Although Tottenham might be behind Manchester City in the Premier League, Mauricio Pochettino proved his project was still strong against Juve
It might not have attracted the media attention of the clash between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain but the Champions League round of 16 tie between Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur was one of the highest order.
Juventus, the reigning Italian champions and last year’s losing finalists in the Champions League, against Tottenham who have experienced a real revival in the last few years was a confrontation between clashing styles as the defensive unit of Max Allegri met Spurs’ free-flowing football under Mauricio Pochettino.
Juventus had started Tuesday’s clash with the Premier League side having conceded only one goal in the last 16 games while Tottenham had sealed a big victory over arch rivals Arsenal on the weekend. The fact that both teams came into the game on a high led the impression that a tight game with a slight advantage was on the cards with Juve playing the first leg at home.
However, ten minutes in and Allegri’s side were already 2-0 up thanks to a brace by Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín. Now the real test came for the Spurs; crumble and fall victim of a Juve monster win or work their way back in the game and take a decent result to England for the second leg.
It was the latter as Tottenham, after dealing with the early blows, began to move the ball with speed and real purpose fifteen minutes into the game. Harry Kane got a big chance to make it 2-1 but didn’t take it. Juve were warned and a few minutes later Kane got another chance and didn’t squander it this time.
Tottenham looked to bring the 2-1 scoreline into halftime until a moment of stupidity from right-back Serge Aurier, who was the team’s worst performer, gave away a penalty. Higuaín was given the opportunity to get a hat-trick and more importantly make it 3-1 to Juve. He shot with real power but lacked precision as he hit the middle of the crossbar and bounced away.
In the second half Tottenham continued to dominate the ball and pin their opposition back and in the end got their reward. Christian Eriksen made it 2-2 from a free-kick which Gigi Buffon should’ve handled a lot better. The Dane deserved that goal as he was, alongside Moussa Dembélé, the stand-out player of the game.
The game ended 2-2, meaning Tottenham take a good result with them to the return leg in Wembley. After being knocked out in the group stages of last season’s Champions League, the North Londoners have made clear progress and will feel that they are more than capable of eliminating Juve.
🗣️ Mauricio: "I’m so pleased with the character and personality – the team deserves a lot of praise. We scored twice against a team that is always difficult to break down. We played great football."#COYS pic.twitter.com/M5L9k49Cqd
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 13, 2018
To perform like they did against a dominant force in Serie A and a club that reached the Champions League final twice in the last three years is a testament to how far Spurs have come since appointing Pochettino as their manager.
The former defender makes his teams organised defensively, yet attractive in possession which is a hard combination to instill. He has put Tottenham back on the map domestically with consecutive top-four finishes and is now making them competitive in Europe as well.
Although his media game might not be as strong as a Mourinho or a Klopp, no one can put Pochettino’s capabilities as a top quality manager into question.