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Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Preview: Tottenham vs Ajax

Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Preview: Tottenham vs Ajax

The minute you think that the Champions League battle couldn’t become more exciting, the remaining teams prove you wrong. Luckily enough, one of the most exciting clashes this term is taking place on the semi-final. One of them is Tottenham vs Ajax.

They’ve reached this stage by performing well-balanced and captivating football, knocking out some of the European giants along the way.

Tottenham need to stay focused on their battle for the third place in the Premier League but surely their Champions League campaign is on the agenda. Mauricio Pochettino managed to create a strong team with a clear tactical approach and it will be hard for Ajax to outplay them.

On the other side, the Dutchmen perform a high-speed football and the connection between the players is no less impressive. This has kept them in the battle for the Eredivisie title where it’s yet to be decided whether they or PSV are going to achieve it.

Both Spurs and Ajax have one of the best defensive records in their leagues and it is going to be hard to expose each other in any particular way. In this tactical analysis preview, we’re going to dive into how they could take advantage of every little gap left by the opposition and get the three points.

Is Pocettino going for a different strategy?

It is hard to predict whether Pochettino is going to stick to his previous squad or if he is going to go for a completely new strategy, in what is expected to be a real tactical battle.

The biggest blast for the Argentine is the absence of one of his most valuable players Son Heung-min. This would definitely affect the whole teams’ performance as he’s been the one who could decide the outcome of their games in the blink of an eye.

Despite attempting long balls to him, they need to implement different strategies for their attacking ventures.

This is where two different formations could take place. One is the 4-3-1-2 and the other 4-1-4-1.

Having a solid four-man defence, but engaging the full-backs into more active positions when in possession could be the solution to their attacking ventures. Building up from the back could be a little harsh due to Ajax’s high press, so using Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose in more advanced positions might work out.

Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
Trippier tends to send long balls into the box. In this case, due to the defenders’ positioning, it would’ve been hard for Eriksen to proceed with the ball so they decided to go for a long ball behind the back-line.

The pivot in the midfield should be Eric Dier who would have two responsibilities – trying to cover the passing lanes and help with the build-up, distributing the ball further and also dropping back with more of a defensive role. This would be in order to cover the full-backs when they want to go further up the pitch.

Christian Eriksen’s actions would be extremely important for the final stages of the attack. Especially if the manager goes for the 4-1-4-1 formation where it seems like Lucas Moura would be the only option forward.

Positioning Moura on the tip of the attack could bring a different approach. We’ve seen him have a great contribution to the midfield actions when positioned next to Harry Kane. The striker’s absence would make it harder for the Brazillian to control the final third, but dropping back and switching positions with Dele Alli might catch Ajax off guard.

Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
Moura’s link-up play and pass to Heung Min Son dragged the defenders out of position which freed up some space for Dele Alli’s off the ball movement in order to reach the box and receive the ball.

The full-backs could try to stretch out the defence and open the half-spaces where Eriksen, Wanyama and Davies could operate in. They could also use Nicolás Tagliafico’s participation in Ajax’s attacking ventures and use their high-speed attacks to catch him out of position.

Using Fernando Llorente as a back-up option for ruining the opposition’s defensive structure could take place too.

Would Ajax be able to pass through the overloaded midfield?

Spurs’ overloaded midfield would make it hard for Ajax to build-up from the back as per usual therefore to perform their short-pass combinations and slick attacking moves. Erik ten Hag’s side should try to drag players out of positions and open the passing lanes. Spurs’ actions would probably be focused on stopping Frenkie de Jong from receiving the ball and distributing it further and that is where Tagliafico should provide the needed support.

Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
De Jong was tightly marked so he had to spread out wide. Tagliafico’s position was perfect for a one-touch combination with Tadić. He passed the ball to him in order to escape his marker with an off the ball movement and then send a cross to his teammates in the box.

The full-back might be responsible for delivering the ball to the final third, where Donny van de Beek might turn out as the most suitable player for surprising the Londoners’ defenders.

Teams seem to often neglect his presence in order to tightly cover the front trio of David Neres, Dušan Tadić and Hakim Ziyech, which as it happened against Juventus could be crucial for the final result.

Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
A showcase of Van de Beek’s intelligent movement. Once he entered the box he was covered by Juve’s defenders.
Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
As the attack continued and the team had to spread out wide, he smartly positioned himself between the lines.
Champions League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: Tottenham vs Ajax
Then Ziyech received the ball and in that split second when the defensive line was focused on the ball carrier, Van de Beek intelligently sneaked behind their backs and scored.

As shown in the images above, his movement is extremely important for the team. He is able to use it in the right moment and takes advantage of every little defensive mistake. That is something to be careful with.

Van de Beek’s runs into the box are a great addition to Ziyech’s movements who are often perfectly measured and open the tiniest spaces in the opposition’s defence.


Both teams have similarities in their style of play and it will be interesting to see what strategies they stick to. Ajax will be looking for an away goal and will use all of their weapons when it comes to breaking Tottenham’s press. It is important for Spurs to score goals too but they need to stay focused on their defensive performance and use Son Heung-min as their creative force in the second leg. The semi-finalists won’t go out without being prepared for the opposition’s actions and it will be a matter of concentration and intelligence to outwit each other.

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