At the end, there was much talk about history and experience. Juventus embraced them and dipped themselves in their life-enhancing stream. The result was a turnaround which stunned observers at the Wembley Stadium. We have been here before but it demands restating — Massimiliano Allegri is a master tactician. Underrated too.
The match swerved on his substitutions. The remarkable thing about Juventus’ comeback was that Allegri initially got his tactics wrong. Playing a 3-4-3 system in the absence of Mattia de Sciglio, Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi, the Turin giants found themselves vulnerable as Tottenham Hotspur’s superior pace was too much to handle one-on-one.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino had recalled Heung-min Son to the starting line-up after leaving the winger on the bench for the first leg and it was a move which reaped dividends. Juventus’ Andrea Barzagli, on the right side of the defence, was run ragged by the South Korean. Son made multiple forays throughout the night and also scored the hosts’ only goal of the night.
It was a strike which becalmed Spurs after a frenzied start. The goal also made Juventus’ task tougher — now the Turin club had to score twice. Allegri’s men were behind in a match for the first time since November. However, even though Juventus have been picking up points in Serie A, their iffy form has not convinced observers. As the frantic proceedings in the first half showed, Juventus were ill-equipped to deal with the pace and intensity.
The opening quarter of the second half only confirmed the fears. Allegri’s side was straggled, its dysfunction an eyesore. But the manager and players did not panic. They were convinced that their chances would come. After the win, Giorgio Chiellini spoke about his side’s belief.
“It’s the history of Tottenham. They always create many chances and score so much but, in the end, they miss always something to arrive at the end. We believe in history. Four years ago, we did not have this experience but we have grown up year by year. We believe until the end. We are part of the history of this competition,” Chiellini said.
Pochettino, of course, argued that the result could not obscure Spurs’ dominant performance overall. And yet, it is Juventus who progress to the quarter-finals. Spurs were aware of the Italian side’s history and experience and were still unable to deny the visitors a victory they often secure. As much as Juventus learnt to win despite poor form, the North Londoners’ naiveté contributed to the result as well. Spurs’ inability to win silverware under Pochettino is now a burden which hangs heavy. Despite playing Juventus off the park, they could not show their ruthless side and kill the tie off.
Spurs’ familiar profligacy presented Allegri with the opportunity to mount a comeback. His tactical changes worked like a charm. Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner were brought on as Juventus shifted to a back four in defence. Barzagli could finally play alongside Chiellini in a defensive pair while Alex Sandro pushed up to become part of the midfield, leaving his wing-back role. Furthermore, Douglas Costa was relieved of some defensive duties as he transitioned to the front three.
Spurs barely adapted to the opposition’s new system. This is where Pochettino’s tactical acumen could have come in handy but he did not respond to the challenge. His side was stretched in defence and suddenly, trailing. The chaos was summed up by Juventus’ second goal when Gonzalo Higuain drew three defenders away about 40 yards from goal and played Paulo Dybala through with a simple pass. The latter was unmarked and had all the time he sought to place the ball in the top corner. Juventus had stunned the hosts by scoring twice within three minutes; with their first two shots on target, in the entire match, no less.
Spurs never really recovered from that. Pochettino sought to shake things up by first introducing Erik Lamela for Eric Dier and later, Fernando Llorente for Dele Alli. But Juventus are usually impenetrable when ahead. Chiellini was the star as he delivered a defending masterclass to outwit whatever Spurs threw at him.
Once ahead, Juventus could afford to close ranks and Pochettino’s men were allowed little space in the opposition half. During the first hour, when the Italian champions required a goal, there was plenty of room for the likes of Eriksen to deliver passes and pull defenders out of position. But now that Juventus had scored, the shop was shut. The gaps between the lines were compressed and Spurs could only launch hopeful balls in the area. It was not to be.
At the full-time whistle, Son was left on the pitch in tears and the Spurs fans at Wembley were crestfallen. It was a night which had promised so much and yet it delivered a familiar outcome. Pochettino’s men continue to disappoint when the stakes are raised. The wins over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stages were seen as indications that Spurs had turned a corner but, clearly, there is still work to do.
As Chiellini remarked, Juventus also had suffered for a lack of experience four-five years ago. But the team grew together. Perhaps, that is the lesson which Pochettino and his men will take forward. It could be a good starting point for reaching the next level.
Allegri, of course, left Spurs with a few tactical lessons too. On an individual level, Pochettino must ponder why he remained passive when Juventus rang in the changes. Allegri and his men, though, have shown that they are not over the hill yet. The pain of defeat in last season’s final is still raw. There might be a few more surprises in store.
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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 13:33:51 IST