There are things you must do if you are Juventus, rules you must adhere to and standards that are implicit in your every match. You must challenge for every trophy you compete in, even if the odds are stacked against you, never admitting the possibility that another club has better claim to it than you.
You must be clinical, seizing upon opportunities of victory as soon as they present themselves, thrusting your foot upon your opponent’s throat and not removing it until they cede.
With these in the bag, there are other things you should try to do, to follow in the footsteps of your illustrious Bianconeri predecessors. You should attempt to control the play in each game, your creative force dominating the pitch.
Juventus were not their usual self against Tottenham
In this context, Tuesday night’s draw against one of the Premier League‘s in-form sides was not Juventus, but some inferior imposters. Their speed out of the traps to establish a 2-0 lead was admirable, though perhaps misleading. Sitting on a comfortable lead against a team who, while highly regarded, have little Champions League pedigree, was not part of the plan and unwise. Spurs worked their way into both the match and the tie, their midfield stifling the Italian side, Mousa Dembele particularly impressive.
Looking back, it is apparent that the early moments of the game were a little deceptive. Higuain’s first goal, sumptuously lashed in first time, came from a free kick. His second was a penalty. By the time Spurs really touched the ball, they were two down.
Miralem Pjanic pulled the early strings, releasing Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi on either side. The two live wires continued to cause problems throughout, but as Pjanic was stifled, so were their opportunities. With that leak sealed, Spurs exerted control and fought their way back into the game, being superior for the remainder and reducing the home side’s threat to set pieces.
It took a while but goals from Harry Kane and eventually Christian Eriksen followed and Tottenham got a draw to take back to Wembley. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Dybala’s invention was sadly missed
The reasons Mauricio Pochettino’s side were able to badger Juventus out of the game is well documented. They are supremely well disciplined, supremely fit and masters at knowing when and who to press. It would be enough to get the better of most teams, and a misfiring Bianconeri really had no answer.
There are a few things to bear in mind about the game. The real creative force of Juventus is Paulo Dybala. Not for nothing is he nicknamed the jewel; he possesses a force of invention that was sadly lacking against Tottenham, that burden lumped onto players who were not equipped to deal with it.
The Argentine is likely to be back against Torino this weekend, and surely will feature in the return in London if he comes through that examination. That alone would change things; Mario Mandzukic no longer necessarily being pressed into action wide, where he did little at the Juventus Stadium.
That all the creative burden fell onto Pjanic was apparent in the fact that Massimiliano Allegri’s side were reduced to chances from set pieces (even their goals came from those) and while they did threaten occasionally, their better forays came from being able to put numbers in the box rather than relying on the quality of service from Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi, both of which was somewhat lacking on the evening.
Una signora a metà – an Old Lady cut in half
The Gazzetta dello Sport reported the game with the headline ‘Una signora a metà’; a reference to the old magic trick of a lady being cut in half – yet the Italian side produced nowhere near the forty-five minutes the headline suggests and Pochettino is no magician, just a very astute coach. If anything, in terms of passes, possession and control, Spurs were better in the first half than the second.
The return fixture promises to be just as entertaining again. Tottenham will play like Tottenham. They will drive forward, they will harry, their players will generally make a nuisance of themselves. If there is no change in their opponents, it is hard to see anything other than a home win. Harry Kane will likely score, possibly more than once.
Expect a different performance in London
Yet Italian coaches have proved themselves master tacticians in the past, and Juventus have a fine recent record in Europe. It is not hard to imagine a different performance in London, one where Dybala is dominant, his jewel glistening under the Wembley floodlights. Equally, it is hard to imagine Gianluigi Buffon looking so flat-footed and off-colour twice in a week. His stellar career has not been built on such performances.
With Juventus needing to score, and most probably win, the second leg of this tie is beautifully poised. Wembley on March 7th is very much the place to be; but who will come away happy is anyone’s guess.
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