An opening ten minutes that saw Juventus score twice was undone by a Tottenham Hotspurs comeback in Turin.
Last night’s game at the Allianz Stadium was the first competitive meeting between Juventus and Tottenham, and the game looked over within the first ten minutes when Gonzalo Higuain superbly volleyed a Miralem Pjanić free-kick into the bottom corner of Hugo Lloris’ net. Then, seven minutes later, the Argentine cooly dispatched a penalty to double the hosts lead.
Despite the fantastic start by the Bianconeri, they allowed Tottenham to mount an unlikely comeback thanks to goals from Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, but where did it go wrong for ‘the Old Lady’ who looked in such a commanding position after ten minutes?
The Starting Line-Up
Massimiliano Allegri matched the line-up of Tottenham and started with a 4-2-3-1 that consisted of Buffon in goal, Sandro, Chellini, Benatia and De Sciglio in the defence, a two-man midfield of Pjanić and Khedira and then Mandžukić, Bernardeschi and Costa supporting Higuain who played as a lone striker.
It was clear that Allegri wanted his Juventus side to attack Tottenham as their defence is a liability and the former Milan manager was clearly expecting goals from his side. Ultimately though, Allegri’s starting line-up was his team’s downfall, despite scoring two goals within the opening ten minutes.
Juventus’ midfield was completely overrun and this allowed Spurs to press the home side very deep in their own half. Starting a two-man midfield works for Juventus against the smaller sides in Serie A such as Benevento and Verona, as those sides aren’t going to pose a threat to their midfield, but starting with two players in the middle against a team like Spurs was a foolish move by Allegri; Juventus only recorded a possession stat of 33%.
Many will argue that Allegri starting such an attacking formation worked as after ten minutes, the Bianconeri had Spurs all over the place and looked to be cruising to a victory. Yet, Juventus only having two players in the middle of park resulted in Spurs dominating the match for 80 minutes.
Absence of Key Players
Juventus were without Andrea Barzagli, Benedikt Howedes, Blaise Matudi, Juan Cuadrado and Paulo Dybala who all missed out due to injury. Matuidi and Dybala were the most damaging absences for Juve as the two players have been stand-out players this season.
The former has been a dominant force in the midfield and his defensive capabilities have helped Juventus to concede only one goal in their last 16 matches before the Spurs encounter. Meanwhile, Dybala’s attacking contribution this season has seen him score an impressive 17 goals in 28 games, so it goes without saying his absence was felt.
Without Matuidi in the midfield, Khedira and Pjanić were unable to deal with the physical dominance of Dembele and the ability of Eric Dier’s vision. Juventus’ midfield allowed Dembele to complete 95% of his attempted 99 passes and Dier was able to achieve a passing accuracy of 88% from 81 attempts. Dybala’s absence was also noticeable as Juventus were unable to create many chances going forward after the first ten minutes. ‘La Joya’s’ creativity and his ability to take on defenders was missing as Bernardeschi and Costa don’t have the the same attacking characteristics the Argentine possesses. Bernardeschi’s tendency to also drift out wide allowed Dier and Dembele to have an unlimited amount of space to run into and made their job easier when picking out passes.
Furthermore, despite not suffering from an injury, Allegri chose to leave out experienced midfielder Claudio Marchisio. In a game of such importance, his experience and ability to offer defensive and attacking contributions was missing. Khedira was unable to contribute anything of note, only completing 13 passes during the 65 minutes he played. Bernardeschi was also selected to play just behind Higuain, but the former Fiorentina man kept drifting out wide into his natural position on numerous occasions and this left Pjanić running the midfield on his own.
Certain players holding the team back
Allegri’s insistence on picking Khedira in the heart of the midfield is starting to have consequences as the former World Cup Winner can’t dictate games or provide the contribution he once did due to the fact he is too slow to keep up with opposition players who are able to drive teams forward; for example, Dembele yesterday.
It has been rumoured that Khedira is leaving in the summer and Allegri would be wise to limit his contributions for the remainder of the season. In addition to the former Real Madrid man, another player who looks to be leaving Turin soon is Alex Sandro who has been a shadow of the player he was last season.
The Brazilian International was beaten too easily by Eriksen on many occasions yesterday, and with Leonardo Spinazzola coming back from his Atalanta loan in the summer, Juventus would be wise to move on from the former Porto man.
If there is a way to review Higuain’s entire career it would be his performance last night. The former Real Madrid and Napoli star scored two goals and was a constant menace for Spurs’ defence all night as he was able to start the majority of Juventus’ small number of attacks. However, Higuain’s showing also resulted in him missing a glorious opportunity when he pulled a shot wide that would have made the score 3-0 and ended the tie there and then. But most notably, the Argentinian missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
A great goalscorer for his entire career, Higuain has developed a reputation for bottling chances in big games in his career, and unfortunately this was same old story for Pipita. Meanwhile, it must be addressed: it’s time for Buffon to hang up his gloves.
The legendary World Cup winner has been a fantastic goalkeeper for Juventus and Italy during his career, and he will go down as one of the best goalkeepers in history. However, at the age of 40, Buffon’s performances are becoming more inconsistent and this was the story last night.
Buffon made a fantastic save on a Harry Kane header, but the veteran ran out of his goal like a mad man a few minutes later, allowing one of the best strikers in the world to score an open goal. In the second half, the 40-year old was beaten far too easily by an Eriksen free-kick as his reflexes aren’t the same as they once were. Buffon is a legend of the game, but with Wojciech Szczęsny ready to step in after looking mightily impressive throughout the entire season, perhaps the ex-Parma shot-stopper should hang it up.
“It’s a pity we didn’t win, but we have everything it takes to progress to the quarter-finals.”
Despite an uncharacteristic performance by ‘La Vecchia Signora’ which saw mistakes from Buffon and a couple of wasted Higuain chances, the Bianconeri are capable of winning at Wembley. For the return leg next month, Juventus will have their star players Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi back and this could very well be the difference for Allegri.
Juventus are the underdogs going into the game, but as we’ve seen so many times before, this favours the two-time European Champions. Mauricio Pochettino will have to make sure his fantastic Tottenham side play even better than they did last night if they are to progress past the reigning Italian champions.