, setting up a fascinating duel between the technically talented pair.
Victor Wanyama vs Donny van de Beek
If Moussa Sissoko fails to recover in time from a groin strain this week, much of Tottenham’s combative and ball recovery responsibilities in midfield will be passed to Victor Wanyama.
The physically imposing 27-year old has had to endure a campaign littered with fitness troubles of his own however, and Wanyama comes into this week’s crucial encounter having started just a handful of games all season for Spurs.
His lack of match fitness could severely hamper his attempts to shackle the lung-busting surges of Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek.
The 22-year old box-to-box runner has enjoyed a fantastic year with Ajax and his ability to join in with the team’s front three from deep makes him a potentially devastating weapon for the Eredivisie league leaders.
Fernando Llorente vs Matthijs de Ligt
With Tottenham shorn of their 2 most prolific players in Son Heng-Min and Harry Kane, the much-maligned Fernando Llorente takes centre stage at centre forward on Tuesday.
Llorente has been used sparingly by Spurs’ manager Mauricio Pochettinho this season – in fact the 34-year old will start his first Champions League match of 2018/19 if he makes the cut on Tuesday.
The former Athletic Bilbao hero appeared off the substitutes bench in 6 of Spurs’ continental contests however, scoring twice in the process, though his overall impact is generally quite limited.
Llorente has averaged just 1.2 shots per game in the Premier League this season, and only 0.7 attempts per appearance in the Champions League overall this term.
The striker’s strengths are based around his expert aerial abilities, though he will have his work cut out to best Ajax centre back and skipper Matthijs de Ligt in a heading battle.
The hulking 19-year old has been regularly bullying players his senior with dismissive ease this season’s Champions League, and de Ligt will back himself to come out on top in any physical duel he contests again this week.