Plenty will come down to the tactics and decisions of managers Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag, Ernesto Valverde and Jurgen Klopp, but there are plenty of other elements in play as well.

By Avi Creditor
April 29, 2019

Despite the seeming inevitability of some form of a European Super League a few years from now, the magic of the Champions League final stages is as alive as ever. Thanks to Tottenham and Ajax upsetting the applecart, an unexpected finalist will emerge when two sides play for the trophy on June 1 in Madrid.

One of the two relative upstarts–Tottenham hasn't made a European cup semifinal since 1962, while this is four-time winner Ajax's first Champions League semifinal since 1997–will face off against either Barcelona or Liverpool for the title. Barcelona is eyeing its fifth title of the Lionel Messi era and sixth overall, while Liverpool is hoping to reach a second straight final and also win a sixth European title in its history.

Plenty will come down to the tactics and decisions of managers Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag, Ernesto Valverde and Jurgen Klopp, but there are plenty of other elements in play as well.

Here are some of the other factors that could determine the outcomes of and provide some extra color for the two matchups:

Domestic distractions

Barcelona is in by far the best spot of the four. It has already won its league title, clinching a 26th crown in La Liga with a weekend win over Levante and fittingly doing so on a goal by Messi. Aside from a Copa del Rey final that is a month away, there's nowhere else for Barcelona to put its focus except the Champions League, and Barcelona has been in such control of La Liga for so long that Ernesto Valverde has wisely limited Messi's minutes in recent matches, bringing him off the bench for 30 minutes instead of stringing him out for 90 at a time.

The same can't be said for its opponent, Liverpool, and Ajax, both of whom remain in heated races for their respective domestic titles. Liverpool keeps waiting and hoping for Manchester City to slip up, knowing that it needs an unlikely assist all while remaining perfect. So finely poised is the Premier League race that Man City could actually clinch the title with a win Monday if Liverpool happens to lose Saturday at Newcastle. Just like that, a season-long tug of war could be over. Needless to say, there's plenty on the minds of Liverpool's players, who could either become legends by winning the double or join the trophyless ranks before them.

Ajax is also in a tight battle, leading PSV only by goal differential with two games to go. For all of its historical success and its league-record 33 titles, Ajax hasn't won the Eredivisie since 2013-14, instead watching PSV (three times) and Feyenoord become the Netherlands' top club. Reasserting its dominance on home soil is valuable, especially for a side that's due to be picked apart by Europe's big spenders.

Then there's Tottenham, which is looking to claw its way to a top-four finish in England and ensure a return to the Champions League next season. It's in the driver's seat for one of two berths that remain up for grabs, and the fact that Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United keep slipping up in the race (they're a combined 0-6-3 in their last nine games), should have Spurs able to breathe a bit easier, even though they're not in the clear just yet.

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Injuries and suspensions

Tottenham is in the most precarious spot here. Not only is Harry Kane still out with an ankle injury, but Son Heung-min, who has desputized so capably in Kane's place, is suspended for the first leg due to card accumulation. Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Serge Aurier, Vincent Janssen are all also unavailable. Moussa Sissoko hasn't been ruled out yet, which didn't seem likely after he exited the second leg of the quarterfinal vs. Man City with an injury, while Jan Vertonghen is also in contention to return to action. That's a thinned-out squad against an Ajax opponent that has shown its abillity to control a match.

Liverpool, meanwhile, waits on word regarding Roberto Firmino. He missed the 5-0 pasting of Huddersfield Town on Friday and there's concern he could be out for the first leg vs. Barcelona–if not beyond–with a reported muscle tear. The club is otherwise in fine shape, with minor concerns over Fabinho and Adam Lallana and the positive developments of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning to action after more than a year out and Joe Gomez working his way back into full fitness and availability as well.

Barcelona and Ajax aren't really sweating any major injuries–Ajax right back Noussair Mazraoui is back in training after an ankle injury–and should be at full strength for their respective matchups.

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Personal history

Barcelona and Liverpool have two common links: Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho. The two former Liverpool stars will return to Anfield for the second leg, where they'll surely hear an earful–and have plenty of motivation to strike the potentially decisive away goals to burn their ex.

Tottenham, meanwhile, employs four former Ajax products in Christian Eriksen, Davinson Sanchez, Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

Given how it operates, Ajax will see other stars leave as soon as this summer. Frenkie de Jong is off to Barcelona and may be joined by Matthijs de Ligt, which could make for a bit of an awkward final if both sides advance. But first things first: make sure its former talents don't have a final say on whether it or Tottenham progresses to Madrid.

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