Max Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino set for tasty Champions League clash

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 12 December 2017, 09:13

“I’m brave and like to play against the big teams. I loved playing against Real Madrid,” Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino told The Daily Star ahead of the Champions League round of 16 draw on Monday.

“I prefer to play against a team that will motivate everyone rather than a team people say you will beat easily. Then it gets complicated. We love to play against a big team and we always give that little bit extra which you need.”

Of course the Spurs boss was well-qualified to make such a bold statement after they topped a group that contained holders Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Perhaps the Portuguese boss was pleased then, when they pulled out of the pot to face Juventus when the draw took place at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon.

The Bianconeri were impressive indeed during 2016/17, beating Barcelona and AS Monaco on the way to a final appearance versus Real Madrid. The might of Cristiano Ronaldo and co. was ultimately too strong for Max Allegri’s men in Cardiff, but they are exactly the type of opponent that will provide the test that Pochettino seems to be craving.

While the pair have never faced each other in a competitive fixture, the bosses have met in fixtures during the last two consecutive pre-season periods. The first was a 2-1 win for Allegri in the International Champions Cup in Melbourne, with the boss having tipped his friendly adversary to go far in the Champions League this year. It was only four months ago when Juve travelled to Wembley, suffering a 2-0 defeat thanks to goals from Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane.

Honours even in their two recent friendlies then, but what can we expect when the pair face each other during the two-legged tie to be played on February 13th and March 7th? Allegri has built a superb reputation for himself since joining the Bianconeri from Milan in summer 2014, winning three each of league titles and Coppa Italia trophies as well as being runner-up in two Champions League finals.

Like Pochettino, he has tinkered with the Juventus formation during 16 league games played so far, but in the Champions League he has stuck to the winning 4-2-3-1 formation that took his side to the final last year. Since then, Juve director general Beppe Marotta has added Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich and young Italian talent Federico Bernardeschi to add to the already potent threat of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala and the hard-working Mario Mandzukic.

They too had to deal with a Spanish giant in the group stages after they were drawn alongside Barcelona, recovering from a 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou to draw 0-0 back in Turin. Perhaps such tough early tests will have made both sides stronger, and ready to battle hard when they face each other in the new year. Allegri is known for being cautious in the league, but in Europe he likes to unleash the attacking prowess of his side, making for an enthralling contest versus the equally attack-minded Tottenham boss.

“We’ve never faced Tottenham in Europe, but we faced them in a friendly this summer and lost,” said former Juventus midfielder and club Vice President Pavel Nedved. “The game is in two months, so we’ll see how it goes. They’re a solid team with a great Coach who is taking full advantage of their attacking potential.”

By the time the tie is played the transfer window will have closed and both bosses may have new players to boost their respective lineups. There’s a long way to go until the tie is played, and the managerial pair - with Allegri the elder only by four years - will be keeping an eye on each other’s progress from now until then. One thing to bear in mind is that Juve have been eliminated in the last five European knockout phase matches versus English opponents, and Pochettino is keen to make them his next big scalp in the quest for Champions League success.

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