Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Kieran Lynam
Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Kieran Lynam

The Champions League semi-finals review

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Barcelona, leading 3-0 after the first leg, were meant to shut Liverpool out, rack up endless quantities of possession, and freeze Jurgen Klopp’s side out of the Champions League at Anfield. Instead, Sadio Mane had other ideas. A magical night ensued under the Liverpudlian lights, as Liverpool revived the spirit of Istanbul to complete an almighty comeback against Barcelona. On Tuesday evening, Liverpool’s 4-3 aggregate victory over Barcelona was the greatest comeback in the history of European football. Come Thursday morning, that accolade had already expired.

Ahead of their clash with Ajax on Wednesday evening in Amsterdam, Tottenham faced an uphill battle in the pursuit of Champions League glory. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Mauricio Pochettino’s side made the worst possible start at the Johan Cruijff Arena. Mattias de Ligt brushed Kieran Trippier aside and leapt highest to send his header thundering past Hugo Lloris after just five minutes of play. On thirty-five minutes, Hakim Ziyech combined brilliantly with Dusan Tadic to double the home side’s advantage on the night.

In Amsterdam, the Spurs faithful were ready to throw in the towel

As the half-time whistle was blown in Amsterdam, Tottenham seemed destined to whimper out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage – rarely troubling Andre Onana in the Ajax goal. In Fusion, across the United Kingdom, and, of course, in Amsterdam, the Spurs faithful were ready to throw in the towel. The same could not be said of the fearless Tottenham Hotspur team that re-emerged from the away dressing room ahead of the second half.

Throwing caution to the wind, Victor Wanyama made way for Fernando Llorente at the start of the second half, a substitution that changed the course of the tie. More direct after the break, Pochettino’s side pressed the Ajax defence relentlessly, forcing a string of distributive errors from an uncomposed Onana. It was that pressure that allowed Lucas Moura to net Spurs’ first goal of the tie, but the Brazilian’s work for the evening was far from complete.

Spurs dominated the final thirty minutes of play

Just four minutes later, Moura displayed another flash of brilliance, slotting a wonderful left-footed strike past Onana to bring Spurs within one away goal of victory. Spurs dominated the final thirty minutes of play but struggled to make their dominance pay. When Jan Vertonghen headed against the bar, just four yards from goal, it looked as though Spurs’ luck was out. Yet Pochettino’s side continued to fight, grasping their place in the Champions League final with just seconds to spare. 

A defensive mix-up from the Ajax midfield allowed Tottenham to break quickly through the centre of the pitch. Dele Alli’s flick found the run of Moura, who smashed the ball home in the 96th minute to send the travelling fans into raptures. Devastating for Ajax; a moment of pure elation for Tottenham. 

Tottenham have defied all expectations

Tottenham’s route to Madrid has been far from plain sailing. Failing to win any of their first three games of the group stage, Tottenham needed late goals to beat PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan, before an 85th minute equaliser from Lucas Moura at the Nou Camp was enough to send Spurs into the knockout rounds at Inter Milan’s expense. In the quarter-finals, Pochettino’s side was an errant VAR decision away from being eliminated. In tears at the full-time whistle in Amsterdam, Pochettino labelled Spurs’ victory over Ajax “one of the most important nights of [his] life”, such was the magnitude of Tottenham’s success. The Argentine went on to label Spurs’ progression to the final a “miracle”, and he wasn’t wrong. 

In setting up an all-English final with Liverpool in Madrid, Tottenham have defied all expectations. The north London club hasn’t made a signing since January deadline day in 2018. Under the stewardship of Daniel Levy, and with a new stadium on the horizon, the purse strings have been tight at Tottenham in recent times. Investing in a long-term strategy, placing faith in their manager and developing players from within, Tottenham has earned their spot in the final at the Estadio Metropolitano.

For Liverpool, victory in Madrid would heal the wounds inflicted by Cristiano Ronaldo in last year’s fina

A dramatic final day of the Premier League season saw Manchester City retain the league title for the first time in the history of the club. Liverpool, once again, are the nearly-men of English football, missing out on the title by a single point. For Tottenham, victory in the Champions League final would represent unprecedented success for the club, eternal bragging-rights in north London, and, potentially, a glorious end to Christian Eriksen’s time at Spurs. For Liverpool, victory in Madrid would heal the wounds inflicted by Cristiano Ronaldo in last year’s final, and prove that Liverpool can win trophies in the modern-era. 

Whatever happens on 1st June, an all-English Champions League final will mark the start of a new era in European football. An era of English dominance, an era in which the Premier League can dream of European glory again. Liverpool will be the favourites, but you would be foolish to rule Tottenham out now.

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