Tottenham vs. Ajax Tactical Preview: Will Spurs Overcome Their Lack of Depth?

Tottenham vs. Ajax Tactical Preview: Will Spurs Overcome Their Lack of Depth? article feature image

Tottenham Hotspur FC.

  • Tottenham and Ajax will meet in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday, April 30th at 3 p.m. ET in London, England.
  • Conor Davidson provides a tactical breakdown, including how Tottenham's lack of depth could be a big problem.

Betting odds: Ajax vs. Tottenham

  • Ajax odds: +185
  • Tottenham ML: +150
  • Draw ML: +240
  • Over/Under: 2.5 (Over -110/Under -110)
  • Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Time: Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET
  • TV:TNT

>> All odds as of 7 p.m. ET on Monday. Download The Action Network App to get real-time Soccer odds and track your bets

The UEFA Champions League semifinals start Tuesday afternoon with Tottenham Hotspur (3rd in England’s Premier League) playing host to Ajax Amsterdam (1st in the Dutch Eredivisie).

It’s fair to say that neither of these teams were expected to get here. Tottenham began their Champions League journey at 25-1, which looks really short compared to Ajax’s enormous 250-1 opening odds.

The betting market doesn’t totally seem to know how to rate these teams, hence the pick ’em goal-line and the 2.5 total with -110 juice on either side.

Tottenham’s Lack of Depth Is a Concern

Tottenham come off the back of a disappointing home loss to cross-town rivals West Ham United, their first loss at home since they opened their new state-of-the-art stadium last month. Spurs’ lack of depth was thoroughly exposed over the weekend — Under-21 center-back Juan Foyth started at right back; left-back Danny Rose started in central midfield. Spurs are stretched so thin right now that long-forgotten striker Vincent Janssen played in their last two league games.

To make matters worse, Tottenham will be without Heung-Min Son, who is in the form of his life, due to yellow card accumulation. He joins Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Serge Aurier and Erik Lamela on the long list of Spurs players unavailable for the semifinals.

Spurs haven’t signed a player in either of the last two transfer windows, and their lack of depth is finally starting to catch up with them. It’s anyone’s guess how they’ll line up on Tuesday.

Will Ajax Be Able to Adapt?

On the other side of the ball, Ajax haven’t played in a week: the Dutch FA cancelled an entire weekend of Eredivisie fixtures so Ajax would have a chance to rest up. Yes, the top soccer league in the Netherlands canceled an entire week of matches just so its best team could get some rest.

Tactically, we can say with some certainty that Ajax will play with the high-pressing 4-3-3 that got them here. Talented youngsters Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong are elite ball-movers who love to flip the field and get their forwards in 1-v-1 against an opposition fullback.

Ajax’s quick counter-attacks worked wonders against Real Madrid and Juventus, two global giants who wanted to play the game on the front foot and flood men forward. Against a banged up Spurs team that has no problem playing 5-at-the-back and hitting the counter-attack themselves, it’s fair to question whether Ajax will have to shake things up a little.

Both Ajax and Spurs can open games up to make you beat them in a foot race; both teams are equally adept at playing a patient, possession-laden style and beat you with their technical quality. Basically, this game is a coin flip, and oddsmakers have thrown their hands up.

Especially in a high-stakes match like this, waiting for starting lineups is imperative. I’ll be looking for a few specific positional matchups:

Tottenham’s back-line: The number of defenders Spurs line up with Tuesday afternoon will speak volumes about what their plan is tactically. There’s a fair chance that Spurs end up with six nominal defenders in their starting XI, with some combination of Eric Dier and Danny Rose playing midfield roles. I wouldn’t expect to see Juan Foyth starting in such a big match, but if he does, it might make Ajax an auto-bet for me.

The midfield battle: Between Donny van de Beek, Lasse Schone and de Jong,  Ajax have the technicians to dictate the pace of the game through their midfield. Spurs might literally play without a midfield. Will Ajax grab the possession battle with two hands and drive the speed of the game? Will Spurs lump every ball forward and bypass the center of the pitch completely?

Who starts up top for Spurs?: Will it be Lucas Moura as a false 9? Fernando Llorente with Moura behind him? Does Dele Alli move into a more advanced role? Honestly I haven’t a clue — that’s why Mauricio Pochettino gets paid the big bucks — though if it is Llorente as the starting striker, I’d expect him to be playing in a sole-striker role.

All in all, this is a fascinating tactical battle between two clubs on the cusp of an unexpected and unprecedented European Cup Final. In a game where there’s such uncertainty on who will be playing, and where they’ll be playing, and why they’ll be playing there, the only way to bet this game is to wait until some of those questions are answered. Once they are, we should have a feel for how this game should shake out.

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