Juventus’ Argentine duo Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain lead the club’s second half turnaround and help ‘the Old Lady’ secure a spot in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Entering Wembley Wednesday evening, Juventus and Tottenham were square 2-2 on aggregate, but the Italian’s trailed on away goals and needed to rebound after they squandered their advantage weeks ago. But if the Bianconeri were to have any chance of advancing in the tournament, it was going to take something special from their Argentine contingent of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.
The 24-year old, who buried the stunning match-winner just five days ago against Lazio at the death, set foot on the Wembley pitch with all eyes peering down on him to impact the tie. Meanwhile, Higuain returned to the starting eleven after a short injury hiatus, seeking redemption for his missed penalty in the first leg at Allianz Stadium. Nevertheless, the two needed to leave their mark on this match and keep the dream for Champions League glory alive.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri began the match fielding a 4-3-3, with Dybala and Douglas Costa supporting Higuain as the wingmen. Juventus’ bench was extremely thin in attacking options to utilise, with Federico Bernardeschi, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic all inactive. As a result of a limited supply of offensive difference makers to summon late in the game, the starting trident had to show up.
Early on in proceedings, Costa’s scintillating pace down the left side caused fits and was really the only source of a danger during the first half. Gradually, as the first half progressed and eventually came to a close with the visitors trailing 1-0 and in need of two second half goals, it was put up or shut up time for the Argentines. Any comeback ‘La Vecchia Signora’ were going to mount required a world-class display from Juve’s number 9 and 10.
To resume play, there was a bit of a lull in action as things got chippy between the two sides with three yellow cards in the span of seven minutes. At the quarter-hour mark into the second interval, Allegri decided to act and yank two starters in hopes of unlocking the bout. Blaise Matuidi and Medhi Benatia were replaced by Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, two moves initially met with confusion and criticism. However, Allegri had his reasoning and these successive changes allowed him to make the tactical switch required to a 4-2-3-1 where he could get increasing numbers forward and open the game up for Higuain and Dybala to work their magic. Sure enough, Allegri’s shrewd changes paid massive dividends as Lichtsteiner was able to bomb forward and swing in a cross to Khedira who managed a glancing header that landed at Higuain alone for a simple finish.
Suddenly, Wembley’s home crowd were silenced; stunned as the pendulum shifted in favour of the black and white in the 64th minute.
No matter what happens, Higuain with three goals and one assist in this two legged affair against Spurs. Goes against the lazy narrative of people who watch him 3 times a year. He’s brilliant.
— Matteo Bonetti (@TheCalcioGuy) March 7, 2018
Higuain’s third goal in two matches breathed new life into the visiting crowd, and to a degree, lifted the monkey off his back as he often receives criticism for not delivering in big games.
Juventus still had to find another to overcome the away goal deficit, however, based on the complexion of the match, you got this sense it was Dybala’s moment to shine and send his Lady through to the next round. Three minutes later, Juve’s number 10 struck with conviction – with a little help from his fellow countryman.
Higuain dropped into the midfield to receieve possession, in the process forcing Davinson Sanchez to track his movement. Out of position and exposed, Dybala’s bending run and splitting of the defence put him clear on goal where ‘La Joya’ rattled the top netting with a precise finish to send the traveling Juventini into a frenzy.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 7, 2018
In a matter of minutes, the tie had turned on its head and Juventus were in the driver’s seat controlling their own destiny if they could keep Tottenham in check for the remaining 20-plus minutes. Staunch defending from Giorgio Chiellini and a clearance off the line from Andrea Barzagli saw Juventus pull off the comeback at Wembley, clinching their berth in the quarter-finals.
Five days earlier, Dybala’s winner against Lazio in the 93rd minute was a season-defining moment for the Bianconeri who are currently locked in a heated battle for their seventh consecutive Scudetto title with Napoli. Given the time, point in the season and manner with which the goal was executed, pinning the weekend winner as his most important moment in bianconero isn’t so farfetched. However, as we all know, producing on the Champions League stage holds much more weight as it is without question the main objective. Juventini hold out hope Dybala’s first European goal in 330 days opens the floodgates for the remainder of the competition.
Higuain and Dybala are massively important to any European title run Juventus wish to go on this season. When the ex-Napoli man and Dybala are clicking on all cylinders, the harmonizing play between the two can be extremely problematic for any side. With a thin bench at his disposal, Allegri pulled the right strings in the second half to allow Higuain and Dybala to turn the tide of a win-or-go-home affair in a matter of minutes, and ultimately, book the Bianconeri’s spot in the quarterfinals.