TURIN, Italy — Three thoughts on Juventus and Tottenham’s 2-2 draw in the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg.
1. Tottenham comeback stuns Juventus
Tottenham displayed resilience, fighting spirit and nerve to salvage a 2-2 draw against Juventus after going 2-0 down inside nine minutes. It was a night when Spurs were forced to answer big questions against genuine European heavyweights, but Mauricio Pochettino’s team did not come up short.
Having looked as though they were heading for a potentially decisive first-leg defeat, Spurs fought back to overcome the experience of Juve and claim the draw that leaves next month’s return game at Wembley perfectly poised.
There were obvious flaws in Tottenham’s performance, particularly from a defensive perspective, but Pochettino’s team also forced Juventus into uncharacteristic mistakes. The Serie champions went into this fixture having conceded just once in their last 15 games, and not at all in 2018, but Gianluigi Buffon was exposed twice, with both Tottenham goals down to the Italian legend’s fading reflexes.
Big misses by Gonzalo Higuain following his two early goals left Juve vulnerable to Tottenham’s comeback, which was built upon Harry Kane’s first-half strike and a 71st-minute free kick by Christian Eriksen.
At 2-2, Spurs go into the second leg as slight favourites, but Juve could have Paulo Dybala back in contention after injury and last season’s Champions League finalists also have the nous and experience to make it a very uncomfortable night for Pochettino’s young side.
2. Mixed fortunes for Kane, Higuain in battle of the strikers
It was a tough night for Gonzalo Higuain and Harry Kane, despite both strikers netting crucial goals for their teams. That’s because, rather than being a story of the goals they scored, this game was ultimately about the chances they missed.
Higuain, Juventus’s €90m centre-forward, made a dream start by scoring a stunning second-minute volley before beating Hugo Lloris from the penalty spot seven minutes later. But the Argentina international has a reputation for missing big chances in big games and it proved to be the case once again as he twice failed to put Spurs out of the tie.
On 30 minutes, Higuain missed a golden chance to make it 3-0 after being given a clear shot on goal following a Juve counter-attack. And on the stroke of half-time, he smashed a second penalty against the crossbar after Serge Aurier had fouled Douglas Costa.
It remains to be seen just how costly those misses will prove to be, but the same sentiment could be attached to Kane who, with Spurs trailing 2-0, headed straight into Buffon’s arms while unmarked on 26 minutes.
It was an uncharacteristic miss from a forward of such calibre, but Kane redeemed himself five minutes later by rounding the Juventus keeper to score from a tight angle.
Both Higuain and Kane are world-class strikers, but the Champions League sorts of the best from the very best and the latter take their chances when they come along.
3. Spurs must address defensive concerns
After the shortcomings of his back four cost his team dearly in Turin, Mauricio Pochettino will need to find a way to stiffen Tottenham’s defence for the tie’s second leg at Wembley on March 7. Indeed, it may even be worth the Spurs manager reverting to a back three if Toby Alderweireld is fit following his lengthy hamstring injury layoff.
That’s because one thing clearly evident on Tuesday was that Pochettino’s full-backs aren’t good enough at the highest level and Davinson Sanchez’s inexperience leads to mistakes against teams of Juventus’ quality.
The home side’s opener, which came after fewer than 90 seconds, stemmed from a rash clearance by Jan Vertonghen that led to a free kick from which the unmarked Higuain scored. Seven minutes later it was 2-0 after Ben Davies gave away a penalty with a reckless challenge on Federico Bernardeschi.
Davies’ indiscretion was bad, but Serge Aurier committed an even more thoughtless challenge on Douglas Costa in first-half stoppage time. It resulted in another penalty that, fortunately for Spurs, was missed by Higuain.
Pochettino needs sharper thinking and more resolute defending in the return game, although Aurier’s booking, which means he will be suspended, is a positive as the French right-back can be a liability. Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier are all available; their manager must find a way to fit them in.