What started so brightly for Juventus ended about the exact opposite kind of way Tuesday night at Allianz Stadium. Leading 2-0 after less than 10 minutes, Juventus saw Tottenham take complete control of the game quickly and ride that wave of momentum to not only making things interesting, but then coming away with a 2-2 draw as Spurs now take two crucial away goals back to London for the second leg of the Round of 16 tie.
The outcome was incredibly tough to digest based on how Juventus started out, a 10-minute period in which they were the aggressors rather than being the team pinned back on their heels like what proved to happen for the rest of the game.
Fact is, so much happened that it’s tough to digest every moment of Tuesday’s game regardless of what the outcome ended up being.
But what are some of the takeaways from Tuesday night’s 2-all draw? We try to put our fingers on a couple of them and break things down.
1) Sami Khedira can’t be starting regularly anymore ...
This season has not been all that kind to Khedira. For the most part, he’s shown that his age — he turned 30 in April of last year — and all of his injury troubles have started to take their toll as he tries to get some consistent form going.
Tuesday night just seemed to be the capper of all cappers — and that’s saying something based on how he was essentially a complete ghost against Fiorentina four days earlier.
Playing as one of the two in the double pivot only magnified Khedira’s struggles of late. He was woeful and easily one of Juve’s worst players on the field. His 53 percent pass completion rate is still something I’d expect from myself rather than somebody who has done so much over his career like Khedira has.
But, no matter what formation that will be used, I think it’s becoming pretty clear that Khedira, at this point in time, can’t be counted on to be a major piece to the puzzle in Juve’s midfield. Even as more of a complimentary piece playing on the right of Miralem Pjanic has been a role that has yet to bring out the best of Khedira this season.
Something needs to change — and it doesn’t seem like Khedira’s form will. - Danny
2) ... and Rodrigo Bentancur should replace him.
The young Uruguay international has seen his playing time shrink as midfielders returned from early-season injuries, but he’s played well off the bench, and with Khedira shrinking before our eyes, it’s time to consider making a major change. Bentancur is going to be a fantastic midfielder when all is said and done. With Matuidi out and Marchisio still being treated with kid gloves as he comes off of injury, Benta is the best option to replace the German.
He should be afforded the opportunity to start at Khedira’s expense, both now and perhaps beyond should three midfielders be necessary (and they probably will be) in the future. Let’s see if he makes like Pogba and flies. - Sam
3) Max Allegri needs to figure out his system before the second leg.
I woke up to a Facebook message from the same person who I am collaborating with on this article. It went as follows:
i am NOT liking these reports of a 4-2-3-1
Yes, it’s safe to say the 4-2-3-1 was an absolute bust against Tottenham — and it wasn’t just because Khedira struggled or the midfield was absolutely ran over during the 90 minutes.
But it was a complete disaster no matter which way you try and spin.
Now, there’s a lot of time between Tuesday night and the second leg at Wembley. Between now and then, both Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi should be back from their respective injuries, meaning there’s some major decisions to be made by Allegri.
Dybala is the biggest of them all because, as it stands right now, there’s no real ideal position for him if Allegri wants to go back to a 4-3-3. If he wants to go to a 4-2-3-1 with the hopes of kicking things into gear like it did last season, then things seem to fall into place a little more naturally. But the 4-3-3 has been the formation where Juventus’ best games have come — especially on the defensive side of things.
And we know that Spurs aren’t going to sit back and just absorb pressure in the second leg. They’re going to be at home and wanting to do exactly what they did on Tuesday night, and that’s control the game and its pace.
How Allegri approaches it will be so incredibly important in what will be Juve’s biggest game of the season to do.
It’s the same in any other sport — when you’re playing not to lose rather than to win with authority, then you’re basically playing with fire. Juve played with fire on Tuesday night, and Allegri might as well need to go to the burn unit after Spurs’ visit to Turin. - Danny
4) Press Problems.
That’s two games in less than a week that has seen Juventus suffer tremendously when their opponent presses.
That’s kinda surprising. Allegri hasn’t necessarily had a ton of issues with that in the pass. The modern pressing team par excellence, the Borussia Dortmund team of then-BVB manager Jurgen Klopp, now with Liverpool, was dispatched with relative ease at this stage three years ago — albeit with a list of players that only corresponds to the current one in less than half a dozen players.
But on Friday, Fiorentina pressed Juventus high at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and left them making the same kind of mistakes they made today in possession. Tottenham had the talent to make Juve pay where Fiorentina couldn’t. Juve couldn’t string two passes together to get out of their own end and eventually either gave it away or bombed it upfield where it would be easily sent back into the danger areas.
Improving against this press is an absolute must. If they play like this at Wembley in front of all those Spurs fans, they will be made short work of and suffer an embarrassing crash-out. Allegri must go back into his cave and come up with a new way to beat this press, because if they can’t, this Champions League will be a short one. - Sam
5) Alex Sandro is still a complete shell of himself.
For months now we’ve been waiting for Sandro to kick things into gear and be the world-class left back he has been for the vast majority of his days as a Juventus player.
Based on what he did against Tottenham, we’re still waiting.
Sure, he had a team-best five tackles on Tuesday night in a game where Juventus were defending a lot more than probably anybody thought they would have to. That’s probably the only real positive to take out of his game in the first leg against Spurs.
Seeing Sandro not connect on a key pass or barely land a cross like what happened Tuesday night has become all too regular. Who knows what has contributed to it — and it’s not like this summer was exactly low-key for him based on all the rumors surrounding his future in Turin — but this current version of Alex Sandro is far from what we know he can be and what he has been.
Can we bank on him to be that player at some point over the next three months of the 2017-18 season?
I guess we’re just going to have to keep on waiting for that one. - Danny
6) Juventus’ to-do list.
One thing that this game laid bare was how little Juve actually has up front in terms of depth. There is quality, but not a lot of quantity, specifically in the middle.
There is no direct backup to Higuain. Mandzukic play as the center-forward, but he’s often needed to be deployed elsewhere. It will not go well if Higuain has to continue to play almost every game up top — we all saw how exhausted he looked at the end of last year.
It may also be worth looking at one or two more wingers in the summer. Marko Pjaca will surely be one — boy would he have been helpful on Tuesday — but it may behoove Juve to look for even one more to keep this team fresh, because right now two injuries have left something of a selection crisis at a critical juncture of the season.
One way or the other, when it’s time to dip into the market this year they’re going to need to bring in a good forward who isn’t unhappy with sitting on the bench and potentially learning from the other attackers. It will make the team far better down the road. - Sam