Cruising towards the Champions League Quarter-Finals, Max Allegri’s introduction of width turned the tie as it finished Tottenham 1-2 Juventus at Wembley Stadium.
Tottenham did everything right to get ahead of Juventus in this Champions League tie. Cruising towards the Quarter-Finals Max Allegri countered by introducing width. The match was consequently turned on its head. Two goals from Higuain and Dybala in 179 seconds made the score Tottenham 1-2 Juventus and our Champions League adventure was over.
Press vs Press
The first half was played with each team pressing in order to counteract the other to knock them out of their game plan.
Battling against an away goal deficit, Juventus were incredibly aggressive from their 3-5-2 formation. The Italian team used their two strikers to push up on our centre backs. Blaise Matuidi aided the pair by tracking Eric Dier. Out wide and wing backs Alex Sandro and Douglas Costa were pressuring Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies.
The ploy was to do three things. Firstly, to stop Spurs playing out from the back and setting any kind of rhythm for the game. Secondly, to create turnovers high up the pitch which could lead to quick shooting opportunities. Thirdly, and most importantly, to test Hugo Lloris’ ability to kick. The Juventus pressure was so intense that Lloris often had to clear downfield, where Juventus would aim to win the aerial challenges.
The issue for Juventus was that Spurs maybe didn’t win the initial aerial challenges, but did win the second balls. Tottenham had a numerical advantage in central midfield with Juventus playing so high up. As a result, there were spaces for the advanced midfield trio of Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli to operate.
Tottenham’s press was more calculated. It often centred on Giorgio Chiellini having the ball. Chiellini was operating on the outside of Juventus’ back three and therefore Spurs could press him towards the sideline to hem him in.
The tactic provided rewards as turnovers in the Juventus half were achieved. The best opportunity came from forcing Chiellini to pass out. Seconds later, Harry Kane was rounding Gianluigi Buffon, but after doing the hard part, his shot could only find the side netting.
Son on song
The key player for Spurs throughout the first half was Son Heung-Min. Son was gifted space due to Juventus’ press and the lack of tracking by wingback Douglas Costa. The South Korean was therefore able to run at or beyond outside centre back Andrea Barzagli.
Son had two good opportunities before exposing this space to put us ahead. Davinson Sanchez was able to break Juventus’ press with a long pass up to Eric Dier. He in turn found Harry Kane and suddenly Spurs were between the Juventus lines and running at the back three.
Trippier and Son offered routes out wide in the vast spaces left by the pressing wingbacks. However, Eriksen went for Dele Alli’s run through the middle. Dele’s shot was blocked, but Kieran Trippier arrived to fire the ball across the box to Son at the back post.
Son struck the ball against his standing foot, which created a weird looping shot with just the right amount of spin to take it around the stretching Chiellini and away from the sprawling Buffon. Tottenham 1-0 Juventus and Wembley erupted.
Whilst Douglas Costa was responsible in part for Son’s freedom and space to attack, he was also Juventus most dangerous player.
Operating as a wingback, Costa was frequently pressing Ben Davies. When Juventus recovered possession he was looking to dart through the channel between Davies and Jan Vertonghen. His movements gave both Davies and Vertonghen a problem of who was going to pick him and if they could stay with him.
Costa was a constant thorn in our left side and his burst through should’ve won Juventus a penalty. Costa attacked the channel between our left-sided centre and full back. Vertonghen went to ground and clearly brought him down. However, no penalty was forthcoming as Costa’s slight delay in reaction was enough to convince the referee that all may not been as it seemed. TV replays showed otherwise.
Juventus rough up the game
Juventus expended an amazing amount of energy in the first half. Pressing so aggressively and then having to make recovery runs had taken a great deal out of them and they were behind.
At the start of the second half, Juventus altered their tactics to try and change the flow and rhythm of the game. They became much more physical and aggressive to stop attacks. Quick yellow cards followed for Chiellini and Medhi Benatia as their centre backs roughed up Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
Allegri introduces width
Seeing his side still behind and Spurs undeterred by the rough stuff, Max Allegri gambled by introducing width and going to an almost 4-2-4 formation.
Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner entered the action and subsequently altered the game. Juventus used them to stretch our back four out with a front four and then hit the holes that subsequently appeared.
The tactic took affect within three minutes and we didn’t know how to respond to it.
Stephan Lichtsteiner broke free down the right to cross for the first. Juventus had three players arriving in the box as Sami Khedira’s header fell neatly for the wide-open Gonzalo Higuain.
Paulo Dybala then added a second as Juventus stretched us across the pitch once again. As a result of being drawn out across the field, Giorgio Chiellini could pass the ball straight through the space in to Gonzalo Higuain’s feet.
Higuain turned Davinson Sanchez all too easily. Paulo Dybala then ran off Kieran Trippier in to the space that had appeared by Sanchez’s movement out from the back line before Trippier could close it off. Ben Davies, who was concerned with Douglas Costa out wide, then played everyone onside due to his deeper positioning. As poor a goal our usually resolute back line will concede this season as Dybala made it Tottenham 1-2 Juventus.
Juventus narrows up
Having played with such width to stretch us out across the pitch and expose the gaps, Juventus then went in to their shell. The Italian team closed up and narrowed off the pitch.
Spaces for Spurs once more became out wide. Son Heung-Min was restored as the key player in exposing them. Christian Eriksen found him with a sumptuous ball that allowed him to punch a cross through the six-yard box towards the arriving Harry Kane. However, Giorgio Chiellini slid back to deny Kane with a perfectly timed interception.
Son then had greater pastures to work in as Kane headed the next cross against the post. He could’ve taken the ball on his left and would’ve been in. However, using his right foot allowed Juventus to recover.
The Italians still couldn’t stop Kane planting his header against the post. The ball then bounced agonisingly along the goal line. However, in going for the ball with his left foot, Erik Lamela’s readjustment and resulting foot stutter, meant that he was just a split second too late to the loose ball. Andrea Barzagli punted clear and our hopes went with it.
Tottenham 1-2 Juventus overall
There were so many good things in this game to be admired about how Tottenham handled Juventus’ tactics. However, a lack of clinical finishing, combined with a touch of inexperience, put paid to progression to the Quarter-Finals.
Tottenham were on top, but failed to respond quickly enough to Juventus’ change in tactics. A three-minute lag in reacting to the width that had been introduced saw them level. Three more minutes and Juventus were ahead. Margins are fine and punishment is swift at the very top level.
Spurs were not only slow to respond to the tactical shift. Mauricio Pochettino was equally unhurried to make substitutions. When they did come they served the correct purpose to unhinge a tight and compact Juventus defence. However, the changes had limited time to make an impact when the clock was the most important commodity.
Final score: Tottenham 1-2 Juventus.
MOTM: Son Heung-Min.