Ajax is hopeful David Neres will be fit for their Champions League semi-final second leg against Tottenham Hotspur, with coach Erik ten Hag admitting there was “a small question mark” surrounding the fitness of the talented Brazilian winger.
“There is perhaps a small problem with David, but he will train and we expect him to play,” Ten Hag said at a press conference on Tuesday at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Ajax takes a 1-0 lead into Wednesday’s game after Donny van de Beek’s early goal separated the teams in London last week.
Neres, who scored a brilliant equalizer in the 1-1 draw at home to Juventus in the quarter-finals and hit the post late in the first leg against Tottenham, came on as a second-half substitute in the Dutch Cup final at the weekend as Ajax beat Willem II 4-0 in Rotterdam.
It was the first leg of a potential treble for the Amsterdam side, who are top of the Dutch Eredivisie and hoping to reach the Champions League final for the first time since 1996.
They have already dumped out the holders, Real Madrid, and beaten Juventus to reach this stage, and now they are hoping to finish the job against Spurs.
“The intensity against a Premier League team is a little different, but we experienced that before against Juventus and Real. The team has the ability to adapt to playing at a higher level and we have to make that step up again,” added Ten Hag.
– ‘Healthy tension’ –
Spurs will have Son Heung-min back from suspension this time, though, and that gives them hope, especially after Mauricio Pochettino’s depleted team recovered from a torrid first 30 minutes in London to cause Ajax problems.
“Our defensive organization was excellent,” pointed out Ten Hag.
“In the final third we didn’t play all that well but the players’ mindset was to defend our 1-0 lead.”
There are likely to be a few changes to Ten Hag’s line-up for Wednesday’s game after the Cup final when veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was one of those to come into their team.
He netted twice against Willem II in between goals from Daley Blind and Rasmus Kristensen as Ajax won the Cup for the first time since 2010. Celebrations after that game were muted, however.
“Most of the celebrations were on the pitch and then in the Arena with the fans, and after that it was a bit timid,” admitted Blind.
“We knew what was coming and it is clear that this match was in our thoughts.”
Blind, who played for Manchester United when they beat Ajax in the 2017 Europa League final, returned to the Amsterdam club last year.
Despite the size of the occasion, he said there were no nerves in the home camp.
“There is a bit of healthy tension, which is good,” he said.
“Each match is important in its own right — even in the qualifying rounds the games were important and you just have to make sure you prepare well.”