Champions League - The Final Four

Kliq

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Champions League football returns Tuesday with Tottenham vs Ajax today at 3 p.m in London. Tomorrow, Liverpool and Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Tottenham and Ajax did not expect to end up here. Spurs have shown uncharacteristic poise in navigating Champions League this season, but limp into the game having lost two of their last three and dealing with numerous injuries. Ajax has had a truly astonishing Champions League run, taking out blue-bloods Real Madrid and Juventus thanks to a mix of tremendous young talent and steady veteran play. Ajax is currently on an 8-match unbeaten streak and comes into the match in better form, although Spurs have the talent and coaching to beat them.

Barcelona comes into the game on cruise control, having locked up La Liga over the weekend and having no trouble dispatching Lyon and Manchester United on their way to the semi-final. In their way is Liverpool, who are famously NOT on cruise control, locked in a tremendous battle for the EPL title. This will be a good test to see how good Liverpool (and by extension, the Premier League) really is. This should be a titanic clash and you'd have to think whoever wins will be the favorite in the finals.

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to start this thread is because I wanted to have a place to share the first episode of The Champions, Season 2:

 

teddykgb

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Don’t know who I’m rooting for here. I’d be inclined to support Spurs for being an English team whose fans don’t bother me but this Ajax story is so compelling
 

Kliq

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I mean, given the injuries that is about what I expected, but damn that is a thin attacking group. Feels like a park-the-bus kind of game and pray for Lucas to spring something on the counter-attack. That and hope for a few set piece opportunity for Llorente.

God, this is like a fever dream; Spurs are in the UCL semi-finals but are relying on Fernando Llorette to score for them.
 

DrewDawg

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Maybe we'll unleash Vertonghen as a left wingback again like against Dortmund.
 

Zososoxfan

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I mean, given the injuries that is about what I expected, but damn that is a thin attacking group. Feels like a park-the-bus kind of game and pray for Lucas to spring something on the counter-attack. That and hope for a few set piece opportunity for Llorente.

God, this is like a fever dream; Spurs are in the UCL semi-finals but are relying on Fernando Llorette to score for them.
I may be seeing this thru lilywhite-tinted glasses, but Eriksen, Alli, and Lucas is enough firepower to keep Ajax from bombing forward indiscriminately. Sissoko makes the bench which is encouraging. Super Jan at LB and Rose in the MF. Rose is actually a decent fit in the MF for this match with his workrate. Trippier at RB is far more concerning.
 

Kliq

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Maybe we'll unleash Vertonghen as a left wingback again like against Dortmund.
When I first saw the lineup the first thing I thought of was that it was going to be the return of Striker Jan; but I think with Rose playing in the MF position that kind of reduces his attacking responsibility.
 

coremiller

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Unclear if Rose is in MF or if it's a 3-5-2 with a Wanyama/Eriksen/Dele midfield trio. We'll find out soon enough.
 

Zososoxfan

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It’s sad that Eric Dier can’t break in to that lineup.
I Love Eric Dier (and Eric Dier loves me)…but he is just too banged up to replace Wanyama. He was pretty dreadful in his last couple of appearances, and we still may see him today regardless. Even though he's a Spur thru and thru, I suspect he won't be on the squad next season.

I was also surprised Jansen didn't make the bench. There's literally no attacking options.
 

scott bankheadcase

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I Love Eric Dier (and Eric Dier loves me)…but he is just too banged up to replace Wanyama. He was pretty dreadful in his last couple of appearances, and we still may see him today regardless. Even though he's a Spur thru and thru, I suspect he won't be on the squad next season.

I was also surprised Jansen didn't make the bench. There's literally no attacking options.
Not eligible. Wasn't registered in the beginning of the season. Not enough home-grown to cover him (Jansen).
 

Merkle's Boner

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I Love Eric Dier (and Eric Dier loves me)…but he is just too banged up to replace Wanyama. He was pretty dreadful in his last couple of appearances, and we still may see him today regardless. Even though he's a Spur thru and thru, I suspect he won't be on the squad next season.

I was also surprised Jansen didn't make the bench. There's literally no attacking options.
Oh, I agree with all of that. It's just sad his Spurs career is limping to the finish line in this way. A few years ago he was discussed in the same sentence as Harry and Dele.
 

coremiller

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Wanyama is also pretty banged up. Even when he's been healthy enough to play he has not looked anything like the player he was two years ago.
 

DrewDawg

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Ajax is good obviously, but I don't feel the existential dread I did when Man City was attacking.
 

coremiller

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Ajax keep trying to play up their right and Spurs are ready for it. They've forced 2-3 turnovers in that area already.
 

coremiller

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Llorente's lack of pace is a real problem though for a team trying to play directly. He's soooo slow.
 

Merkle's Boner

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It's like they're fighting off a power play. Just icing the ball every chance they get it.
 

coremiller

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Looks like they've switched to a back 4. Good idea because the back 3 system was a total failure.
 

fletcherpost

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Oh boy. Not a great first half hour in your first Champions League Semi Final. That's as positive a spin as i can put on it.
 

SoxFanInCali

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Vertonghen is in a bad way. Hope that isn't as bad as it looks and there's no long-term effects.
 

Catcher Block

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UEFA and FIFA really need to figure out a concussion protocol that fits within the existing timing rules. A temporary substitute or something.
 

Merkle's Boner

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If Ajax keeps playing this high line on set plays, Spurs are gonna get one of these.
 

Zososoxfan

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I hope Jan is OK. Dude is tough as nails and he had no chance of continuing. Sanchez and Toby aren't having a great day in the back. Danny Rose is winning every 50-50 ball. The rest of Spurs MF was invisible until Sissoko came on. He transformed the team. Llorente really does suck. The next 45 minutes will tell us a lot about the managers - both teams could go conservative or aggressive and it would be defensible.
 

