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Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Tottenham

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BIG GAME. VERY BIG GAME.

Juventus have obviously played a lot of games in the Champions League over Max Allegri’s tenure as the club’s manager. Seeing as they’ve made two of the last three grand finals in Europe’s premier club competition, that’s not too difficult to figure out.

A good number of those have ended with Juventus moving onto the next round — be it in insanely-stressful fashion or just pure 90 minutes of hell in the second leg. (You notice how there’s no “easy” included in this because that just doesn’t go with Juve on the European stage.)

And what do you know? Juve are facing a must-win kind of scenario in the Champions League once again.

Oh dear god.

After watching Juventus go from being up 2-0 after all of nine minutes to completely falling apart three weeks in Turin, we now get to see if the six-time defending Italian champions’ European campaign will live to see another round. Entering Wembley Stadium tied 2-2 on aggregate, it’s win-or-go-home time for Max Allegri and Juventus. (Technically speaking, they’re going to be going home regardless of the result, but you know what I mean when I pull out all the fancy sports jargon from time to time.)

We’ve seen the good that Juventus can do against Spurs. But we’ve also seen the bad that Juventus had happen to them against Spurs. The bad completely outweighs the good. It’s about 80 minutes of bad, 10 minutes of good. Don’t believe me? Well, you can go back and look at when things turned after Juve went up 2-0 and we were already thinking about how good things were.

Instead, now it’s 2-2 and we’re wondering if that’s is the last Champions League game Juventus will be competing in come next September.

Yet, as we sit here stressing about what could happen and/or could go wrong, Gianluigi Buffon had this to say about the second leg against Tottenham at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday:

Buffon being confident is good because Buffon speaks from the heart and sole. So if Gigi is confident that this is not going to be Juventus’ final Champions League game of the season, then I guess we should be confident, too. In ‘Gigi We Trust,’ right?

GOOD NEWS

Juventus has a chance to make the Champions League quarterfinals.

BAD NEWS

AH CRAP JUVENTUS MIGHT NOT MAKE THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTERFINALS.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - TIM Cup Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1) The battle in the midfield.

This clearly was an aspect that Spurs’ won with room to spare in the first leg. And if Juve want any chance of advancing, then they’re going to have at least give Tottenham some trouble in midfield at the very least.

The thing is, can they?

The good news is that Blaise Matuidi is actually available this team, meaning that Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira — let’s face it, he’s going to be starting against Spurs no matter what the hell we think of his current form — don’t have to try and do EVERYTHING on Wednesday night. (And it also means that Allegri doesn’t have any kind of reason to switch back to a 4-2-3-1 out of nowhere.)

But, as we outlined before the first leg took place, Spurs’ midfield is where the club’s engine is located. And as we saw play out in Turin three weeks ago, Spurs’ midfield absolutely ran over the likes of Khedira and Pjanic.

No matter what formation Allegri goes with, if Juve’s midfield struggles anywhere close to how much it did in the first leg then it will pretty much spell doom for the second leg. Having Matuidi back will help. Having Paulo Dybala back will help, too, even though he’s not technically a midfielder. That’s pretty obvious since they’re two of Juve’s most important players.

Now we’ll just have to see what happens — and hopefully not end up completely mystified as to how bad Juve’s midfield could have possibly just played.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - TIM Cup Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

2) Can Paulo Dybala shake off the rust?

Dybala’s game-winning goal against Lazio was really, really good. Every time I see it on the Twitter machine or wherever, it still blows my mind that he was basically on the seat of his pants when he was making contact with the ball. To be at that angle, trying to hold off his defender and still be able to put something on target just shows what kind of talent he is.

But, outside of the goal, Dybala’s game against Lazio wasn’t all that great.

The biggest thing is that you could tell he hadn’t played all that much since the beginning of January. The lack of match sharpness was obvious even with him trying to do some tricks and flicks before he scored the decisive goal.

Now, I don’t know where Dybala will fit into the starting lineup come Wednesday night in London. It’s not like the absence of Mario Mandzukic has made things any the more clear since Juve now have another attacking option out and not available for selection. But I do know one thing: If Juventus want any chance of beating Spurs, then Dybala is going to have to show that he’s closer to the player that scored that wonderful goal against Lazio rather than the one who showed a whole lot of rust for much of the 90-plus minutes at the Olimpico.

Who knows what kind of shape Gonzalo Higuain is going to be in. (And no, that’s not a fat joke, not a “He chokes in the big games” kind of joke, or anything close to it.) That’s just the simple facts when a guy is just back from injury. We don’t need to look further than Dybala himself over the weekend as proof of that.

But, if we do get to see the same quality of player that scored that brilliant stoppage-time game-winner over the weekend more often than not on Wednesday night, then we’re going to be in good shape. At least when it comes to Juve’s attack.

3) Can Juventus’ defense try and slow down Harry Kane?

Let me just go ahead and throw this out there.

Over the last 10 games in all competitions, it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to count the games in which Kane hasn’t scored a goal rather than one where he has. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m getting at, let’s just go ahead and check it out...

Games with a goal: 8

Games without a goal: 2

Let me check...

Yeah, that’s good.

As much as you want to crack jokes about Kane being English and how much EPL players get hyped, he’s legit. His scoring record shows that. And he’s been able to do what a lot of clubs that have faced Juve over the last three or so months haven’t been able to do — crack the code and score against their defense.

As much as Tottenham’s other attacking players are talented and worthy of grabbing some of the attention — I’m sure a lot of us wouldn’t mind somebody like Christian Eriksen wearing bianconero these days — it’s Kane that is, understandably, the first and highest of priorities for the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Medhi Benatia.

And in a game where Juventus will have to defend pretty damn well if they want to make sure they see the quarterfinals of the Champions League, trying to stop Kane will be one of their biggest points of emphasis. He’s just going too damn good right now to let run wild and free in front of goal.

Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

MY STARTING LINEUP

Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Medhi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain

MATCH INFO

Date: Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Location: Wembley Stadium, London, England

Kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast

HOW TO WATCH

Television: Fox Sports 1 USA, FOX Deportes (United States); TSN5, RDS (Canada); BT Sport 2, BT Sport 4K UHD (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)

Online/Mobile: FOX Sports GO, FOX Soccer Match Pass, fuboTV (United States); TSN GO, RDS GO (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)

Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.

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