All Stories, Match Preview Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur v Juventus Champions League Tactical Preview

March 6, 2018

The following is a guest post from Kareem Bianchi – You can follow him here on Twitter.

Fino Alla Fine. The slogan that represents Juventus and its fans, embodies a winning mentality of never giving up regardless of the circumstances because Juve always find the way to win, which is the only thing that matters. Dybala’s goal in the 93rd minute at Lazio just was further confirmation of Juve’s  endless desire to win.

Three weeks after the disappointing home result against Spurs, Juve have a second chance to seal their qualification to the next round. In London. At the historical Stadium that is Wembley.

Where did it go wrong

Injury-plagued Juventus forced Allegri to find new solutions and plan the game around an odd strategy. A return to the long-gone 4-2-3-1 (which actually was a sort of 4-3-3 with Douglas Costa at LCM) seemed a very risky move given previous performances in that shape and, as much as “schemes” mean little to nothing to the Livornese manager, last season’s system displayed multiple structural problems which played right into Tottenham’s hands.

Despite leading by two goals in the space of eight minutes after successfully exploiting Tottenham’s weaknesses (this start will be assessed later on in the piece), Pochettino’s side slowly got back into the game up to a point where it was utter domination from the visitors. They pinned Juventus back, pushing them deeper at every attack and  constantly looking like a threat whilst stopping every attempt to build-up play after having regained possession through a coordinated and well-drilled gegenpressing (a tactical concept that sees the opposition immediately press the player in possession and/or all passing options after having lost possession, in order to recover the ball once more and transition from advanced positions).


Tottenham’s gegenpressing

Thus, Juventus were forced to defend in a 4-5-1 deep block that would become a 5-4-1 whenever Mandžukić dropped into the last line, creating a back five.

Spurs’ initial 4-2-3-1 became a 2-3-5 with Eriksen dropping between or just ahead of Dembélé and Dier, to facilitate the ball circulation and disrupt Juve’s shape. The home side, usually rather compact, started to be easily manipulated, especially on the left-hand side, where Costa often left his line to press Dier, completely misjudging the timing of the press and therefore opening spaces aside Pjanić, who had to cover horizontal ground without being supported adequately by his fellow midfielders. In this particular situation Matuidi was sorely missed and his availability for the second leg certainly is relieving and will be a fundamental addition to the starting lineup.


Douglas Costa presses Dier opening space beside Pjanić

Juventus’ struggles to retain possession were perfectly summarized by their 33% ball possession. This difficulty to build-up and consolidate play was caused by an organized Tottenham pressure and pressing triggers. Pochettino’s team would allow Benatia on the ball whilst Kane positioned himself between the Morocco international and Chiellini to cut the passing lane towards the centre. Meanwhile, all passing options were marked and would be pressed aggressively whenever they received the ball.


Benatia is allowed to carry the ball whilst all the passing options are marked

Furthermore, Allegri’s experiment with Douglas Costa as an inside forward was a failure, with the Brazilian struggling to receive possession in dynamic situations in the left half-space and occupy positions to exploit his 1v1 ability (only in one situation did he manage to successfully receive and dribble, when he dribbled past Aurier and Sanchez with ease to win Juve a penalty).


What worked

Now that we’ve assessed what went wrong, it’s time to see what worked from Allegri’s plan. The initial ten minutes should be the blueprint around which the Juve gaffer should plan his strategy for the return leg. Juve started the game intensively, pressing Spurs high up the pitch in a man-oriented fashion, focusing on directing the English side’s build-up to the left in order to get Davidson Sánchez, the less adroit centre-back on the ball, to start the play; thus, forcing errors. Juve’s free-kick in the 20th second came, in fact, from a pressing situation in which Juve forced Vertonghen to play a long ball, subsequently intercepted by Pjanić.

Juve’s man-oriented pressing


Juve’s switches of play

As mentioned in the first leg’s tactical preview, Tottenham defend in a ball-oriented fashion which means that they aren’t afraid to expose their ball-far side by overloading the ball-side. Allegri built his offensive strategy strictly upon this weakness, asking his players to constantly switch play after having isolated the ball-far winger against the full-back. This pattern was key in winning the first penalty that was converted by Higuaín; in the build-up to Davies’ foul you can see how Juve switch play twice, first from Bernardeschi to Alex Sandro and then from Mandžukić to Bernardeschi. However, due to the rare possession segments the home side weren’t able to exploit this flaw more often.


