Two goals down to Juventus in Turin in a first-ever meeting would have cowed any great team not to talk of a fledgling Spurs team with an average age of 26. But Spurs regrouped and at the end of 90 minutes, it was the Juventus team hanging on to the 2-2 draw.
Juventus had not conceded in 2018, but Spurs found a way led by the irrepressible Harry Kane, the midfield wizardry of Christian Eriksen, combined with the muscle and guile of Mousa Dembele. And we can add they were lucky because Gonzalo Higuain missed a penalty for the first time in three years – if he had scored, Spurs would have gone into the interval 3-1 down, and almost out.
Juventus manager, Max Allegri, believes the expectations of killing off the two-legged tie in Turin were because most people underrated the London team.
“Juventus play to win the Champions League but we are not the favourites to win it. And it’s impossible to reach the final every year.
“We still have a good chance to qualify in London, but it’s totally crazy to think that Juventus has to win 3-0 in the round of 16 in the Champions League.
“It’s something that makes me crazy because you aren’t able to analyse how good teams are in the Champions League. I cannot accept that people think this 2-2 result against Tottenham can make us depressed,” Allegri added.
Meanwhile, Pochettino heaped praises on Eriksen, who scored the equaliser direct from a free kick in the second half. “I think Christian [Eriksen] had an amazing game. He was outstanding. He was fantastic.
“Christian always steps up and I think he’s this type of player who represents our philosophy. He’s a player who links the team and he was fantastic. The team was great, but he was fantastic,” Pochettino emphasised.
So what gave Spurs the belief to dominate in Turin?
Having played Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool in their last five matches, not losing any of these was the ideal preparation for this epic encounter. Against Liverpool, Kane equalised in the last minute. Against Arsenal they won 1-0 whilst against Manchester United, they almost totally dominated, winning 2-0.
Players coming of age
Of the five players that had the best ratings for the match; Spurs had three – Kane, Eriksen, and the Belgian powerhouse, Dembele. The Belgian is now proving what many had predicted of him – the ability to run and control the midfield against any opposition. He completed 95% of his passes; dribbled past Juventus players six times, and made four tackles with 116 touches of the ball. At 30-years, Dembele has come of age. Eriksen’s goal was the icing on the Spurs cake – his first in the tournament since scoring for Ajax in a 3-1 win against Manchester City on October 24, 2012. Kane’s burgeoning goal poaching ability continues to grow – he has scored 33 goals in 34 matches this season and could have had a brace if not for a super save by Gianluigi Buffon. Pochettino said the comeback was a testament to his team’s maturity.
“We are more mature. We were talking in the last few weeks that the team is growing, stepping up in this aspect. Today is a very good example that the team is more mature.”
Allegri could not call on the energy of Blaise Matuidi in midfield and the genius and wizardry of Paulo Dybala in the attack. He was also shorn of the pace of Juan Cuadrado down the flanks so the 2-2 draw was not a disaster, even though many have asked how an Italian, especially one as experienced as Juventus, did not take the sting out of the match after going up by two goals in the first 10 minutes. Allegri is not giving up just yet as he has promised to play the second leg like a ‘final’. “We are ready to play a final in London [in the second leg]. We started very well but then we struggled to keep the ball. After their second goal, however, we were the more dangerous side. If somebody thought that we should have won 4-0 tonight, I think it’s only because we have spoiled them in recent years. The Champions League is very difficult this season and it will be even more so next season.”
No matter the conclusions, Spurs remain unbeaten in this season’s Champions League, having travelled to Madrid to face Real Madrid; to Dortmund to face Borussia Dortmund and now to Turin to face mighty Juventus. So who else is there?