Reigning Serie A champions Juventus move on to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League via a 4-3 aggregate score after defeating Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Their second leg 2-1 victory saw Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala on target in the second half for the Bianconeri, after Heung-Min Son had fired Spurs ahead in the opening half.
We’ll now discuss three talking points in the game. Son fast becoming a vital piece in Mauricio Pochettino’s attack, the starting shape of Juventus that gave them more muscle in midfield and Massimiliano Allegri’s change in formation that led to their equaliser and winner.
How did you celebrate, Juve fans? pic.twitter.com/wtq4f94htK
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 7, 2018
Heung-Min Son shines for Spurs
In a historic night at Wembley, Tottenham came out firing on all cylinders in the opening half. Juventus needed a goal coming into the second leg. They trailed Spurs in the tie via the away goals rule and the Bianconeri put bodies forward, whether in attacking or defending. The visitors pressed to stifle Tottenham’s build-up play with moderate success but as Moussa Dembele and Christian Eriksen adjusted to Juve’s approach, it allowed Spurs to get more players into promising areas that the Juve midfield had left behind.
Harry Kane renewed his rivalry with Giorgio Chiellini, Dele Alli huffed and puffed as usual and Eriksen plainly orchestrated in the middle, but Spurs concentrated their attack on the left-hand side through the in-form Heung-min Son.
The South Korean forward developed into an integral part of the Spurs attack this season with 15 goals to his name. Picked ahead of the fit again Erik Lamela in the starting eleven, Son pierced through the visitors’ right-hand side with extreme prejudice. Son caused serious problems for the returning Andrea Barzagli who played as the right centreback of the Juve backthree.
With the attack-minded Douglas Costa playing as an auxiliary right wing-back, Barzagli had little cover against the South Korean international. Costa did not religiously track back, as expected, and Son exposed the 36-year-old legs of Barzagli especially in the opening half. The splendid attacking display of Spurs resulted in a goal with Son a deserving one to get on the scoresheet.
🗣️ "We can be proud."
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 8, 2018
At one point, Barzagli roughed up the forward, but it didn’t stop Son from getting the better of the Italian defender. The Bianconeri soon adjusted via giving Barzagli added cover from the middle, especially from Blaise Matuidi, which brings us to the next point.
Juventus shape crucial in wrestling some midfield control back
The Bianconeri are a dynamic team. Allegri’s side prove more than adept either in a backfour or in a backthree, depending on the opposition. In the first leg, Juventus lined up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 with Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic the only natural defensive covers for the back four. The switch to a backthree then allowed Allegri to put an extra man in midfield, in the person of Matuidi, who missed the first leg through injury.
As a result, Juventus improved their possession statistics from the first leg. While they only had 33% possession in the first leg, the second leg saw them get 45%. Matuidi’s presence in the central axis gave Juventus more stability. The French international bases his game on a relentless industry to press and track back when defending. He provided help for Khedira, especially in pressing the Tottenham midfield. It allowed Juventus to compete better against Dembele and Eric Dier in the middle of the park.
Allegri makes superb tactical change to turn tie on its head
Allegri decided to stick with his formation and personnel after the restart. However, Tottenham continued to dominate with Son still getting the better of Barzagli. The Juventus boss then made a couple of decisions that ultimately turned the tie on its head.
At around the hour mark, The former Milan manager introduced Kwadwo Asamoah for Matuidi. A pacy wingback, Asamoah slotted in on the lefthand side while Alex Sandro moved further forward. After that, he substituted centreback Mehdi Benatia for Stephan Lichtsteiner. Juventus changed into a fluid 4-4-2/4-3-3 in defence and allowed Barzagli to slot into a centreback partnership with Chiellini. As a result, Barzagli didn’t have to constantly deal with Son who had completely overrun him up to that point.
Allegri "We have to always remember that it's the players who win the games. This team is having an extraordinary year so far & I am proud to coach this group." pic.twitter.com/CIzXoaOr24
— Tarek Khatib (@ADP1113) March 7, 2018
But apart from the defensive advantage the formation change gave, it also allowed Juventus to maximise their attacking width. It horizontally stretched the Spurs defence and the impact was immediate. First, Lichtsteiner bombed forward and whipped in the cross that led to Higuain goal. Second, as Tottenham turned their attention to Juve’s flanks, the Bianconeri sliced Spurs open through the centre. Higuain threaded Dybala through on goal and La Joya finished calmly past Lloris.
After taking the lead, Juventus then tightened up in defence. Pjanic and Khedira stayed positionally disciplined in the central axis and even Costa tracked back. Chiellini thwarted every Tottenham attack, most crucially sliding in on a last-ditch tackle to deny Kane an easy tap-in.
The Bianconeri also turned the tempo of the match down to waste as much time as possible. Allegri introduced Stefano Sturaro for Higuain in order to shore up the midfield even further. Lastly, Juventus used their big-game experience to yet again advance into the deep stages of Europe’s premier club competition.