Tottenham Hotspur take on Juventus in Turin as Mauricio Pochettino’s men take on the seasoned challengers from Italy. The match promises to be a very interesting tactical duel with both the sides being coached by two of the finest tacticians in the game today. The fact that Juventus are not entirely the favorites to progress through the next round speaks volumes about Pochettino’s side and how far they have come under the Argentinian manager.
The way the game will pan out remains to be an interesting facet as in my opinion, both teams will not look to dominate possession. Juventus have time and again, showed that they are willing to sacrifice possession and look to negate the opposition in their deep block. Allegri is a shrewd tactician and Juventus have the personnel to stay compact and hit any side on the counter.
Tottenham’s flexibility in their tactics makes this a tough match to predict in terms of what might be the actual setup for both the sides. In recent matches, Spurs have been playing the 4-2-3-1 in recent weeks with Moussa Dembele in particular playing on top of his game. With Eric Dier partnering him, there is stability at the base of midfield for Tottenham.
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Spurs are a side that are fluid, but within the restrictions that Pochettino places on them. There is a keen sense of positional play in the way that Spurs go about with their game. Emphasis on numerical and positional superiority is placed in building out from the back. Dier or Dembele take turns in dropping deep to form a three at the back situation to ensure there is stability in bringing the ball out from the back.
The ball playing capabilities of the defenders ensures that Spurs are capable of playing out at a tempo that is suitable enough to ensure there is no chaotic situation in the middle of the pitch when they build up play. There is another interesting tweak that Pochettino has made to his 4-2-3-1 system wherein the overlapping fullbacks are covered for adequately by the central midfielders dropping down in their respective half spaces so that Spurs are not caught out on the counters.
This emphasis on counterpressing and ensuring that Spurs are well stocked to deal with counters will come in crucial with the likes of Dybala, Cuadrado/Costa, Mandzukic and Higuain all clinical enough to punish any top side on the counter.
Spurs should look to involve Eriksen in the game as much as possible, if they are to stand any chance of breaking down Juventus. The problem arises when Juve decide to stay compact in their block. There is hardly any space in between the lines for the opposition to exploit. A potential way to overcome this would be to stretch play as quickly as possible. The fact that Spurs look to involve their full backs in their play as much as possible is a bonus, mainly because the width is mandatory to manipulate any compact structure.
Dembele will be another crucial player mainly because his dribbling ability can destabilize Juventus’ structure. His dribbling is measured and put to good use, usually done only when there is a specific need to. Dribbling has much value when needed to break a deep block or an extremely good counter press- coming in handy in any of the approach that Juventus look to adopt.
Dele Alli’s search for space will be taken to a whole new level should the young Englishman feature in the match today. Harry Kane’s off the ball movement and dropping deep to support play in the middle will facilitate any sort of roaming movement that Alli is capable of. These factors will be crucial in trying to score against a side like Juventus, that has kept 11 clean sheets in their last 12 games, no mean feat.
Juventus on the other hand will probably look to start the game very strongly on the front foot, trying to destabilize Spurs in the initial stages of the game, something similar to how they started the game against Inter Milan in Turin, earlier this season. The likes of Mandzukic and Cuadrado come in crucial at times like these as their work rate and intelligence in pressing (partly down to individual intelligence and the rest down to the adaptation to the system and coaching).
Juventus will go in with a 4-2-3-1 of their own as they will look to incorporate Khedira and Pjanic in the double pivot. Mandzukic is a mandatory starter in these type of games on the left flank, with Cuadrado or Douglas Costa on the right. Higuain will lead the attack with Paulo Dybala in behind him. The high press, which I expect to see in the starting stages of the game, will decide the way the game will be played over the course of the match. Spurs need to be at their best if they are to come out unscathed from it.
A potential strategy that Juventus might look to adopt to stifle Spurs will be to have an emphasis on blocking pass routes to Kane up top. This can be done by congesting the midfield and also adopting a man mark, to an extent, on Eriksen. Looking at the Spurs side, their danger is only down to two major reasons: crosses from the half space or the wide areas and the passing ability of Eriksen and Dembele. If Juventus ensure that they do not let Eriksen dictate the flow of the game, they can contain Spurs to crosses from wide areas, something they would feel comfortable in dealing with.
It would be prudent to dismiss Juventus off in just a defensive perspective as they are more than competent in attack. Pjanic will look to keep the play at a steady pace so that Juventus can exploit Spurs’ shape. Spurs have it in them to play a deep block themselves, having done so very effectively in the group stages against Real Madrid, and winning at Wembley. Juve have the off the ball movement amongst their ranks that can destabilize any compact structure. Khedira with his late runs into the box is something that Juve can look to make use of as it an interesting weapon when trying to break open a tight knit defense.
All in all, this should be a thoroughly interesting tie as two extremely well coached sides take on each other in the round of 16 of the Champions League. It might end up being the battle of a counterpress, as the sides will not look to hog possession themselves and try to pick off the opponent by forcing a mistake. Spurs are definitely outsiders for this tie, but not completely so, down to their excellent manager and game changers in the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen. Allegri will be able to once again show to the world why he is a top tactician in the way he sets his side up.