DrewDawg

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That post could be our MVP.

It's not ideal, but if it stays at 1-0, at least we get Son back next game.
 

fletcherpost

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This Ajax team gives me hope that's it not impossible for teams outside the big Euro leagues to develop quality home grown players as the nucleus of a truly competetive side in this tournament.
 

Zososoxfan

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Not a terrible result without Kane or Son. Eriksen was simply dreadful today. Llorente's read of the match was horrendous - he could not get himself in a proper position. Once Dele pushed up, Spurs created a bit more. Welp, this is the result of no transfers last summer and injuries piling up. Hope Super Jan is OK - that was scary.
 

Dummy Hoy

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This Ajax team gives me hope that's it not impossible for teams outside the big Euro leagues to develop quality home grown players as the nucleus of a truly competetive side in this tournament.
Monaco did that, no? Probably not the same level of development, but that was a built not bought team.

And no, the French League isn't a major european league.
 

fletcherpost

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Monaco did that, no? Probably not the same level of development, but that was a built not bought team.

And no, the French League isn't a major european league.
Not a bad shout Justin. I was thinking more of Austria, Belgium, Romania...that sort of thing. But, I've never really been able to get my head round Monaco, cos, it's one of the designated playgrounds of the rich. I've never investigated how they operate, how they do what they do, get their resources etc. And France have won the World Cup twice in relatively recent memory, so i kinda put them in with Spain , Germany, Italy and England, but i do see that they're one notch down in terms of club footie. But not a bad shout all the same.
 

rguilmar

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Monaco did that, no? Probably not the same level of development, but that was a built not bought team.

And no, the French League isn't a major european league.
Porto 2004? Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Maniche, Costinha, Derlei all joined Porto at least one season prior to the 2003-2004 campaign. Not all were developed by the Porto academy, but were identified as talented and partially developed Portugal. I wouldn’t call them a bought team.

Ironically beat Monaco in the Champions League final that year before being mostly dismantled (Carvalho and Ferreira followed Jose Mourinho to Chelsea, and Deco left for Barcelona).
 

Dummy Hoy

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Not a bad shout Justin. I was thinking more of Austria, Belgium, Romania...that sort of thing. But, I've never really been able to get my head round Monaco, cos, it's one of the designated playgrounds of the rich. I've never investigated how they operate, how they do what they do, get their resources etc. And France have won the World Cup twice in relatively recent memory, so i kinda put them in with Spain , Germany, Italy and England, but i do see that they're one notch down in terms of club footie. But not a bad shout all the same.
I hear your greater point though. I mean I'd settle for different teams from the big leagues as well- I mean Spurs are no minnows, but it's nice to have them in. If the semifinals were Spurs v. Real Betis and Sampdoria v. Wolfsburg, the neutrals would enjoy that more.

But having Feyenoord or Besiktas or Porto or Hibs or whomever would really liven things up as well.

edit: and you summed up Monaco for me. Not quite sure how to feel about them
 

OilCanShotTupac

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Not sure if there’s enough of a sample size or trend, but there are several rotisserie or fantasy—type assemblages of superstars that are badly underperforming- Real, ManU, PSG. A team assembled and drilled cohesively, with a clear identity, over time, which necessarily presupposes starting with young players, maybe not all superstars but good role-players and complemtary parts- might be the football Moneyball.

Look at, say, Wolves. They have spent some money but notthing like the giants. But I suspect honest ManU fans would swap XIs and managers in a second.

On the international front, see Iceland and Belgium vs Brazil.
 

Dummy Hoy

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Not sure if there’s enough of a sample size or trend, but there are several rotisserie or fantasy—type assemblages of superstars that are badly underperforming- Real, ManU, PSG. A team assembled and drilled cohesively, with a clear identity, over time, which necessarily presupposes starting with young players, maybe not all superstars but good role-players and complemtary parts- might be the football Moneyball.

Look at, say, Wolves. They have spent some money but notthing like the giants. But I suspect honest ManU fans would swap XIs and managers in a second.

On the international front, see Iceland and Belgium vs Brazil.
This is all true, but those teams get busted up pretty quickly usually. Money does rule all in footy.

Atletico is a solid example of that description...maybe Dortmund too? But those are big clubs, so that doesn't tie in with Mart's vision.
 

67YAZ

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Reasons why Ajax’s model is not replicable:

1. Their history provides them with a reputation much, much bigger than their present-day league & revenues would merit.

2. They are located in a soccer-mad country with one of the best talent-identification & -development systems in the word.

3. They are widely known as one of, if not the best stepping stones in Europe (right there with Dortmund). It’s not only the world class scouting operation that can spot talents like Tagliafico, Neres, Ziyech, Davidson Sanchez, Christian Eriksen, Zlatan!, and so on for years and years...it’s also that players & agents know that Ajax will positions its players to be successful and not stand in the way of transfers to bigger clubs.

4. They have a specific philosophy - the Book of Cruyff - that informs every level & aspect of the organization. This hasn’t always been well executed, but the current duo of van der Sar & Overmars have really got the entire organization functioning at the highest levels these days.

Ajax’s success rests on all 4 of these things, which I don’t think is replicable anywhere else. A club like Anderlecht has elements of 1-3, but nothing like 4. Other clubs like Porto, CSKA Moscow, Celtic, Red Star Belgrade, Dynamo Kyiv, or Olympiacos also lack 2, that national infrastructure piece. And the growing public racism across many Europeans counties will make it even harder for many of these second tier teams to tap into immigrant and foreign talent.

It’s not possible for Ajax to immediately replace players like de Jong and de Ligt, so next season will definitely be a regression. But the system is in place for regular cycles of huge success.
 
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