Tottenham Hotspur may be missing razor sharp marskmen Harry Kane and Son Heung-min when they tackle Ajax Amsterdam in their Champions League semi-final first leg tonight, but there’s no escaping the feeling that Mauricio Pochettino’s ‘Lilywhites’ stand on the cusp of immortality.
A long term injury and suspension, respectively, have condemned the North Londoners to hosting Ajax at their new, 62 100-seater state-of-the-art stadium without their two key source of goals in the English and the South Korean internationals.
The absence of the two, who between them have rattled the net 44 times across all competitions (Kane 24 times, Son 20), will lay the gauntlet square at the feet of rejuvenated Brazilian forward Lucas Moura to produce the goods against a stingy Ajax defence marshalled by classy 19-year-old skipper Matthijs de Ligt.
The Brazilian arrived at Spurs in the 2017/2018 winter transfer window having been deemed surplus to requirements at superstar laden French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
Despite taking some time to assimilate to the rigours of the English game, he has been in blistering form for Spurs this season.
The fleet-footed Moura has scored 12 times in 40 outings across all competitions thus far, and will be looking for a strong end to the season to stand a chance of a recall to the Brazilian national squad, as his home country plays host to the 46th edition of the Copa America between June 14 and July 7.
The fact that Spurs last signed a player, Colombian centreback Davison Sanchez from Ajax Amsterdam, in the summer ahead of the 2017/2018 campaign is a testament to the adaptability and ability of Pochettino to use the squad at his disposal as best he can.
With just two Premier League matches left in the Premier League campaign and having recently suffered league defeats to Manchester City and West Ham, on Saturday, any further hiccups in their remaining games against Bournemouth away on Saturday and Everton at home in the final game of the campaign could hinder their Champions League participation chances for next season.
The close proximity in points between Spurs in third and United in sixth on the English top-flight log could still see a major shake-up in the race for the top four, when the season ends on May 12.
Manchester United are in sixth position is on 65 points, while the North Londoners, sitting third on the log, are five points ahead.
Chelsea occupy fourth with 68 points and Spurs’ local rivals Arsenal are fifth with 66 points – meaning it’s a race for Europe that could go right down to the wire.
Spurs cannot afford any room to falter as they chase an automatic Champions League qualification spot.
However, with one of their remaining two league games at their new home, Spurs will be confident of sealing Champions League qualification without too much fuss.
With Arsenal recently falling to 3-2 and 3-0 defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester City, and Chelsea being held consecutive draws against Burnley and Manchester United, Spurs will be quietly confident of sealing their spot in Europe.
They will travel to Dean Court to face Eddie Howe’s Cherries on Saturday, knowing that victory will all but seal Champions League football for next season.
However, they are not particularly short of options on securing Champions League participation in the 2019/2020 campaign.
Victory against Ajax in their semi-final could see them being potentially 90 or 120 minutes away from their maiden Champions League crown, at the majestic Wanda Metropolitano on June 1, and by extension a spot in next season’s competition.
Pochettino’s men have shown that they have the qualities and mettle to hold their own against some of the most fearsome European sides such as FC Barcelona to whom they lost a pulsating, end-to-end group stage game 4-2 at Wembley Stadium, before they drew 1-1 at their Camp Nou fortress.
In both matches Spurs stood toe to toe with the Blaugrana, and in truth, should have never been on the receiving end of a 4-2 defeat at Wembley in October.
Their performances against Borussia Dortmund in the last-16 and Manchester City on away goals (4-4) in the quarter-finals should provide enough motivation against Erik ten Hag’s increasingly menacing Ajax.
Spurs’ season in the Champions League has been the stuff sporting dreams are made of, and starting tonight against Ajax, they will be hoping that the dream becomes a sweet reality under the Madrid night sky on June 1.@Sam_Blaszczy6