Juve’s pattern focused on switching the play to the weak side


The respective gameplans

Depending on the lineups, each team could approach the game in a different way. Whilst Spurs’ eleven is perhaps the easiest between the two sides to predict, Juve’s will depend on multiple factors. Since Alderweireld has been ruled out due to injury it’s unlikely – also due to the fact that Pochettino has been using the 4-2-3-1 for some time now – that Tottenham revert to a back three, dropping Dier into the defence. The main differences depend on the left winger choice: Son or Lamela. The South Korean tends to provide width and attack depth and therefore, Davies remains in deep positions and hardly ever overlaps, making Tottenham’s shape asymmetrical with a sort of back three in possession. Lamela, on the other hand, likes to cut inside to combine with his teammates and occupy the left half-space, which allows Davies to overlap and provide width, leaving his flank exposed to counters.


Spurs’ shape with Lamela; the Argentine cuts inside whilst Davies provides width


Being at home, Spurs will likely start the game with a high-press, looking to recover possession as high up the pitch as possible and transition quickly.

Allegri could counter this approach by employing a back three, in a similar manner to the game against Lazio, where he set up his team with three centre-backs to cope with transitions better, having more central cover and an extra centre-back that could follow runs into depth; moreover, they were instructed to step out aggressively on the biancocelesti’s forwards receiving between the lines. This would allow one of Juve’s defenders to step out to follow Kane’s dropping movements as well.

Another possible strategy, and perhaps the likeliest given Mandžukić’s possible absence due to injury, Allegri could choose the same lineup that defeated Napoli at the San Paolo. A hybrid between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 (with Matuidi at left-winger) that would become a 4-5-1 out of possession. This way Juve would be able to defend the half-spaces well and shift horizontally effectively – defending Tottenham’s strong right side more effectively – thanks to Matuidi’s ability to cover horizontal ground dynamically.

The choices regarding the eleven very much depend on the approach Allegri is planning to adopt: will he decide to field the best players from the start or keep some game-changers on the bench to go all out in the last 30 minutes after having cancelled out Spurs for most of the match?


Juve’s European path is on the line…

The signs from recent games aren’t positive at all, as Juve’s defensive system has looked more fragile compared to previous seasons, despite having conceded just one goal in the last 15 Serie A outings. The midfield’s spacing often is subpar due to Khedira leaving his line to press, thus opening passing lanes and forcing Pjanić and Matuidi to cover too much ground, and only sensational defensive performances from the centre-backs have been limiting the damage.That said, if Juve want to qualify for the quarter-finals they’ll have to manipulate Tottenham’s pressing to free men behind the lines of pressure and be able to consolidate possession and switch play continuously. It won’t be easy, but if there’s a manager that can prepare the perfect strategy for a knock-out game, it’s Massimiliano Allegri.


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  • ho Hi

    Tough game.
    Guess it will be a game like in München two years ago.
    Hopefully this time a better ending.
    Guess it will be 2:1 for us. Or a crazy 4:3.
    What will happen at 0:0?

    • Dar Black

      If there is no score or its 1-1 then Spurs go through, and we will be lucky to keep them from scoring. It will take the best performance of the season to turn this one around for us. I hope we do, as I work with a Spurs fan. He does not know I am a Juventus fan and unless we win i’m not telling him either!

      • ho Hi

        Now i get it.
        Hopefully you can tell him one Thursday your colors!

      • Phantasm del Futbolista

        Have no fear! you shall come out of the closet soon. In Gigi and Dybala we Trust!

    • Phantasm del Futbolista

      That Bayern Munich was more of a team than Spurs is. What Spurs need is to be void out of possession (City game as reference)
      Or to be outplayed by Gengenspressing even better than what they can do (Liverpool as reference)

      Spurs don’t do true Gengespressing, Son and Kane don’t Press enough, as for their attack all that is needed is to cut supply to Kane, Then we only have to worry about Erikson occasional moments of brilliance here and there(That don’t happen every game).

      What will be key above all is for Higuain to take his chances and not be a 90M ghost like he usually is when it matters most. I trust Dybala will find some brilliance, and if we can get Costa on the ball more, we are golden.

  • Spurs were the better team in the first tie…and they have been far more enjoyable to watch all season. Probably last in turn. They have some superb talents, great mix of experience and youthful vigour and a manager who likes to play attacking, entertaining football.

    We drew with Spurs, were dominated by Spurs in own our back yard, not mainly due to tactical ineptitude but other more simple reasons –

    We had no answer in central midfield to Dembele. He dominated the middle of the park for 80 minutes.

