Dele Alli was among the chief culprits as the midfielder failed to impose himself when Spurs needed someone to take the game by the scruff of its neck, especially after they fell behind early.
Here’s a closer look at the 23-year-old’s performance.
Goals – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 1
Passing accuracy – 81%
Key Passes – 1
Dribbles – 1
Tackles – 0
Initially deployed as a central midfielder in Mauricio Pochettino’s 3-5-2 starting formation, Alli struggled against his Ajax counterparts who dominated the ball as expected.
An injury-enforced substitution that saw Moussa Sissoko come on for defender Jan Vertonghen pushed Alli forward, but even that couldn’t bring the best out of the Englishman. Most of what he tried didn’t come off. He had one good half-chance to score which he failed to convert, and other than that drifted in and out of the game.
Even a bad Dele Alli performance usually has some flashes of his incredible skill, and this was no different. The highlight was an audacious back-heel to find Christian Eriksen, who wasn’t able to make more of the opportunity.
Alli had two good chances, first when Lucas Moura found him in the area and he sent a strike straight at the keeper, then putting a header over the bar. Neither were gilt-edged but he should at least have done better with the header.
The total number of chances Alli created on Tuesday: one. And that came right at the end of the game, as he spent most of the night failing to provide the impact he’s capable of.
Ajax’s Andre Onana completed the same number of passes as Spurs’ Dele Alli (7) in the first half. pic.twitter.com/LzzKfLFMCj— ReviewFootball (@ReviewFootball) April 30, 2019
When the critics contend that Alli has regressed – or at least, failed to progress – this season, performances like this are what make their case. In his first Champions League semi-final, one of the biggest games of his career to date, the Milton Keynes man delivered a dud of a performance.
With Harry Kane and Son Heung-min absent, Alli, along with Eriksen, was the player Tottenham were relying most on. His frustration at failing to deliver was visible, but that’s not enough.
RATING – 5/10
The 22-year-old’s effort in the 15th minute, after latching onto Hakim Ziyech’s pass, was just reward for the away side after they dominated the early exchanges.
Tottenham grew into the game and had chances of their own, particularly in the second half but the Dutch side were able to come away with a 1-0 win.
Here, we analyse Erik ten Hag’s tactical input.
Goals – 1
Shots – 10
Shots on target – 2
Goals conceded – 0
Possession – 50%
Dribbles – 7
Tackles – 30
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Interchanging in attack
Ajax dominated possession and were the team on top for almost the entirety of the first half but what helped them capitalise was their movement up front.
The four in attack seem interchangeable with Van de Beek often running past false nine Dusan Tadic who would also drift to the left at times with David Neres swapping to the right. Ziyech, who lines up on the right, would drop into the middle and it’s from there that he slid a superb pass through for Van de Beek to score.
Reacting to Spurs pressure
As the second half wore on the home team were building up a head of steam. They tried to bypass Ajax’s press and get the ball into the final third quickly, creating problems for the visitors. Meanwhile, Moussa Sissoko’s introduction in midfield injected athleticism and strength into their play as they began winning a lot of 50-50 challenges.
Ten Hag brought on Noussair Mazraoui in response for Lasse Schone and it seemed to help. De Jong was aided by a more mobile and energetic midfielder alongside him. The Moroccan almost created a goal as well as his driving run under pressure from Danny Rose led to Neres striking the upright.
Failing to calm troops
In the end, Ajax defended valiantly and got the job done. However, it was evident towards the end of the first half what Tottenham were attempting to do. Ten Hag should’ve known exactly what to expect in the second half and warned his players of it. Either the message was relayed to them during half-time or his young side just weren’t capable of taking it on board.
With a little more composure on the ball, the Dutch outfit would’ve been able to hurt Spurs even more or at least prevent a lot of the pressure they came under. Instead, they tried to force passes at times and the ball came straight back at them.
Spurs 0-1 Ajax FT:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 30, 2019
Pass accuracy: 71%-76%
Chances created: 9-7
Advantage Ajax as Donny van de Beek's first-half goal proves to be enough for first-leg victory. pic.twitter.com/b9TnM3WRY7
Ten Hag set up his side superbly and as long as they were allowed to play their game, they were a joy to watch. Slightly disappointing that they allowed Spurs to change the pattern of the game but he responded with a good substitution and his side were able to hold their own.
Donny van de Beek’s first-half goal gave the Dutch side the lead and they could have killed Spurs’ hopes in this tie when a classic counter-attack found David Neres in the box, only for the Brazilian’s scuffed effort to hit the post.
Pochettino has it all to do as he attempts to mastermind a second-leg comeback in Amsterdam next week. Here’s a look at how he fared on Tuesday.
Goals – 0
Shots – 12
Shots on target – 1
Possession – 51%
Passing accuracy – 72%
Dribbles – 13
With the absences of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Pochettino lined his side up in a 3-5-2, with Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura the strike partnership.
The formation had to be shuffled in the first half, however, as nasty collision between defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen saw the latter come off for midfielder Moussa Sissoko.
Overall Tottenham produced a display high on effort but low on quality. They created several half-chances but one shot on target from 12 total shots says it all.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Three at the back doesn’t work for Pochettino
Tottenham’s three-at-the-back formation failed Pochettino. Spurs should have been trying to knock the Dutch side off their game and see if this young Ajax team showed any signs of nerve on the big stage. Instead, the formation allowed Ajax to start on the front foot and get into their passing rhythm quickly.
Vertonghen’s injury was a nasty one but it almost did Pochettino a favour. He was forced into switching to a back four and Tottenham looked much better afterwards.
Pochettino to BT Sport on team selection: "I can accept it was a mistake maybe. I'm not happy, you can't play like this.— Standard Sport (@standardsport) April 30, 2019
"I don't think it's acceptable how we conceded the goal.
"But the most important thing was that the second half we kept in it for the second leg."#TOTAJA pic.twitter.com/S8ozQIdGI9
Tottenham can blame the injuries – Kane and Son have scored 44 goals between them this season and Harry Winks is the man who makes Spurs tick – but Pochettino bears the blame for this loss.
It is his first Champions League semi-final and perhaps the occasion forced him into playing conservatively as much as the injuries did.
Key players like Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen having off-colour performances didn’t help, but the Spurs manager will look back at this as an opportunity lost.
RATING – 5/10