At the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino was asked if the club would be targetting any of the cup competitions this season. The Argentine bluntly responded that the Premier League and the Champions League are the only real trophies they want to fight for. That response from Pochettino was enough to understand his lofty ambitions and how he aims to take Spurs to the very top.
After getting eliminated at the group stages of the competition in the 2016-17 season, the team from North London approached the 2017-18 edition with great energy, much-needed savvy and the ability to adapt. Put in a group along with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL FC, Spurs blitzed their way to the top, winning five matches and drawing one to end with 16 points.
Pochettino's men acquitted themselves very well in both matches against two-time defending champions Real Madrid, winning 3-1 at Wembley and drawing 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. They also outsmarted Dortmund on both occasions, winning 5-2 on aggregate across both legs. After their failure to qualify the previous season, this was an extremely impressive turnaround, as they showed they could battle with the best.
Under the tutelage of Pochettino, Tottenham have impressed with their ability to defend well and play with a high line, utilising a high intensity press to force their opponents to make mistakes. The Argentinian's man-management skills have been praised as he has been able to coax the best out of the Spurs squad despite not having the financial riches that some of the biggest clubs in the world possess.
With 14 goals in their six matches this season, Spurs have shown their propensity to play an attacking style of football, while at the same time conceding only four goals. They have been tactically aware and smart enough to pick their moments to attack in matches against big teams, defending stoutly otherwise.
Tottenham's encounter against Juventus in the Round of 16 is one of the best encounters of this stage as it pits two teams that play contrasting styles of football against each other. Juventus come into the match having conceded only once in the last 16 matches they have played, going unbeaten throughout, keeping a staggering 15 clean sheets.
Despite losing defensive lynchpin Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan in the summer, Massimiliano Allegri's team have regained their defensive strength and fortitude since a move to a three-man midfield in November. Playing in a 4-3-3 formation, The Old Lady have shown that they possess the necessary blend of skill and steel to eke out the results they need.
Mehdi Benatia has stepped into the void left by Bonucci's departure to Milan and his performances have been top-notch, using his physicality and anticipation to great effect. He complements Giorgio Chiellini perfectly as the duo use their guile and experience to nullify the threat of the opposition strikers.
Miralem Pjanic runs the midfield and in the absence of Blaise Matuidi, would need to assume greater responsibility to keep possession and provide continuous supply to the forwards. The side from Turin will be missing their talisman Paolo Dybala and would be looking to Gonzalo Higuain, who has scored six goals in his last four matches, and Douglas Costa to account for the goals. The hard-working, physical Mario Mandzukic provides a different threat from the left flank and would be looking to convert from crosses and set-piece situations.
Spurs have been playing in a 4-2-3-1 of late and will look to their main man, Harry Kane, for the goals. The striker has scored six goals in the competition this season and has been supported well by Son Heung-min and Dele Alli. With Christian Eriksen working in midfield along with Moussa Dembele and Eric Dier, Tottenham have a solid front six to help press their opponents.
The first leg in Turin will be hotly contested as the ageing Juventus side look to prove their superiority against the young upstarts, Tottenham. The Italian team has lost in the finals of the Champions League twice in the last three years and would be looking to make another push for the title. Spurs, on the other hand, have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals in the revamped Champions League and would be looking to qualify for the last-eight this time around.
Pochettino has been attracting interest from across Europe for his exploits with Tottenham, with Real Madrid reported to be the most keen on getting him as their next manager if they do sack Zinedine Zidane. His approach to football with Spurs and ability to remain calm has served him very well and reflects in the decisions he takes.
Pochettino's decision to not take key defender Toby Alderweireld to Turin to allow the defender to recover better from his injury shows the foresight he possesses to see the bigger picture, while reposing faith in the players available to him. This encounter against Juventus is another opportunity for him to show that he truly is one of the best young coaches in the world now and has what it takes to manage at the highest level.
He will engage in a battle of wits against Allegri, the man who has taken Juventus to two Champions League finals in three seasons as their coach. Once tipped to take over as manager at Tottenham, Allegri was then signed by the Turin side after Antonio Conte left the club. He has moulded the team into a European heavyweight while retaining their aura in the Serie A at the same time.
In Kane and Higuain, two of the best strikers in European football will be on display and the tactical flexibility of both teams (ability to play 3-5-2 or 4-3-3) will serve up what promises to be an engaging affair.
The match is also a homecoming for Pochettino, as his family has its roots in the Piedmont region where the city of Turin is located. He would be looking to use this platform to show that he has arrived as a top manager on the grandest stage in club football, similar to how Tottenham are keen to show that they belong among the European elite.
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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2018 15:48:39 IST