After a spirited 2-goal comeback at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were confident that they could progress to the last eight of the Champions League at the expense of the Italian Champions. With a 17-game unbeaten run and a near full strength squad, things looked promising, however as Juventus have proven time and time again in this competition, they can never be written off.
The game was a very cagey one in the initial stages, as both sides looked to shut up shop with very compact and rigid defensive blocks forcing the opposition to attack through the wide areas and play long passes into their respective front men. The home side looked the more threatening as Alli, Kane and Eriksen found space between the defensive and midfield lines of Juventus. Eventually, they punished the visitors as Kieran Trippier’s ball found Son Heung Min at the far post who gave Tottenham the lead.
Things turned on its head in the 60th minute however, as Spurs proved unable to protect their slender lead, naively pressing the Juve back line and conceding space between the lines despite already being ahead. They were made to pay for their sins as a double change in personnel and approach saw Juve score two goals in as many minutes from Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala.
With just over twenty minutes left on the clock, Juve’s experience in games such as this was evident as they showed Spurs how to protect a lead, defending resolutely and substantially condensing the space in the centre and between the lines. A late onslaught from Pochettino’s men was not enough sadly and despite a very admirable showing in this season’s competition, they crashed out with Il Bianconeri advancing to the last eight for the fourth time in as many seasons.
TOTTENHAM 1-2 JUVENTUS
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Tottenham (4-2-3-1) | Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
1. Lloris // 2. Trippier, 6. Sanchez, 5. Vertonghen, 33. Davies // 15. Dier (Lamela ’73), 19. Dembele // 23. Eriksen, 20. Alli (Llorente ’84), 7. Son // 10. Kane
Juventus (4-3-3/4-1-2-1-2) | Manager: Massimiliano Allegri
1. Buffon // 15. Barzagli, 4. Benatia (Lichtsteiner ’60), 3. Chiellini, 12. Alex Sandro // 6. Khedira, 14. Matuidi (Asamoah ’59), 5. Pjanic // 11. Douglas Costa, 10. Dybala, 9. Higuaín (Sturaro ’82)
Goals: 38’ Son // 63’ Higuaín, 66’ Dybala
High press from both sides in early stages
With the tie very much in the balance after the first leg, both teams looked to get on the front foot, particularly in the early stages as they looked to unsettle the opposition in the build up phase but with slightly different approaches.
Juve went for a more aggressive approach in Spurs’ build up phase in the initial stages of the game, with a man oriented press as they looked to force Spurs into playing long balls forward in the hope that the Juve midfielders would win the second balls. Alternatively, they looked to force Spurs into constructing play through the wide areas which proves effective more often than not due to the ball carrier being severely limited in terms of his space to play in when in possession, making him more susceptible to being dispossessed.
Here, Lloris is in possession looking to play into the next line but is finding it difficult due to the structure of the high Juventus block. Higuaín, as the striker is leading the press, maintaining a sufficient distance to Davinson Sanchez to allow him access to apply pressure. Dybala has joined him, moving onto the same line as him to create numerical equality, thus facilitating the press.
Eric Dier (circled), drops deep from his 6 position to attempt to create an overload and receive from Lloris but he is tracked by Matuidi. As a result, Lloris is forced to play a long ball into Harry Kane. One would assume that this would result in Spurs losing possession regularly as longer passes carry a higher risk or being dispossessed or not finding its intended target. However, Pochettino appeared to have a well thought out plan for this scenario which proved effective on multiple occasions.
Here, Lloris plays a long pass into Kane, who has dropped off from his position into space between the lines to receive the long ball. His movement is tracked by Chiellini which appears to have stopped the danger. However, Chiellini tracking Kane’s movement has created a gap in the Juve defensive line, which Son, Eriksen and Alli aim to penetrate with runs in behind the Juve defence. It almost pays off in this instance, as Spurs create a dangerous opportunity from the move.
As well as longer passes into Kane, Spurs also constructed play through Trippier on occasion. In the image above, Trippier moves deeper from his initial starting position to create a 4v3 overload in this scenario. He is immediately put under pressure by Matuidi, however due to a lack of access it is not enough to force a turnover in possession. With Matuidi now leaving Dier free to press Trippier, it would seem that Spurs would be able to play out due to the overload but the movement of Dybala is intelligent as he curves his run to put Dier in his cover shadow to stop Trippier from playing into him.
Spurs’ approach differed from that of Juve’s as their primary focus was preventing Juve from playing through the centre by retaining a compact shape. They set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape when higher up the pitch but would change to a 4-1-4-1 when Juve were in possession. Unlike Juve, Spurs’ pressure on the opposition back line was much more sporadic, waiting until triggers arose before initiating the press. Compactness was the priority for Spurs as they were well aware of the dangers of player such as Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala receiving the ball between the lines.
Juve also played the occasional long ball but with less organisation than Spurs; the long balls played by the centre backs into Higuaín often resulted in Juve losing possession. They instead looked to build through the wide areas with third man combinations as can be seen in the image above.
Barzagli plays a risky pass out wide into Douglas Costa, who has dropped off to receive and plays a first time ball into Khedira. However, the move breaks down as his run is tracked by Dembele. Spurs did not implement outright man marking during the game as the away side did quite often, only doing so when Juve players higher up the pitch dropped deep to circulate the ball.
