There’s no adjective I can use to describe last night’s events at Anfield, Liverpool, that has not already been repeated, twisted or eschewed a million times already.
Yes, it was simply .... breathless, proving once again that football’s ability to produce drama of the highest quality is unequalled in the sporting world.
So if we’ve all settled down again, there’s another huge semi-final to contemplate this afternoon. You know, the one that was supposed to be the tighter of the two after the first legs were done, and the pendulum had swung too far away from Liverpool?
Many will rightfully criticize how European football has changed in favour of the more wealthy clubs, however the drama we’ve seen, particularly in recent years, in the competition’s knock-out stages, provides the counter-balance to the argument.
Tottenham Hotspur, despite under-performing 9 days ago, and having been schooled by Ajax for the first 30 mins in their own backyard, will believe. Not only will they be inspired by yesterday’s events displaying anything is possible, but there’s the return of arguably their top player this season, the Korean, Son Heung-min.
Son, who plundered three goals in the previous round against Manchester City, was suspended for the first-leg in London. He gives Spurs an extra dimension. Without him and Harry Kane, players like Dele Alli and Christian Eriksson failed to reach their potential in the first-leg.
Kane will again be missing, but with the addition of Son’s boundless energy and guile, Tottenham’s other creative players may just rediscover their more familiar game.
Spurs played the second-half of the first-leg with a higher tempo and more physical approach, which helped to break up Ajax’s dominance with the ball. The young Dutch side however were still able to prevent Tottenham from carving out any worthwhile chance to score.
Jan Vertonghen who suffered a head injury in the first-leg is available for Tottenham after tests revealed there was no concussion. He could replace Davinson Sanchez (thigh injury picked up at Bournemouth). Hamstring victims, Erik Lamela and Serge Aurier are now both fit again, and will add to Tottenham’s bench-strength. Ajax, despite having the Dutch Cup Final last weekend (they defeated Willem II 4-0), have a clean bill of health.
Clearly, taking a one-goal lead into the tie with home advantage, Ajax are favourites to prevail, and they surely must should they possess the ball for 90 mins or something close to, they way they did for the first 30 in London.
But there has been a chink in the Ajax armour at home in Champions League. Brilliant as this team have been, they’ve struggled to win at home against the bigger sides: Bayern Munich (3-3), Real Madrid (1-2) and Juventus (1-1). Tottenham will certainly take heart from that.
They will also find inspiration in that the last club to overturn a three goal deficit in a European Cup semi-final was Barcelona (v Gothenburg, 1986), the side over which the tables turned in such dramatic fashion yesterday.
Well, by that same token, guess who the last team was to overcome a home first-leg deficit in a Champions League semi-final to progress? Indeed, Ajax, who defeated Panathinaikos 3-0 in Greece after losing in Amsterdam in 1996.
Are we to witness the inflictor become the inflicted twice in successive days?