All Stories, Match Preview Champions League

Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur – Tactical Preview

February 12, 2018

February 22nd, 67th minute, on a mild winter night in Porto, Marko Pjaca, Juve’s exciting summer signing, who’s impressed thousands of fans throughout Euro 2016, steps onto the pitch to replace Juan Cuadrado. Five minutes later, the young Croatian talent pounces on a loose ball, and suddenly, in a match whose score seemed unlikely to be unlocked anytime soon, despite the utmost dominance by the away team, Juventus lead 1-0. From that point on, the Turin side plays with a different flow, with a sort of relief, and with the first Champions League knock-out game ending goalless being just a memory, Dani Alves goes on to score the second goal of the game.

356 days later, Juve are once again in the Champions League round of 16, striving to win the elusive trophy. In this campaign, fate has put Tottenham on Juventus’ path to success.

This year’s encounter is perhaps a meeting between two opposites: on one side, stands the experienced, successful and glorious club that is Juventus, whilst on the furthermost end sits Tottenham, a young, ambitious side, riding the wave of enthusiasm that has seen them, against all odds, reach the knock-out stages as first placed in a group featuring Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

Despite an unusually poor start to the season, Spurs are currently fourth in the Premier League (two points ahead of their London rivals Chelsea, who have a game in hand), well and truly in the race for a top four finish.

Allegri v Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino and Massimiliano Allegri are similar managers, primarily for their flexibility. As football develops, rigid formations are slowly becoming less popular whilst focusing on the player’s characteristics, principles of play and tactical flexibility typifies the nouvelle vague of coaches. The Spurs gaffer has shown remarkable flexibility throughout the last couple of years, which includes a vast selection of fluid “systems” (Tottenham have used 3-4-2-1, 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2 and 4-2-3-1 this season) and nous to adapt players to different roles, much like Allegri.

Since his early managerial days, Pochettino has always relied on a high-pressing game and in general, rigid concepts in possession and a very aggressive style off the ball; this allowed his teams to regain possession after having drawn opponents to the touchline and cutting off passing options. After all, “the touchline is the best defender in the world”, as Pep Guardiola once said. Recently, though, the Murphy native has changed his strategy, completely abandoning every rigid concept and adopting a more adaptable method to the specific situation in favor of a more passive defensive shape which looks to keep the lines compact at a high/mid-height.

Tottenham’s mid-block. The defenders’ body shape shows that they’re ready to step out if a player receives between the lines or on the wings and follow a run into depth.

Tottenham’s use of the half-spaces

The half-spaces are a very valuable asset in Pochettino’s strategy and in football as a whole, as they’re notoriously hard to defend and can create confusion in the opposition backline on who should step out. Usually the best way to counter a team that use this zone of the pitch is with a back 3, which allows a centre-back to vacate their position and mark the receiver in the half-space, without leaving exposable gaps as two defenders remain in the centre.

As aforementioned, Tottenham make vast use of the half-spaces, especially with Eriksen and Davies, who are customary to use them as crossing positions, helped by well-timed runs into the box. This crossing prowess has made the North London club a threat from set-pieces, as well as the 10 goals from “set-piece play” go to show.

Tottenham’s use of the half-space when crossing

In their attacking play, Spurs frequently use quick combinations between the lines with Eriksen, who, from his starting position at right wing, on paper, cuts inside and occupies the right half-space and basically acts as an inside forward, alongside Dele Alli, overloading the centre and thus narrowing the opposition’s shape to exploit the wings via Trippier and Son’s runs into depth.

Tottenham’s forwards tend to interchange positions fluidly, in order to reduce the opposition’s reference points and facilitate progression; Eriksen often drops into midfield to organize the play; Kane roams in the final third to combine and his dropping movements draw centre-backs out of position, creating space for his teammates’ runs which he meets with pinpoint passes; Son provides width on the right-hand side and Alli, the raumdeuter, (a player with great special intelligence and reading of the play adept at locating pockets of space in the attacking third to run into) positions himself between the lines to receive and attack the goal – a situation in which Alli becomes a serious  threat, thanks to his great ball carrying ability. Furthermore, Dier assists the build up by positioning himself between the two centre-backs, who then spread out, a tactical concept known as “Salida Lavolpiana”, and the physically imposing and adroit dribbler Dembele waltzes through the midfield.

