Weblog: The football punter

Spurs without Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane

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In a competition increasingly dominated by money it is comforting to see Tottenham and Ajax in the Champions League semi-finals.

Spurs have the sixth-largest wage bill in the Premier League and, quite remarkably, made no signings this season while Ajax's annual salary pay of €53m may be more than double any other side in the Eredivisie but is tiny in comparison to Europe's elite. 

Clearly money isn't everything and there is much to be said for the way both clubs have gone about challenging the heavyweights of the continent, now knowing they are just one tie away from reaching the Champions League final in Madrid.

London and Amsterdam calls, though, before the fun in the sun and this promises to be a tie as tight as the odds suggest with Ajax narrow favourites, possibly due to Spurs's significant absentees, including main goal threats Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son.

Given how rapid Ajax's rise through the European ranks has been this season they are not an easy side to get a grip on. How do you put a price on potential, particularly when most of their domestic Eredivisie opponents are so weak?

Ajax could still be anything but Erik ten Hag's side – 250-1 shots at the start of the competition, 16-1 just to beat Bayern Munich in October and still 100-1 for Champions League glory at the start of the knockout phase – may now be on the verge of being overrated.

This is a whole new ball game for a young side who came from behind to oust Juventus and Real Madrid on the road when they were playing with a freedom of a team with very little to lose.

It's a different dynamic entirely playing away first, knowing there is a second leg to finish the job, and the game could be tighter than the markets anticipate.

Tottenham also appear more likely than the odds suggest to take a lead to Holland despite Son joining Kane on the sidelines.

When asked who would score the goals, Mauricio Pochettino said in his pre-match press conference: "We are going to be a team. I don’t care who is going to score."

The collective is everything to Pochettino, who can still call upon Lucas Moura, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen for the finer individual moments that quite often decide ties of this magnitude.

Tottenham's main strength in this Champions League run has been patience.

The two goals against Ajax's Eredivisie rivals PSV Eindhoven which reignited Tottenham's European charge came in the final 12 minutes, while the 1-0 win over Inter which followed saw an 80th-minute goal from Eriksen. Moura grabbed the all-important equaliser away to Barcelona to secure qualification from the group on 85 minutes.

Then in the knockout stage Spurs frustrated Borussia Dortmund in the first half before bagging three second-half goals, including two in the last seven minutes from Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente to take the tie away from the Germans.

It was pretty much the same story in the quarter-final victory over Manchester City. Son scored late to seal the deal at home and even when they trailed at the Etihad there was a calmness to Spurs until Llorente's hip/arm did the damage.

Pochettino has learned plenty from last season's collapse against Juventus when Tottenham dominated for large periods only to suffer a hammer blow that few inside Wembley could see coming.

Former Ajax defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are solid operators and World Cup-winning captain Hugo Lloris has often saved his best work for the knockout stages of this competition.

Spurs will obviously need to defend properly against the slick Ajax passing which has seen them take the game to Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus in gung-ho, basketball-style matches.

Ajax, who have scored 160 goals in all competitions this season, are on a run of 13 wins in their last 15 matches and former Southampton star Dusan Tadic is in the kind of form that will have baffled Saints supporters.

He has 17 goals in his last 18 Eredivisie appearances and 21 in his 16 in all competitions.

Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong is a magnificent midfielder and there is a direct counter-attacking threat through Hakim Ziyech and David Neres that will test Tottenham's attack-minded full-back options.

There is, however, also a vulnerability to Ajax despite the calming influence of Daley Blind alongside the outstanding Matthijs de Ligt.

They have lost away to all of the other members of the Eredivisie's top four, shipping six goals at Feyenoord, and are still only level pegging with a PSV side who would not be in the Premier League's top six.

The new Tottenham stadium will be rocking and home advantage could just swing the first leg in favour of Spurs.

Tottenham draw no bet

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Napoli v Liverpool

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Expert verdict
Liverpool begin their Champions League title defence with a return to the scene of one of the four away defeats they suffered on their way to winning last season’s competition. The Reds were beaten 1-0 at the Stadio San Paolo in the group stage last October and, as the Partenopei have lost three times in their last 19 home fixtures in the competition, their run of six defeats in eight UCL away games is a concern. However, they rarely fail to deliver in the final third, netting in all but four of their last 42 competitive matches.