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Fußball Premier League Tottenham Hotspur - FC Brighton & Hove Albion Christian Eriksen
Image: picture-alliance/Offside/C. Wilson

Spurs' former Ajax men out to end fairy tale

April 29, 2019

Tuesday's Champions League semifinal between Spurs and Ajax promises several reunions. The English side have long looked to their Dutch opponents for talent but have their work cut out against a team running out of time.

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Somewhat confusingly, the first of this week's Champions League semis offers evidence of how deeply entrenched football's food chain is and, simultaneously, how much it's been disrupted at the top table this season.

That Tottenham Hotspur — who haven't signed a player in 2018-19 and are at a significant financial disadvantage to at least five other English clubs, let alone Europeans — have made the last four is a significant upsetting of the apple cart in a competition increasingly dominated by a cabal of wealthy European superclubs. That they will face Ajax suggests the cart has been overturned completely, if only temporarily.

The Eredivisie leaders are European grandees but have become a club largely concerned with developing, nurturing and selling talent in recent years. Few clubs have been greater beneficiaries of that model than Spurs, for whom ex-Ajax players Christian Eriksen (pictured above), Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld are key men. All but Alderweireld arrived in North London directly from Amsterdam.

While Vertonghen has enjoyed an excellent European campaign highlighted by a rampaging performance against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 and Alderweireld has played the most minutes for Mauricio Pochettino's team this season, it's Eriksen – the man second on the list of minutes played – who often makes Spurs tick.

Eriksen the maestro, but for how long?

The 27-year-old joined the club in 2013 in a splurge following Gareth Bale's decision to follow Luka Modric in swapping White Hart Lane for the Bernabeu, and, with just a year left on his contract, there's been recent speculation that the Dane may be the next man to move up that football food chain.

Jan Vertonghen celebrates his goal against Borussia Dortmund
Jan Vertonghen celebrates his goal against Borussia DortmundImage: Reuters/M. Childs

"The timing for him or for the club to be agreeing something are maybe different to another player," said Pochettino, after Eriksen scored the only goal in a late 1-0 win over Brighton last week. "I hope and I wish Christian can be with us in the future but I think Christian and us, we are so open to talking and we will see what happens."

That game came immediately before a 1-0 home loss to London rivals West Ham on Saturday, a contest in which Spurs' thin squad and lengthy injury list appeared to catch up with them.

"The stress and the fatigue arrived, (and) we are competing with circumstances that are not the best," admitted Pochettino.

But left back Danny Rose doesn't think the Premier League club can afford to rest their chief creator.

"When Christian does not play, people do question whether we look the same. He links everything up for us and it is a pleasure to play with him," Rose said.

With Son Heung-min suspended for Tuesday's first leg in London, Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Erik Lamela out injured and Moussa Sissoko a major doubt, tiredness and conditioning are major concerns for Spurs, particularly with their place in the Premier League's top four not yet secured.

Dutch league pauses for preparation

Contrastingly, Ajax have no such issues. Their players will be well rested after all fixtures in the Dutch top flight were canceled this weekend in an effort to help the team stay fresh.

Ajax players celebrate after beating Juventus in the quarterfinals
Ajax players celebrate after beating Juventus in the quarterfinalsImage: Reuters/A. Lingria

Eric ten Hag's sides' run to the semifinals, and elimination of Real Madrid and Juventus, has captured the imagination at home and abroad but, as with Monaco two seasons ago, there's also the lingering sense that an exciting young side will soon be carved up by the established powerhouses.

Elegant midfielder Frenkie de Jong has started the exodus, having already agreed to join Barcelona at the end of the current campaign. Center back Matthijs de Ligt seems sure to be one of a number of other players to follow him out the door, with sporting director Marc Overmars admitting "it will be impossible to keep this team together in the summer". 

Whether any of the current Ajax crop will end up at Spurs remains to be seen. Either way, they'll be keen to make a strong first impression at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

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