Spurs’ asymmetric shape against Arsenal: Eriksen cuts inside from his initial right-wing position, Trippier and Son provide width and Davies rarely sporadically underlaps in order not to further expose the team to counters (via @11tegen11)


How to defend against Tottenham

If there’s a defensive system that can stop Tottenham’s attack, it’s Juventus’. Allegri’s side has only conceded one goal in their last sixteen outings and just 5.27 expected goals in 11 Serie A games, displaying an excellent organization off the ball after a slow start to the season. This rediscovered  solidity at the back, is ascribable to the additions to the starting lineup of: Matuidi, whose ability to cover the entire width of the pitch dynamically has been crucial to Juve and Benatia, who, injury-free, has been able to play and perform consistently, adding physicality, speed and dominance in individual duels against forwards.

When Juve faced teams that make the half-spaces their bread and butter, such as Napoli, for example, even if with different purposes to Tottenham – Napoli’s occupation of half-spaces has the objective of manipulating the centre-backs into stepping out to attack the vacated space with third man runs – they defended in a compact 4-4-2/4-5-1, focused on cutting passing lanes into central areas and thus forcing the opposition into a horizontal circulation, making them unable to create positional superiority. Against Tottenham it’s likely for Juventus to use a 4-5-1 deep block out of possession, in order to shift from one side to the other effectively whilst covering the half-spaces.

Arsenal’s 4-5-1 allowed them to defend width and the centre in numerical superiority whilst congesting space between the lines

Tottenham’s centre-backs are all competent at carrying the ball past opponents and finding teammates behind the lines of pressure with precise passes. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are, after all, Ajax youth products, a club that historically trains youngsters to build up from the back, and even when under intense pressure they’re capable of picking out Harry Kane who acts as the target man and the key to progression. In this respect, Alderweireld’s absence shouldn’t be underestimated, as Sanchez, another Ajax youth product, isn’t as skilled on the ball as his Belgian partners.

Juve could therefore target Sanchez, trying to force errors from the Colombian by directing the build-up towards him and closing down his passing options.

Finally, Harry Kane, the deadly striker who’s outscored Messi and Ronaldo in 2017, will have to be carefully marked by Chiellini and Benatia, who will have to alternate anticipating movements, in order not to allow the Englishman to turn, to depth cover.


Juve’s attacking strategy

When Juve face a team in Serie A, they usually have to dismantle a deep block. Managers know the risk of taking the game to Juventus (Sassuolo’s 7-0 defeat was the proof), so they prefer to embrace a more defensive approach, merely focusing on closing down spaces and ready to sporadically hit on the counter. Therefore, Allegri’s team usually tries to switch the play from one side to the other, awaiting the first gap to open and clinically take advantage of it. However, Allegri’s notorious for his ability to sew the right tactical dress for his teams, taking into consideration the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses; thus, if the home side were to set up in a deep block to nullify Tottenham’s offensive weapons, then a player that was very useful in the Bianconeri’s win over Napoli back in December, Douglas Costa, would definitely come in handy.

Juve’s players aren’t suited to a counter-attacking style, as demonstrated multiple times this season, but Douglas Costa’s ability to carry the ball and dribble past opponents with ease could prove to be key if Madama wants to progress to the quarter-finals.

Douglas Costa’s ball carrying against Napoli

Due to the nature of Spurs’ asymmetric shape, with Trippier constantly overlapping and leaving his flank exposed to counters, Allegri could field Costa on the left to exploit the vacated space and Mandzukic as an outlet on the opposite wing to use his aerial prowess as a tool to evade the press and as a target of the Brazilian winger’s crosses.

Tottenham’s defence

Tottenham defend in a vertically compact 4-4-2 high/mid-block that shifts as a unit based on the ball’s position and tries to prevent play from progressing up the middle, thus enticing the opponents into long-balls which the high defensive line deals with easily, thanks to Davidson Sanchez’s speed.

Tottenham’s ball-oriented 4-4-2 mid-block against Arsenal

Pochettino also likes to adapt his defensive structure to the opposition’s weaknesses with slight adjustments, such as pressing triggers; it wouldn’t be a surprise if Spurs were to press Juve’s midfielders and goalkeeper following a back-pass or if the wide players stepped out aggressively when the full-backs and wingers received possession . On the other hand, if the North London side played a counter-attacking game, defending more statically, keeping in mind that the return leg is at Wembley, the Bianconeri’s ball circulation would have to be fast to overload the strong side and thus create a 1v1 situation on the opposite wing, whilst slowly pushing Tottenham deep into their own half; a situation during which the English side struggle, due to the instinctive nature of their defenders, prone to errors and misjudgments when defending their penalty box.


