Barcelona and Ajax are on course to contest this season’s Champions League final after both teams secured important victories this week. Donny van de Beek’s strike ensured an exciting young Ajax side beat Tottenham 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final clash in London on Tuesday. Barcelona hosted Liverpool the following night and former Reds striker Luis Suarez put them 1-0 up in the first half when he latched onto Jordi Alba through ball. Lionel Messi then took over in the second half and inspired his team to a 3-0 victory with an eye-catching brace.
Barcelona now has one leg in the final and it is extremely difficult to see Liverpool overturning that deficit at Anfield next week. The Reds were extremely wasteful in the opening leg, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane both missing gilt-edged chances. Barcelona was composed as Gerard Pique marshaled the defense well, Suarez was clinical and then Messi did what he does best. If they score at Anfield, Liverpool would need five goals in order to go through as they failed to grab an away goal. That looks like mission impossible for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The tie between Tottenham and Ajax is a lot closer. Spurs looked absolutely shattered in the first leg as an extremely busy fixture list to its toll. The Eredivisie gave Ajax the weekend off to prepare and they were well rested, energized and fearless in London, emerging with a slender lead and a precious away goal. Yet Spurs were without suspended forward Son Heung-Min – a crucial player now that star striker Harry Kane is out for the season – and they will be a lot more dangerous when they welcome him back for the second leg in Amsterdam. Top sports betting sites such as Bookmaker make Ajax the clear favorites to progress to the final, but it is not a certainty.
Tottenham looked bereft of attacking thrust in the opening leg, as Fernando Llorente struggles to fill Kane’s boots. With Son playing up top in front of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura in the second leg, Tottenham could turn things around. Manager Mauricio Pochettino may rest a few players for the weekend’s Premier League game, and that would give Spurs a decent chance of overturning the deficit.
There is little chance of Liverpool the following suit after they imploded in the second half at the Nou Camp. Even at 1-0 down they were in the ascendancy for much of the second half, but they could not take their chances. They also missed a key forward in Roberto Firmino, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench after suffering an injury. Klopp opted to flood the midfield instead and play Salah and Mané in advanced roles, but they lacked the focal point that Firmino provides. The intelligent Brazilian is a master at creating space for his fellow forwards and he links the play up really well. He was a big miss.
But this was all about Lionel Messi, who had a quiet game by his standards but still managed to grab all the headlines. His first goal was a simple finish into an open net after some calamitous Liverpool defending and a couple of fortunate bounces. His second was a stunning strike from a dead ball situation. You could argue that Alisson should have saved it, but it was a brilliant hit.
If Barcelona is to face Ajax in the final, it will be a fascinating match between youth and experience. Barca’s stars are all over 30 years of age, from Pique at the back to Suarez and Messi up front, via the midfield triumvirate of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal. Ajax is blessed with some of the finest young talents in the world, including van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Nicolas Tagliafico. Barcelona is such firm admirers of de Jong that they have tied up a €75 million deal to sign him in the summer. He could be the man to end their dreams of winning the Champions League before moving to the Nou Camp.