Football. Don’t you just love it? After the comeback of all comebacks the previous night, Tottenham matched the drama a few hundred miles north of London on Wednesday as they erased a 3-0 deficit to set up an all-English Champions League final with Liverpool.
Down 1-0 from the first leg, at home, Mauricio Pochettino’s men seemed dead and buried when Ajax went 2-0 up to leave them 3-0 in front on aggregate. But a second half from the realms of pure fantasy was produced as Lucas Moura’s 95th-minute goal devastated the Dutch and sent Spurs soaring.
Here we dissect the performance of the difference maker for Spurs, Moura.
Well, if we thought the second semi-final couldn’t possibly live up to the drama of the previous night, Spurs and Ajax seemed determined to prove us wrong.
The hosts seemingly had the tie killed off by the break with a breathtaking first-half display in which captain Matthijs de Ligt nodded them in front before Hakim Ziyech arced in a fine finish to leave Spurs needing a lifeline.
Step forward Moura whose rapid double set up a grandstand finish – both teams looked like titanic, teetering heavyweight boxers trading blow after blow. The hosts looked like they would hang on, but Moura came up with a stunning knockout punch.
Goals – 3
Shots – 5
Shots on target – 3
Touches – 48
Passes – 33
Pass accuracy – 65.5%
Key passes – 1
Aerials won – 3
GOT RIGHT – CATALYST
No Harry Kane, no Son Heung-min in the first leg, Kieran Trippier far from fit, Jan Vertonghen wearing a protective facemask and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen not at their best – step forward star man Moura to light up the darkness for Spurs.
Lively in the first half but blunted by porous Spurs creativity and stoic home defending, he sprinkled a bit of stardust on proceedings to liven up a tie that looked dead at the interval.
His first goal was an assured, composed finish at a perfect time. His second was nothing short of ridiculous, twisting and turning before firing a shot – without looking at the goal – through Frenkie de Jong’s legs and into the corner. His third was pure instinct and annihilated poor Ajax.
GOT WRONG – NOT A STRIKER?
How can you pick holes in the performance of a player whose scored a hat-trick to send his side into their first-ever European Cup final?
An intrinsic figure in the context but considering he’s filling the void of Kane, Moura’s slight build often leaves him mismatched against defenders. He’s far better running onto through balls rather than holding them up, evidenced by his 65.5 per cent pass accuracy.
Having said that, he won three aerials and thrived off super sub Fernando Llorente’s muscular presence when he entered the fray. More importantly, he scored three goals. So just revel in a joyous performance.
He doesn’t carry the star status of the rising rank of English youngsters Kane or Alli. He’s not the classy Korean import Son. But Moura’s £25 million acquisition from Paris Saint-Germain in January 2018 now seems a steal of a deal.
In a season during which so much has been achieved, but so much also sacrificed, he has been the beacon Spurs have looked to at the most crucial of times. A star without the status. He’s certainly in the spotlight now.
An incredible season in the Champions League took another unbelievable turn when Lucas Moura scored his hat-trick goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time, completing a comeback in Amsterdam that somehow trumped Liverpool’s from the night before.
Tottenham looked down and out when Matthijs De Ligt and Hakim Ziyech scored in quick succession in the first half, but Spurs, needing three goals to win, turned to Moura in the second half.
The Brazilian scored a quickfire double before sending the Spurs section of the Johan Cruyff Arena into pandemonium – setting up an all-English final in Madrid.
Our Spurs ratings are below …
Hugo Lloris – Not as busy as his counterpart but got a sturdy hand on a few stingers, couldn’t be faulted for goals 7
Kieran Trippier – Powderpuff stuff from corner gave De Ligt an easy run in, then lost ball before Ziyech’s goal. Woeful 3
Toby Alderweireld – Sat down by Tadic in the first half while backing up in the area, but made a few key interventions 6
Jan Vertonghen – Masked man had chance to win the tie at the death with header but Onana thwarted him 6
Danny Rose – Passion personified in an otherwise limp Spurs first half, nutmegged De Ligt to spark Moura’s first 8
Victor Wanyama – Had no idea Ziyech was behind him for the second. Trailed Ajax’s shadows before being hooked at the half 4
Moussa Sissoko – Game changer in the first leg, only grew into this one late on. Needless early yellow put him under pressure 5
Christian Eriksen – Gorgeous defence-splitting pass to Alli aside, was not at his best in Amsterdam 6
Dele Alli – A common Spurs scapegoat but visibly tried to make things happen and got reward with clever assist for Moura 8
Lucas Moura – Utterly electric in the second 45, either surging through centre or pulling Ajax apart from wide. Hat-trick hero 10
Son Heung-min – Smashed base of post from an angle early on, but Ajax slapped handcuffs on him for the most part 5
Fernando Llorente (45′) – He’s no goalscorer but did exactly what was required, conduit up front for Spurs to base attacks around 8
Erik Lamela (81′) – On with Spurs chasing the game for Trippier, who had taken a knock earlier in the game. N/A
Ben Davies (82′) – Relieved an exhausted Rose at left-back for the final 15 minutes. N/A
Barcelona prayed they would never suffer a greater indignity than last season’s infamous ‘Romantada’.