This goal represents all that’s wrong in Spurs’ penalty box defending

Important absences

Both teams are missing important players, absences that could weigh negatively on the final result. Juventus will have to do without Matuidi, whose work-rate and dynamicity allow him to cover holes in the structure, leaving Allegri with some concerns. This will seemingly force him to field a player with similar characteristics to the Frenchman in Sturaro, or a less dynamic, yet still a good ball winner and technically competent midfielder like Bentancur. Dybala won’t be available either, and whilst his exclusion is less costly than Matuidi’s the Argentine’s ability to receive between the lines would have been a very useful tool.

Experience vs. Enthusiasm. What awaits both teams and the respective fans is an awe-inspiring Champions League night that will see two chameleon-like managers face off against each other. A must-watch for all lovers of the beautiful game.

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  • RequiemForTheUnderdog

    I think we can confidently win tomorrow

  • Juventino Persa

    I have adored Pochettino’s dynamic and highly energetic approach to the game, and his youth development in recent years. I can’t hide that I’d love to see him one day at Juve! Tottenham are aggressive, bold and high-pressing, really dangerous specially that we don’t have Matuidi’s exceptional work rate and physicality. But if there is a team out there how can beat this type of young, energetic teams, that’s Juve! Forza Juve!

  • I was a little lost with this reference –

    ‘Allegri’s side has only conceded one goal in their last sixteen outings and just 5.27 expected goals in 11 Serie A games,’
    What does it mean? Someone please explain!

    Spur’s main tactic is to get the ball to Kane. Keep him shackled and its more than half the game won…A tricky job as he is very mobile, intelligent, pacier than many think, can shoot from close or far with either foot and has passing ability almost as unerringly perfect as his shooting.

    Sturaro to play ahead of Marchisio? Nothing surprises me anymore, but this would be madness. Whilst Stefano was competent in a box to box role at RCM a few years back, since then he has been played all over the field, lost his form, his focus, and has looked a shell of the player he once was, for at least two terms now. Marchisio has the experience, the guile and the discipline. If he is fit, I suspect he will get the nod.

    • Xx RForcE xX

      well, tottenham was miles ahead of us since 10th minute.

      • No surprise to me whatsoever. We showed zero understanding of the very obvious strengths of Spurs in CM of Dembele and the elfman. Had virtually no penetration on the flanks or through the middle. kept ten players behind the ball from 20 minutes onwards and…higuain reminded us all why he has a reputation of bottling chances at the highest level.

        COuld still go through as Spurs defence is far from great but not if we play with no central midfield. Dembele is not the kind of player to simply leave alone and hope he stays quiet…especially with the elfman nearby. They dominated us for most the game from that area of the field. Pjanic and Khedira were woeful, nonexistent.

        Still, no surprise as despite the defensive record championed by some, from what I have seen we have been far from solid, or anywhere near settled form. If any team deserved to win it was Spurs, not us.

  • Juventino Persa

    A team who defends with 11 player at minute 10 of a two leg tie, at home, do not deserve going through to quarter final of CL.
    Embarrassing performance by Juve, typical Allegri’s coward, passive, parking the bus approach! I am really fed up with this sh*t! Minute 10 sitting deep and defending with whole team, minute 40 whole team defending. Minute 70 2-2 at home, and still all defending! Really tired seeing cowardliness of Allegri’s. It’s embarrassing! I hope Pochettino was our coach!

  • Jas

    The score is not relevant, lots to be optimistic about guys. We were up 2-0 at one point, without dybala and matuidi! The return match will be one hell of a spectacle, no fear boys. As with everything else, Juventus starts of very slow in new situations. I have a feeling allegri will pick this team apart return match.

    • Xx RForcE xX

      we played at home mate, well hard to say “we played”.we parked the bus at home like loosers.

    • Juventino Persa

      “The score is not relevant” yah that beautiful style of football is relevant, 33% position at home and defending with the whole team at 2-2 at home is relevant. Dude we just parked the bus! are u high?