Spurs find joy between the lines
Despite being typically solid as a defensive unit, Juve did look slightly vulnerable, particularly in defensive transition for a number of reasons. The main reason being their susceptibility to being exposed between the defensive and midfield lines due to the lack of a designated 6 in front of the back 4.
In this image, Eriksen receives the ball during a Tottenham counter attack with the Juve midfielders reorganising following a failed attack. With all three Juve midfielders pushed up during the attack, none are in the correct position to protect the space between the lines as they are still in the process of readjustment. Had there been a 6 responsible for protecting the back 4, as Spurs had with Dier, Alli and Eriksen would not have found so much room in the 10 space, so often during the game.
The narrow positioning of Andrea Barzagli at right back also proved problematic for Juventus as it allowed Son acres of space out wide. As he is naturally a centre back, he could be regularly seen during the game drifting towards the centre, which gave Son time and space to shoot or play a ball into the box. This proved costly in the 38th minute as Kieran Trippier’s cross found Son at the far post to give Spurs the lead.
Juventus’ man marking proved effective for much of the game, particularly during the opposition build up phase; however as can be seen often with man marking, it can be undone as players begin to tire mentally and physically and it is exploited by players with intelligent movement.
Here, we see this as Son receives the ball and darts into the space in the centre created by the movement of Eriksen, who drags Pjanic out of position to create a large gap for Son to move into. Son’s movement from the wide area proved key as Barzagli was reluctant to track his run, knowing that it would create space for the overlapping runs of Ben Davies at left back.
Allegri double switch changes game
With Tottenham still leading as the game reached the 60th minute, Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri knew a drastic change in personnel and system was needed. On paper, his changes appeared rather unusual with Stephan Lichtsteiner replacing Mehdi Benatia and Kwadwo Asamoah coming on for Blaise Matuidi. Many questioned the logic of bringing on two defensive players when his side were chasing the game, however, the change in system proved crucial as Juventus turned the game around.
With Benatia off for Lichtsteiner, Barzagli returned to his natural position at centre back while Lichtsteiner played on the right, giving Juventus the natural width that they had been lacking down that flank for much of the game as Costa had been playing as more of an inverted winger. The same occurred out wide on the left with Asamoah playing as an attacking full back while Alex Sandro was pushed higher into the role of a classic winger.
Within minutes of entering the fray, the introduction of two attacking full backs paid off as Lichtsteiner provided the cross which eventually resulted in Higuaín levelling the score. Here, Dybala is in possession having drifted from his new position at no.10 to create an overload out wide. With Davies occupied with pressing Dybala, he is unable to track the overlapping run of Lichtsteiner out wide, who has space and time to provide a cross which fell to Higuaín to bring Juve back on level terms.
Arguably the most influential change was the role of Paulo Dybala, who was quiet for majority of the game prior to Allegri’s reshuffling. He began the game in a hybrid role as a wide player and a striker but often found himself isolated; however once moved to the 10 role, he found far more space between the lines, partly due to his new found freedom and Tottenham’s slight change in defensive shape.
Here, we see Dybala in the half-space with far more room than he was afforded in the earlier stages of the game. As stated earlier, this was partly due to Spurs altering their defensive shape from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-4-1-1. With Dier or Dembele providing an additional line of cover between the defensive and midfield lines, the space that a no.10 would occupy was limited during the first half. Now, with Spurs defending with Alli at 10 and a flat midfield four, Dybala was able to find pockets of space between the lines much more easily.
His movements off the ball at 10 proved key as he grabbed Juve’s 2nd to turn the tie around. Here, Higuaín drops deep to receive a 3rd line pass from Chiellini, which draws Davinson Sanchez out from his position at centre back. Dybala immediately exploits the space created by Sanchez and receives the ball from Higuaín to finish past Lloris. Had Spurs still been playing a 4-1-4-1 out of position, his run may have been tracked by Dier or Dembele, but in this instance he was unmarked and was able to give Juve the lead.
After going a goal ahead, Juve did what most experienced teams in this competition would do and shut up shop, allowing Spurs to have the ball and defending very deep in a compact 4-4-2 low block. With less than 20 minutes left, Juve were determined not to concede and as many teams are well aware, once Juve go a goal up there is little that can be done to turn the game around.
Here, we see how compact they are with the spacing between the attacking and defensive line no more than 30 metres and their widest players in the half spaces. The Juve players rarely vacated the block to press, with only the player closest to the ball applying pressure while the rest of the side retained their compact shape. This was in stark contrast to Spurs when they went a goal ahead, as they naively kept up the intense pressure they showed in the first half, despite already being a goal ahead. In the end, it proved their undoing as they began to show fatigue and concede space between the lines.
In the end it was a very brave performance in both legs from Tottenham, who gave a very good account of themselves despite bowing out of the competition. Having unexpectedly topped the group of death ahead of Real Madrid, a place in the quarter finals proved a bridge too far. There is still plenty of hope for the future, with this still a very young Spurs side. Should they qualify next season, they will be hoping to reach the last eight for the first time since 2011.
Another quarter final for the Old Lady, who will be hoping that this will finally be their year after the bitter disappointments of 2015 and 2017. They proved their experience yet again, seeing of this Spurs side but are well aware that harder tests face them in the latter stages of the competition. With a bit of luck and a sturdy defence, Juve will be hopeful of a first Champions League title since 1996.