Their technique and composure whilst in possession was of the highest order but Ajax’s ability to press their opponents without the ball was even better.
Title-chasing Manchester City and Liverpool are the most effective Premier League exponents of the high press. Yet, Ajax went a step further and demonstrated why they are capable of going all the way in UEFA’s most prestigious competition.
The manner in which the Eredivisie side closed down Spurs and restricted space in the key areas of the pitch was the main reason they take a slender 1-0 advantage back to Amsterdam. Ajax were just as good on the break and only the width of an upright away from deciding the tie.
Erik ten Hag has infused a work ethic into an already talented squad and helped deliver positive results against the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus. Ajax’s victory in North London was fully deserved and a repeat performance on their home ground in eight days time will secure safe passage to this season’s Champions League decider.
Ahead of Tuesday’s tie, Mauricio Pochettino referred to Disney’s Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear when mentioning “you need to set your dreams to infinity and beyond”.
Tottenham remain trophyless during the Argentineans’ five-season tenure but consistently qualifying for the Champions League whilst spending little or no money in the transfer market deserves credit. Pochettino and Spurs have earned the right to dream again despite a delayed home ground development and maintaining a modest wage bill in comparison to their Premier League rivals.
Yet, the gnawing feeling that failure to overcome an in-form Ajax and qualify for a European Cup final will still be seen as an opportunity lost. Injuries aside, Pochettino’s side were handed the most winnable of semi-final draws yet will travel to Amsterdam trailing their opponents following a disjointed and lacklustre display.
There were mitigating factors, the loss of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min to injury leaving Spurs devoid of their two most potent attacking outlets. The tactic of sending high, diagonal passes to Fernando Llorente occasionally troubled Ajax’s defence but was never going to be enough to deliver an equaliser.
Dreaming big is one thing but delivering on the big stage is something Tottenham Hotspur and their manager must succeed at sooner rather than later.
Donny van de Beek has netted in five of Ajax’s previous eight away games, including the equaliser at Juventus, and took his chance superbly when it arose.
There may have been question marks about a possible offside but the cool manner in which the visitors prised open Tottenham’s defence was a throwback to the days of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Ruud Krol.
This Ajax side fear nobody and have now won eight of their last nine away games in all competitions. Although tagged as ‘underdogs’, Ajax are as good as any Champions League semi-finalist in the past number of years.