The nadir was, staggeringly, little more than 12 months away. A stage later and a goal more.
Rock bottom came at a riotous Anfield. Manned by approximately 50,000 fevered Liverpool fans, whose limitless faith was rewarded with the grandest semi-final comeback in Champions League history.
Never mind Saint Etienne in 1977, Olympiakos in 2004, Chelsea a year later or Borussia Dortmund in 2016. This was a Blaugrana for whom the incomparable Lionel Messi had, seemingly, taken the tie away from them in last week’s 3-0 loss at Camp Nou.
A side that had swept up Reds idols Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho at great expense, superstars whose contributions – to varying degrees – helped fuel 2018/19’s romp to the La Liga crown.
Unpropitious odds of overall victory only steepened when injury robbed the Reds of Brazil No9 Roberto Firmino and concussed Egypt No9 Mohamed Salah. Ceaseless Scotland left-back Andrew Robertson would then succumb to a problem at half-time, with the score set at only 1-0 thanks to stand-in Divock Origi’s early rebound and the visitors’ – then – solidity.
Tuesday’s chastening 4-0 humiliation did far more damage than simply end dreams of a ‘treble treble’, or making a fourth Champions League final appearance in a decade bestrewn by success.
The latest abasement, sealed by the speed of right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold’s mind and secured by the sweetness of Origi’s touch, has renewed questions that strike at the heart of this Barca project.
Is head coach Ernesto Valverde’s stoicism a source of fallibility in fixtures when rational thought falls victim to emotion?
February’s one-year contract extension that ties the 55-year-old to Camp Nou until the end of 2020/21 no longer provides certainty.
He was fortunate to survive last season’s wild recriminations after the 3-0 quarter-final surrender at Roma.
Frenkie de Jong might not be the only asset stripped from Ajax. Tactician Erik ten Hag should expect a phone call, too.
5 - Liverpool against Barcelona tonight is the fifth time a team has lost the first leg of a knockout tie but progressed in the Champions League this season - more than in any previous season in the competition. Eclipse. #LIVBAR pic.twitter.com/CUoSPigU50— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 7, 2019
Time may also be called on servants such as Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba whose peerless abilities are ample domestically, but their declining physicality is ravaged by Europe’s finest.
Brazil midfielder Fabinho ran all over them as the Red wave grew in intensity after an even initial period. Left-back Alba produced a stunning assist for Suarez in the first leg, but badly erred for two of the midweek goals.
Is the summer addition of graceful Netherlands midfielder De Jong, 21, enough to stiffen and revitalise an area of the pitch that has gone from their great strength, to a debilitating weakness?
Hosts outran visitors on Merseyside by 112.1 kilometres to 105.4km. They also recovered four more balls (49/45) and made 12 fouls to nine.
If Chile battler Arturo Vidal is meant to represent a much-needed dog of war, a lack of bite from this concussive second half was glaring. His descent from being the game’s premier first-half performer to utterly impotent when half-time substitute Georginio Wijnaldum struck twice in two minutes was emblematic of the issues at hand.
Barca’s XI at kick-off boasted an average age of 29 years and 184 days , with six players over 30. Liverpool’s figures, in contrast, stood at 26 years and 179 days, plus only James Milner was over 30.
When the pace picked up, the weathered Catalans had no answer.
A stifling lack of pace was apparent in a first leg from which the Reds were remarkably unfortunate to lose by multiple goals. The rigours of time on Suarez were accentuated further at the ground from which he ran rampant from 2011-14.
Weekend injury to flying France winger Ousmane Dembele was untimely and the outcome of his absence was enlightening at Anfield. His attributes are unmatched at Camp Nou.
It both centred defensive attention on Messi, granted Liverpool’s full-backs licence to bomb forwards after the break and condensed the pitch. Fellow nine-figure purchase Coutinho was wretched without him, yet again.
Recent Brazilian additions Coutinho and Malcom do not look fit for purpose. The former, in particular, was shamefully bad in both legs.
Roma and Liverpool have prised open cracks in a visage that appeared impregnable.
Has complacency crept into a squad that is unable to match teams imbued with momentum and a sense of destiny?
Who was present to take responsibility after an opening period when Messi, of all people, snatched at several inviting opportunities? A solitary Barca goal, from any source, would have taken this contest away from the Reds.
Messidependencia was meant to have been made myth by February’s 3-0 Copa del Rey semi-final victory at Real Madrid, in which team-mates stepped up on a rare off night.
Liverpool’s collective, united in faith and graced with special ability, trampled the Argentine +10 others in a second half that will live in the annals.
In truth, the failings of Madrid and city rivals Atletico have hidden endemic and systemic problems of their own at Barcelona.
Liverpool are the best team Barca have faced in this campaign. That they came up significantly short merits significant reflection and reaction.