Mauricio Pochettino believes hope is not lost for Tottenham following their 1-0 first-leg defeat to Ajax in their Champions League semi-final tie.
A lacklustre Spurs struggled to compensate for the losses of key forwards Harry Kane and Son Heung-min due to injury and suspension respectively. Adding to their woes was when Jan Vertonghen was forced to come off with a head injury.
On the other hand, Ajax delivered yet another composed and mature performance. Donny van de Beek’s 15th-minute goal gave the visitors a deserved lead at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
David Neres nearly added a second goal only to hit the post after successfully beating Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris. Nonetheless, the team that conquered Juventus and Real Madrid in the previous rounds held on for a 1-0 victory.
Now Spurs will head over to Amsterdam next week for the return leg and must a way to win. Although a worrying fact for them is that only one team in the past 17 seasons has reached the final after losing the opening leg.
But Pochettino is refusing to give up on the club’s chances of reaching the Champions League final.
“In the first half we started, not in a good way,” the Spurs boss told BT Sport.
“I think my feeling is that they were more reactive, they showed more energy than us. It was difficult for us to play.
“Our lack of energy from the beginning in our approach made our game difficult. We conceded their goal and after 35 minutes we started to build the game.
“After the injury of Jan Vertonghen, [Moussa] Sissoko provided the team with good intensity and we started to play better – in the way that we wanted to play from the beginning.
“In the second half, we pushed them to struggle a little bit. It was an even game in the second half
“Still, we are alive, only 1-0 down and need to believe we can go there and beat them.”
Pochettino changed his 3-5-2 system after Moussa Sissoko came on for the injured Vertonghen. The Frenchman delivered superbly as Spurs began to improve against Ajax.
“Of course, watching the game now, of course, I can accept that it was a mistake to start in the shape that we used but there were not too many options to play with today,” said the Argentine.
On Van de Beek’s goal, he said: “I think it was our lack of energy and our lack of aggression, a little bit sloppy.
“If you look at the Ajax goal, we were so sloppy conceding our goal. That is not about four or five midfielders or two strikers. Our approach to the game wasn’t good
“It’s my responsibility always because I am the manager but in the second half we kept our possibility for the second leg.
“We are alive, it’s a little bit of an advantage for Ajax but it is still open.”
Meanwhile, Vertonghen was left bloodied and had to be carried off by two members of the Spurs medical staff following an aerial collision with Toby Alderweireld and Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.
“We are going to assess him in the next few days and we will see,” Pochettino said.