      • Jas

        Neither of totthenhams goals were impressive mate, wtf was Buffon doing vs Kane? Way out of character! Second goal was also pretty stupid, the defense completely fell asleep on a set piece. This notion that having possession means you played better is beyond foolish. Football is a game of chess, given where we stood in the first half I am actually overly confident of progression. With Dybala and Matuidi back, it will be easy breezy. Khedira is only good in Serie A and let’s keep him there, no clue why Sturaro is still on the books. Again, people forget it’s a two legged playoff, RBI’s was great to feel the opponent out but in London it’s game over for the spurs.

        • RequiemForTheUnderdog

          I too have confidence in progressing 100% and i Too think Spurs are being Overglorified, However, With Allegri and his madness in charge…WHO KNOWS! Today is the type of games where i wish we could just sack him!!!

          We go 2-0 up in 10 minutes and then just park the bus??? FUCKING EMBARRASSING! and then Higuain with his Usual Horrible finishing when it counts the most.

          • Juventino Persa

            I won’t blame players – aside from that static piece of wood, Khedira – for the game, it’s the coach’s approach of 10 minutes of playing bold football, 80 minutes of parking the bus. Higuain scored two, and lost two chances, he was never our penalty taker, I’d rather see Pjanic taking it. Penalty is all about mentality and El pipita is sensitive and a bit nervous.
            The main problem is as Arrigo Sacchi had said many times, Juve play 10-20 minutes of football then sit deep and just sleep. And you are never gonna win CL like this. The worst thing is actually we can play football and once we dare to be bold for 90 minutes we can beat anybody in the world, but that Allegri ….

          • Jas

            Completely agree on all points, there is no reason Higguain should be taking penalties. Even the way he takes them scares the life out of me as he’s not sure which way to go half the time. I have to say Douglas Costa is an absolute beast, omg is he fast. He single handedly terrorized tottenhams defense all game. Even looking at the highlights, Juventus had way better and way more chances. Yes the spurs had the ball but outside of Kanes header and curler, they really didn’t have anything else for 90 minutes. The defense was super shaky and way out of character too. You can’t expect them to play this poorly in the return leg. Looking at the post game interview, you can see a distress Chiellini walking down the tunnel shaking his head the whole time. Great motivation heading in to London, fino alla fine.

  • Xx RForcE xX

    Joke-ntus, i wonder where did our players go from 10th minute.If it was due to Allegri’s tactic, then fuck this coward, sack him straight away, god damn.Fucking disgrace, dishonor etc.This kind of play is no fucking worth of this team.We probably play the worst football since i support this club(1995), totaly unwatchable shit.Fuck this kind of play.

  • Sebastián Quiceno

    The silver lining is Juve have a knack for bringing those who score against us. So we can hope to get both Eriksen and Kane

    • No chance we could get Kane or the elfman, Seb…I have long been an admired of The Great Dane, yet as with Kane, we simply would not be able to afford him. Both are two of a small handful of PL players I would gladly see at Juve as they would clearly improve upon what we have. Dembele is the other. Definitely one of the strongest holding midfielders in Europe, so happy to see him recover his form after injury issues. An absolute beast with great feet on the ball for a big man. Everything we lack in midfield you find in him…

      • Sebastián Quiceno

        Yeah i don´t expect them to come either it is sarcasm. I am in the camp that you don´t need THE MOST quality, expensive, or sought after players to win, but that we need a phalanx of warriors, champions, hungry for glory, and winning mentality.

        Sometimes I think we should go back to Roman empire´s time when gladiators fought for their lives. Sometimes it seems having their lives on the line may be the only chance players take seriously their profession.

        Today the team showed ZERO game control ability. Vidal fucked up leaving us “To win UCL” with Bayern, he though being bandwagon jumper would guarantee him a title. Both Juve and him fucked up badly.

        Yes Dembele or any Holding mid would vastly improve this team but with such weak mentality and inability to imposie authority even with Dembelé this team will fail again.

        If Max doesn´t change transmit greatness and mental strength to this team ASAP he must leave ASAP.

    • Juventino Persa

      Your points are spot on my friend:
      – We need 11 players behind the ball to be able to defend.
      – We need players aged 30+ to have a mental/experience edge

      The worst thing is actually we can play football and once we dare to be bold for 90 minutes we can beat anybody in the world, but that Allegri ….

  • Sebastián Quiceno

    Fun fact Higuaín could have scored the fastest hat trick in UCL history, It seems he double guessed himself not picking a corner of the net. Lloris read it like an open book.