Max Allegri vs Mauricio Pochettino: Post match reactionby Chloe Beresford / 14 February 2018, 09:28Tweet
It looked like it was all over before it had even begun...
A brace inside the opening nine minutes for Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain made it seem like Tottenham Hotspur had been all-but knocked out of the Champions League by a side that do not make a habit of conceding at home.
However Juve were made to pay for a missed penalty by two-goal hero Higuain, Spurs then mounting an unlikely fightback to take a 2-2 draw and two away goals back to Wembley for the return leg in March.
Tottenham’s first goal – scored by none other than Harry Kane – was the first the Bianconeri had conceded in 696 minutes of action, Juventus letting in two at home in the Champions League for the first time since February 2016.
Such a topsy-curvy encounter was one that left the neutral enthralled, but one that will leave Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino feeling proud of such spirit from his players and his opposite number Max Allegri to ponder where he went wrong.
For the second game in a row, Juventus recorded an uncharacteristically low rate of possession. Usually recording an average of 56.4% with an 86.7% success rate, Allegri’s men kept the ball for only 38% of the time versus Fiorentina on Friday night. A young Viola side were not able to capitalise on their domination of the ball, a vastly more experienced Juve eventually coming out 2-0 winners due to their attacking prowess.
However, Pochettino was not about to let his opponent off with such little of the play, Tottenham brilliantly recovering from such a crushing early setback to press high up the pitch and dominate Juve like few teams in Serie A could. This time out the Bianconeri achieved just 33% possession in a stadium where they are usually so dominant, begging the question of why they put in such an uncharacteristic performance.
The absence of Blaise Matuidi was certainly a crushing blow for Max Allegri, with the tactician forced to deploy winger Federico Bernardeschi in a fluid role between midfield and attack. This left the middle of the park woefully exposed, with Miralem Pjanic forced to do the job of three men at times as the woefully past-it Sami Khedira was worse than useless at his side.
A former World Cup winner he may be, but Khedira made just 13 passes in 65 minutes played, finding a team-mate with just 53.9% of those attempts. Bernardeschi didn’t fare much better either with only 20 passes in the full 90 minutes, leaving Pjanic to run the midfield by himself. If you compare this to the Spurs midfield duo of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier, you can see exactly how Pochettino managed to orchestrate his side back into the match.
Dembele connected with 95% of his 99 passes, Dier too achieving an 88.9% success rate from 81 attempts. All this showed that the Spurs players were faithful to what Pochettino promised before the match, displaying “aggression, bravery and a desire to win” just like he said. Perhaps the performance will have given his Italian counterpart some food for thought before the second leg, but Allegri’s comments indicate that he still believes the Old Lady can triumph at Wembley.
“It’s a pity we didn’t win, but we have everything it takes to progress to the quarter-finals,” said the Bianconeri boss in his post-match press conference.
“Tottenham are a very physical and technical team. Apart from one Buffon save, they didn’t have any real chances. We lost the ball playing it out of defence and conceded.”
If it weren’t for a missed penalty from Higuain and an uncharacteristic mistake from legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, we could have been talking about an entirely different outcome. But Juve will have Matuidi and indeed star forward Paulo Dybala fit for their trip to London next month and Mauricio Pochettino will have to be on top of his game if he is to overcome last year’s finalists in the second leg.