Oh what a night. Deploying a 4-3-1-2 formation, Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes of unlocking Ajax’s defence hinged on Christian Eriksen’s ability to supply Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura with enough quality possession.
In Harry Kane’s absence, Moura rewarded his manager’s faith with a hat-trick on one of the greatest nights in the club’s history.
Pochettino has worked wonders during his five-year tenure in North London and guided an injury-hit squad to a Champions League final. Qualification for next year’s competition was already within touching distance despite little or no transfer market activity over the past year.
These are laudable achievements despite Spurs’ chronic end-of-season form. An increasingly jaded looking Tottenham stuttered to six wins in their last 16 matches and lost 19 games in all competitions this season, their most since the 2008-09’ campaign.
Yet, a campaign that delivered so many memorable moments reached a crescendo on Wednesday night in Amsterdam. Spurs head into the Champions League final against another Premier League club equally desperate for glory. What a final it will be.
So near yet so far
Erik ten Hag was asked what it felt like to win his first trophy as Ajax manager after the recent 4-0 Dutch KNVB Cup final demolition of Willem II. “We have been fighting for this all year and the first prize has now arrived. But we are not yet satisfied. It is not enough. This fuels hunger,” was the immediate answer.
Prophetic words from a manager who could yet guide a young team to a domestic double before season’s end.
Ajax’s path to the Champions League semi-finals has been nothing short of sensational. The Eredivisie club is the first in the competition’s history to reach a European Cup last-four encounter having negotiated three qualifying rounds.
The hunger that ten Hag referred to was evident in the arrogant manner the Amsterdam club brushed Tottenham aside to go 2-0 up. Ajax’s ability to press their opponents high up the pitch, remain composed in possession and effortlessly switch play between flanks would have marked them down as worthy challengers to Liverpool.
Instead, defensive frailties and inexperience at the vital moment is all that denied the Dutch side a shot at glory.
Crazy, crazy night
Another crazy, crazy night of Champions League football. Both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur head to Madrid on the back of two of the greatest comebacks in the competition’s history.
There are match winners in both squads but both set of players will relish an opportunity to lift European football’s top prize on the back of thrilling campaigns. Liverpool will start as favourites but know Tottenham possess enough quality in the final third to hurt them on the counter-attack.
The English Premier League will have a Champions League winner in 2019 and a winning manager deserving of the accolade considering both Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp’s sterling work in North London and Merseyside.