    Spurs were hungrier and had much better energy levels. This is why they could press more. They were quicker, had better stamina and more eager to get to every first ball…

    Part of the latter can be explained by the average age of the Spurs squad this season around 25 and the average age of the Juve squad around 31.

    I suppose you could argue that completely avoiding any effort to dance toe to toe with Dembele was a tactical error…Marchiso could have played, even Bentancur could have been played, a 3-5-2 with Lichsteiner. he is old, and it shows but he is much more adventurous going forward than De Sciglio…

    Of course we have a chance, but Spurs are in good form, outplayed us for the majority of the game in Turin and could do so again if we make the same mistakes. I wouldnt fancy Barzagli’s legs against the currently fleet footed and in delightful form Son…If we do get through it will be by hook and crook, I would assume, yet I assume we will go out at this stage…Which is fine, as we cannot reach the final every year, and this campaign has been quite woeful in terms of building any sense of identity, rhythm, form. Questions will be asked of Max, as they should, yet we still have the league and coppa to play for. More history to make even when we are generally poor…

    • Juventino Persa

      While I agree with you mostly, for me the main difference is the coaches’ football philosophies. It’s not the average age, or physicality, stamina or Dembele’s form. Mauricio Pochettino comes from Bielsa school of the game, his philosophy is great, compare this with Allegri’s attitude:

      “Where did I get the idea we had to press? It’s about your personality, who you are. You show on the pitch who you are. If you are brave in your life, you cannot behave in a different way on the pitch.”

  • Phantasm del Futbolista

    Liverpool and ManCity have managed to get the better of Spurs this season by going toe to toe, and outplaying Spurs at their own game. With attack power like Costa, Dybala and Higuain, coupled with a midfield of Matuidi and Pjanic, there is no reason why we can’t play good attacking football and beat spurs at their own game! (if only Allegri wasn’t so Inept or grew some balls).

    Nonetheless given how injury ridden our squad was for the first tie, and how we still dominated for 10-20Minutes, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to dominate tomorrow; now with most injuries assuaged.

    However nothing is ever guaranteed with Allegri and Higuain. Allegri will have to be brave and not play super defensive, or experiment with another tactic and get outplayed, and Higuain will have to convert the Super simple chances bestowed upon him by the footballing god’s

    Looking at it on paper we are still favorites,
    We have the better Keeper and Defence (Still)
    We have a pretty equivalent midfield
    We have the better attack

    So what we need is More desire, CONCENTRATION, and to never give up! Also some good tactics by Allegri(Whom really should Resign or be fired if we lose this) will go a long way.

    • Juventino Persa

      “if only Allegri wasn’t so Inept or grew some balls”
      That’s a big if mate, a damn big if! Our main problem is Allegri’s coward approach, otherwise we could dominate almost anybody …

      • Phantasm del Futbolista

        Ha Ha, Yea…. Sadly it is more of a “Wishful thinking” type thing, however he managed to pull it off vs Barca last season, So we know it is possible.

        Jesus just imagine if we had Pochettino, or Klopp as our coach! That would be a Juve feared across the cosmos! When coupled with just our current squad.

        • Juventino Persa

          Oh Pochettino has been my favorite coach in last couple of years! He is kind of from italian family so how knows…

    • AlienInvasion

      How can you say Liverpool bested Spurs? They beat them at home an drew away. Defence; they had a lapse, won’t happen again. Midfield unless we can contain Dembele, we will be overrun. Attach; seriously we have a better attack?

      • Phantasm del Futbolista

        “seriously we have a better attack?” Hell yes we do!!! Clearly.
        Well on paper Higuain is about the same as Kane, Thogh actual form for the past year says otherwise. However Dybala is far better than Dembele and or Son, as is Costa.

        Most Delle Alli and Son goals in the EPL come from defensive errors by incompetent english defences. All Kane goals come from him being fed the ball. Kane doesnt really press or force errors or dribble past people.

        In theory we don’t commit errors, but the 2 goals spurs got in the first leg where both due to errors. We just need to be concentrated and not commit them again.

        as for the Liverpool comment i say that because I watched both games. In the Wembly game that Spurs beat Liverpool the goals where basically gifts from Lovren. That was the game where after every liverpool fan and tv pundit called for Lovren’s head. The game they drew was a robbery, That should have been a Liverpool win. Liverpool outplayed and out performed and out-thought Spurs. Spurs two equalizers came from Cheating dives “Which Spurs also tried against us in Turin, but failed) and will likley try again today, as that is the type of team they are, as Lamela and Alli are always Flopping like fishes out of water, and Kane is starting to incorporate that in his game as well.

