Thu, May 02, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Pochettino takes blame for Spurs’ ‘sloppy’ defeat


Ajax forward David Neres, right, and Tottenham Hotspur leftback Danny Rose vie for the ball in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday in London.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino admitted he was at fault as Ajax on Tuesday closed in on a first UEFA Champions League final for 23 years thanks to Donny van de Beek’s early goal to win the first leg of their semi-final 1-0.

Van de Beek’s opener on 15 minutes was just reward for the Dutch side’s first-half dominance as Tottenham badly missed the presence of the injured Harry Kane and suspended Son Heung-min.

Tottenham improved after the break despite another injury blow, as Jan Vertonghen had to be helped down the tunnel after a sickening head knock, but lacked the inspiration needed to get back on level terms without their two top scorers.

“Watching now of course I can accept it was a mistake the shape we used, but there were not too many options,” Pochettino said. “I am not happy, but our lack of energy from the beginning made our game difficult. We were a little sloppy.”

Ajax started confidently, having shown that they are not fazed on the road despite the tender age of many of their squad by shocking Real Madrid and Juventus away to reach the last four.

Hakim Ziyech’s through ball picked out midfielder Van de Beek, who took his time to leave Hugo Lloris prone before slotting into the bottom corner.

“I think it was an amazing evening, an amazing result,” Ajax coach Erik ten Hag said. “In the beginning we were very strong, we were completely dominating the game and we made a fantastic goal.”

“The way we conceded the goal was so painful, I think we were so poor in this action,” Pochettino said. “They showed more energy than us, but I think after 30 minutes we started to equalize the game.”

On top of Kane and Son, Spurs were shorn of the injured Erik Lamela and Harry Winks, and lost another key player when Vertonghen came off worst as he contested a high ball with Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana and teammate Toby Alderweireld.

The Belgian was patched up and briefly returned to the field before having to be helped down the tunnel leading to questions over why the Spurs medical staff allowed him to continue.

“I wasn’t involved,” Pochettino said. “It is the doctors’ decision.”

Pochettino’s halftime pep talk had the desired effect as Spurs dug deep into their energy reserves to raise the tempo and intensity of their display after the break.

However, the quality needed in the final third to get back on level terms was missing without Kane and Son.

Ajax did not make the most of their chances on the break.

“We could have kept the ball more and played calmer and that creates opportunities,” Ten Hag said. “Nevertheless, winning 1-0 in Tottenham is an amazing result.”

Son is to be back for the trip to Amsterdam on Wednesday next week and Spurs are to hope that the South Korean can repeat his double away to Manchester City in the last eight.

However, Ajax are in pole position for a final against Barcelona or Liverpool come June 1 in Madrid.

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