A painful lesson for sloppy Spurs

Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek shaping up to shoot past Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for the only goal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday. Below: Belgian defender Jan Vertong
Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek shaping up to shoot past Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for the only goal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek shaping up to shoot past Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for the only goal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday. Below: Belgian defender Jan Vertong
Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen needing the assistance of Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino and staff as he hobbled off the field with a bloodied nose after a collision with teammate Toby Alderweireld.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pochettino blames wrong tactics, lethargy for loss but believes they can turn tie around

LONDON • Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said he was living the dream in the build-up to their Champions League semi-final against Ajax, but it must have felt like a nightmare at times against the classy Dutch side on Tuesday.

Borrowing a line from the Disney cartoon hero Buzz Lightyear when he urged his players to go "to infinity and beyond", Spurs were instead sent crashing down to earth after being comprehensively outplayed in the first 30 minutes.

They were fortunate to only concede a 15th-minute Donny van de Beek goal that gave the visitors a precious 1-0 away win.

Pochettino took his share of the blame for a "sloppy" display after admitting he used the wrong tactics.

Ajax dominated the first half until he completely changed his game plan by switching from a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2 system.

Tactics aside, the Spurs boss was also angry with the lethargic way his players started the club's first European Cup semi-final in 57 years.

"The attitude was there, but we didn't find a way to play," he said.

"We didn't show the energy that we wanted to show. They showed more energy than us. The way we conceded the goal was painful.

"Our approach to the game was not good. I am the manager so I have responsibility. I can accept it was a mistake the shape we used. But our lack of energy from the beginning made our game difficult."

With Harry Kane and Son Heung-min unavailable through injury and suspension respectively, Spurs were blunt in attack and they also lacked creativity in midfield.

Aided by the introduction of Moussa Sissoko for the injured Jan Vertonghen just after the half-hour mark, Tottenham regained a measure of control but could not hurt Ajax with their long-ball barrage.

POSITIVE THINKING

We are alive. It's only 1-0 down. We need to believe we can go there and win the game.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham manager, remains positive that his side can overturn the 1-0 first-leg deficit and reach the Champions League final.

Vertonghen, one of three centre-backs deployed by Pochettino, had to be substituted after a collision with teammate Toby Alderweireld left him with a bloody nose.

Pochettino was also asked to clarify the situation in which Vertonghen needed lengthy treatment and was given the all-clear by Spurs medics to continue playing, before the clearly-groggy Belgian was then helped off the field as it became clear he could not continue.

Spurs said he had passed all the on-field concussion tests, as per protocol - in other words, he had not suffered a concussion.

"The rules and the protocol were there and the medical staff followed them," Pochettino said.

"In the next action, we had to take him out. The most important thing is the health of the player. I only need to listen and hear what they say and take a decision. I will never debate their decision."

Ajax, who were sharper in mind and body, seized a deserved lead when Frenkie de Jong, David Neres, Lasse Schone, Hakim Ziyech and van de Beek tore Spurs apart.

Found by Neres, Schone instantly worked the ball across to Ziyech, who placed the ball between Vertonghen and Danny Rose for van de Beek.

A master at movement between the lines, van de Beek timed his run to perfection and demonstrated a masterclass in composure and technique with his finish.

Despite an improved second-half display, Spurs managed only one effort on target.

But Pochettino remains hopeful that his side can turn things around.

"We pushed them to play deeper (in the second half). We started to press in the way we wanted to press. The second half has given us the hope for the second leg," he said. "We are alive. It's only 1-0 down. We need to believe we can go there and win the game."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'A painful lesson for sloppy Spurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe