West Ham United
12:00 PM UTC
Game Details

Champions League semifinals, Leg 2: predictions and key battles

This is it: There's one game to go before the Champions League final. Who will advance to meet Liverpool on June 1 in Madrid -- Ajax or Tottenham?

Here's everything you need to know, from the superheroes and the sidekicks who can decide the ties to the keys for victory.

Ajax vs. Tottenham

FIRST-LEG SCORE: Ajax 1, Tottenham 0
WHEN: Wednesday, May 8, 3 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. BST

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE FIRST LEG: Ajax battered Tottenham for 45 minutes in which they scored once but could have had more, before being pushed back after the break (yet still hitting the post). The Dutch side showed both confidence and maturity, counterattacking well in the second half. Injuries, fatigue and absences finally caught up with Tottenham, and they showed little creativity and incisiveness.

- Miller: Spurs have hope heading to Ajax
- Hamilton: Inside the Ajax "dream factory"

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE RETURN LEG: Injuries in midfield forced Mauricio Pochettino to play a back three, but the decision boomeranged badly against a "false nine" center/forward like Dusan Tadic. It also ceded control of the middle of the park to the opposition. Expect a more disruptive Spurs midfield, bolstered by the return from the start of Moussa Sissoko and focused on releasing the returning Son Heung-min into space. Ajax will try to impose their passing and movement on the game, knowing it's the best way to keep Spurs off balance.

WHAT AJAX HAVE TO DO TO REACH THE FINAL: Because of the away goals rule, Tottenham have to score at least twice regardless of whether or not Ajax get on the score sheet. Were this a different team, you'd expect them to sit and look for the counter. Ajax tend not to do that, especially at home, and while you don't want them to ditch the approach that got them this far in the first place, you don't want to leave your central defenders isolated against Son, either. It's the "maturity" that manager Erik ten Hag spoke about.

WHAT TOTTENHAM HAVE TO DO TO REACH THE FINAL: Forget about what came before. Yes, they've lost five of their past six games in all competitions, but none of that matters: They're 90 minutes away from a European Cup final. Banishing the "flaky Spurs" trope would be a huge psychological win for Pochettino. All they have to do is score a goal and it's like hitting the "reset" button. The fact that Sissoko and Son will be playing from the first minute is a big boost; make it count.

BATTLE TO WATCH: Moussa Sissoko vs. Frenkie De Jong. Sissoko's physicality and workrate was missed in the first half of the first leg and his presence can relieve Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli of some defensive duties, freeing them up to create. But he also needs to stop de Jong, Ajax's metronome of a two-way midfielder.

WILD CARD/STORYBOOK SCENARIO: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is 35. Fernando Llorente is 34. Neither striker is expected to start, but both could offer something entirely different off the bench and in dead-ball situations should the game warrant it.

FINAL PREDICTION: 1-1, Ajax to advance 2-1 on aggregate. So much depends on Tottenham's state of mind here and right now they seem frazzled, as evidenced by the two red cards picked up over the weekend. (It could have been three if the referee had been stricter with Eric Dier.) Ajax, on the other hand, seem unfazed no matter who the opponent or what the situation.


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