An eye-catching draw for the Champions League last-sixteen saw the fate of the experienced, well-oiled Bianconeri come head-to-head with the fearless, youthful Tottenham Hotspur.
A tale of two very different teams has the ingredients of a scintillating draw.
On one hand you have Juventus – a side as glorious and as glamorous as they come, with years and years of experience and decorated international footballers throughout their squad. A side that has climbed and wrestled to the pinnacle of Italian football. A side that just knows how to win.
Although currently sitting in 2nd place of Serie A behind the exquisite Napoli, they are certainly breathing down the neck of Sarri’s men. By winning their last eight league games, they are reminding the whole of Italy, and the world, that with the goals pouring in from Gonzalo Higuaín and co. they are ready to capitalise on any dropped points, claim top spot back and win their seventh consecutive Scudetto.
On the other hand you have Tottenham Hotspur, the sleeping giant that’s awakening is sending rumblings across Europe – and the big boys should be taking notice. Created in the vision of daring Argentine, Mauriccio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur have become gutsy and aggressive, with a never-say-die ethos and a willingness to kill for each other on the pitch. How many times could you ever describe Spurs as ‘gutsy’ and ‘aggressive’? Not many, but that is exactly what they are now. Spear-headed by the ever-scoring forward Harry Kane, Spurs will go into this tie, as they do most games, feeling like they can getsomething.
The taste of defeat at the hands of Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid in Cardiff last June will still be sour in the mouth of Massimiliano Allegri’s army as they look to go one better in their quest for Champions League success. However, the absence of Paulo Dybala’s dazzling style, elegant goals and all-round beautiful play is a dent to the Old Lady’s hopes, but the replacements of Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa still muster up the ability to wreak havoc at the Allianz. Orchestrated by Miralem Pjanić, arguably the best midfielder in Italy right now, Juventus will rely heavily on their maestro to take the sting out of Tottenham’s press and use his guile to carve out chances for the firepower that lies in front of him in the shape of sharpshooter Gonzalo Higuaín, battering-ram Mario Mandžukić and the wizardry of Federico Bernardeschi.
Tottenham, like Juventus, are red hot at the moment and there was no better springboard to fly into Turin from than a stellar performance against their archest of enemies, a 1-0 victory over Arsenal lead by talisman Harry Kane. The Lily-Whites started this season a bit hit-or-miss after a great campaign that saw the Premier League title only just evade their grasp and find it’s home in West London. A tough slump fuelled by injuries and poor results at the backend of November looked to have hindered their chances of consecutive seasons in the Champions League, but since a humbling defeat to Premier League frontrunners Manchester City in December, Spurs have only been going in one direction – upwards.Most would have looked at Tottenham’s fixtures through February and may have possibly backed them to come away from Manchester United and Arsenal at Wembley, and a daunting trip to Anfield with minimal points. However, that wasn’t the case. In fact, Pochettino and his boys proved why they are so sought after, passing the test with flying colours and earning a return of seven points from a possible nine.
The returning form of Mousa Dembélé is no coincidence with the upward trajectory of his club’s performance. As Pochettino once said ‘Without Dembélé, we do not exist’. Watching Dembélé is like watching men against boys – He is an absolute bully, but he is a bully with the grace of a ballet dancer, capable of swatting off two, three or even four players without an ounce of panic. Along with Dembélé, Spurs will look to key figure and slick centre-back, Jan Vertonghen to play a pivotal role in their trip to Turin. Amongst the chaos and high intensity of Tottenham’s game, Vertonghen is that calming presence. His ability to glide past his opponents in a nonchalant way and laser a pass that some of the most gifted of playmakers couldn’t even execute is crucial to the way Pochettino wants to play. Despite his formidably solid partnership with Belgium teammate,Toby Alderweireld being broken up due to injury, Vertonghen hasn’t let his own performances drop beneath anything lower than 8/10, and if it weren’t for the scorching form and the reluctancy to stop scoring from teammate Harry Kane, Vertonghen would be a certainty for Spurs’ Player of the Year.
Lastly, Juventus know who will really cut their work out for them – but do they know how to stop him? Or, is the question ‘Can you stop him?’ Most have tried and miserably failed. That is not to his oppositions detriment, it’s just Harry Kane is world class, and world class players make you suffer. Left foot, right foot, headers, volleys, lobs, tap-ins, 20-yarders, 30-yarders, penalties, flicks, toe-pokes, Harry Kane scores them all. And, for a striker, goals are probably only 70% of Kane’s entire game. His vision partnered with his passing range is impeccable. His desire and tireless work rate is a dream for Pochettino. I’m not quite sure how anybody can stop him, but a defensive unit like Juventus is probably the perfect outfit to conjure up the answers to the questions Harry Kane is almost certain to ask.
The question for Pochettino will be what system does he approach this game with. Does he show a complete lack of respect to Juve like he did against Liverpool by playing his way, relying on a touch of luck to still be in the game before eventually taking control of the match? Or does he adopt the same approach that he did in Madrid? A 3-5-2 formation in a counter-attacking system, with Fernando Llorente occupying the centre-backs and allowing Kane to play that ‘Number Ten’ role, which he looked just as comfortable playing as he does in his usual No.9 position. But does switching from the current flourishing 4-2-3-1 mean that winger Son Heung-Min will find himself on the bench after emphatic form to accommodate spectacular defender Toby Alderweireld back into the team? A fully-fit squad is a blessing to have before going into a game of such magnitude, but Pochettino will have a headache and some big calls to make before Tuesday night.
If Spurs are to get anything from this tie, they need everybody to perform. After-all, they are going into the Lion’s Den.