  • E.Micallef

    We are ready to dance. Turn on the music.

  • ho Hi

    bye bye Juve.Next year. Oh wait then there is still Barzagli……….Khedira………..

  • ho Hi

    Maybe I was wrong!!

  • Xx RForcE xX

    go through with such a terrible play .lol

    • E.Micallef

      We don’t care!!! 🙂

      • Xx RForcE xX

        tbh im really fed up from this pragmatic shit, unwatchable

        • Juventino Persa

          yah, man! Allegri is the luckiest coach on planet earth!! It was like watching Getafe playing Barça at Camp Nou! Pathetic display by Juve! We are gonna get embarrassed by big sharks like Bayern, Madrid, Barça, if we play like this!

          • E.Micallef

            To say the truth Allegri was unlucky to lose all the players but still we win. And don’t talk about preparation. Teams play too much football these days. PSG spend millions hundreds of them and they got demolished by Real.

            I am not a fan of Allegri tactics but two finals and a quarter in four seasons speak loudly of him.

          • Juventino Persa

            And losing both of those finals 1-3 and 1-4 speaks even louder of him!

          • E.Micallef

            Come on they were better sides against us. It remains the fact he was able to beat real and Barca few can do it.

          • E.Micallef

            And 3 scudetti and 3 coppa italia

  • E.Micallef

    You’re too much down this year. I told you we will get through. 5 games to go

  • ho Hi

    amazing,now please barca or real

  • dinodelfino

    Juve grinta!!!! Amazing result,yessssssss!!!!


    • E.Micallef

      Today we were with half the players barely staying on feet Higuain dybala benatia. We won on a pitch nobody not even real have done it. BTW we are the only club who eliminated Madrid in these last 3 years. We march on forever ready for the next battle. Meanwhile we can top the league as well

      • Dar Black

        We won ugly though. We are throwing our old troopers in front of the ball in desperation. It’s not pretty, and not nice to see us being described as ‘poor’ by the press and folks who have not watched us regularly. You think that team / performance would be enough against Real this season? Defeat is coming in the UCL, it’s not if but when. We were very lucky tonight.

        • E.Micallef

          We played against a side that won against Madrid let’s not forget!!

          • Xx RForcE xX

            Madrid were in deep shits back then, lets not forget.

          • E.Micallef

            Madrid are never in shit when we talk champions league. Also we lost every attacking player plus Matuidi in the last month. We are in shit my friend

  • Jas

    What a game, I could feel my heart beat faster with every second whining down on the clock. In no way did I actually believe we’d progress in this tie, especially after the first goal. The team looked old, tired, uninterested, without any ideas whatsoever! The only spark on the field before the shift was Douglas Costa, my god is he fast… wow!! We almost won a game that the players had no interest in, it was almost as if they were saving themselves for a bigger team, subconsciously knowing they’d progress. In a blink of an eye the whole game changed, Tottenham looked absolutely stunned in a span of two minutes. Hats of to Allegri as he pulled a rabid out of the hat, no way was anyone really expecting Asamoah and Lichsteiner to have that big of an impact. This is part of the bigger problem, there is so many injures that there was literally no other offensive player on the bench. The defense deserves all the credit here, Giorgio should wear the superman cape next time he plays! I am so glad Rugani and Caldara will have a chance to learn from one of the best ever! The midfield was great not by any means, Khedira and Mautidi were usually out of position and very late on tackles. Pjanic looked cluelees for most of the game as Spurs kept pressing up high. The pundits can say what they want but it would’ve been cruel for us to be eliminated on a non penalty call and a harry kane goal that was way off-side. As Chiellini said, we learn we grow we adapt and we push even higher! Third time is the charm!! If we can have a healthy squad for the next round, I am not afraid of anyone honestly.

  • What we could accomplish if we had a decent midfield again. A gaping hole last night, no direction, no linkup going forward.
    The attack looks set, the defence has the experience and the smarts, but in the centre, Pjanic aside, we are woeful.

    • Jas

      We sacrificed midfield for attack, still lacking a balance in my opinion. Can would be a great upgrade of Khedira if we get him, Spinazzola on the right side over De Sciglio is also an upgrade. Throw in Caldara in Barzagli’s place and we look very very solid.