There isn’t much to say about the actual game. After a cagey opening 7 or 8 minutes, Ajax took over the proceedings with dominant possession, intricate passing and, ultimately the one combination we lacked all night and that was that. Up until about the 35 minute mark and around the time Vertonghen went off with the concussion for Sissoko, they bossed us. In the remaining hour the game was either even or had periods where we were the better side but a) the goal wasn’t to come up with this lineup and against some resolute defending, and b) we are damn fortunate they didn’t get the second goal.
Given that we were counted out in Group Stage—after the first three games and then late in the final ties against Inter, PSV and Barca—and given that we were given little chance v City and were seemingly knocked out twice at the Etihad—I for one am not losing hope. A 2-1 win with Son flying up and down the pitch is entirely within reason. Or even a 3-2 shootout if the goals come fast and furious in Amsterdam as they did in Manchester. I and the entire team would feel a lot better if we could win at Bournemouth and take the Top Four worry totally off the board. But let’s be real: in now almost 5 full games of action—home and away, good teams and poor teams—Spurs have scored just two goals: one off Fernando Llorente’s hip and the other a late strike from distance by Christian Eriksen. There isn’t much more left for these players to give.
So how and why did we get in this position? We’re on fumes. You need a goal in the final 10 minutes of the biggest European game in a generation, and your last two substitutes are: Ben Davies and Juan Foyth!! Because there was no one else. There is a temptation which I am sure many will fall for to lay it all on Levy’s desk. We didn’t buy. The squad’s too thin. Why did we let Dembele leave? Why isn’t there a better backup for Kane? There will be others that will claim that a) Poch might not have clean hands when it comes to the transfer policy—I don’t think he wanted to invest precious millions on simply “squad players”, and that b) he got his tactics wrong tonight.
I am loathe to go in either direction with a lot of fury. We are playing in the Champions League semifinal. Perhaps someone should have told Son to be more careful at the Etihad knowing he was risking suspension. But despite the veritable infirmary in holding midfield, despite a sputtering offense with inconsistent play from the likes of Dele and Eriksen, despite some earlier howlers by Lloris and a crucial mistake by Kyle Walker-Peters, we still got there. We survived group stage, easily bested Dortmund, and slayed the biggest English dragon of them all.
I would rather watching this team try to cope with the young legs and careful positioning of a talented Ajax squad place more of the responsibility on our talisman. He had been felled four times in the past three years with ankle injuries, two of them quite serious. He knew as well as anyone with the likes of Lamela and Dier hurt, Dembele off to China (which I assume was a promise made that Levy/Poch could not renege on), Winks out and Llorente limited by age and slowness, how thin this squad could be. It was up to him not to do something as rash as chase down Delph who was falling over the touch line. He had to be smarter than that. He would have made a massive difference in this game. All the link-ups Llorente was incapable of making could have been generated by Kane. He could have held the ball, gained control, turned and had all sorts of options that the Spaniard just couldn’t make. We would have scored… We probably would have won—even without Son. Instead we watched a pretty toothless display—every time one our forwards got the ball near or in the box, they were quickly surrounded by multiple Ajax defenders while several other cut off any lines of attack to the other Spurs. Dele and Eriksen simply lack the magic to produce something against that sort of defending. They were barely able to crack Brighton—why would they expect them to achieve a breakthrough
So yes, we have to reinvigorate this squad at several positions this summer—up front, on the wings, in the midfield. We were unlucky to have so many players missing at this crucial stretch—but maybe that’s just how it is. I for one hope that Harry Kane figures out how he has become so susceptible for crippling ankle injuries, and does something to obviate it. It’s the least he can do now. Maybe we’ll never get back to this place, and he’ll always rue the day he charged into Fabian Delph. But maybe something special still awaits, and he’s damned sure not going to miss out.
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