Allegri's tactical masterstroke sparks Juve comeback in win for the ages
LONDON -- Here are three quick thoughts from Juventus' 2-1 comeback win over Tottenham on Wednesday at Wembley, which sees the Italian champions move on to the Champions League quarterfinals courtesy of a 4-3 aggregate victory.
1. Juventus win fine tie over Spurs
It presumably won't be of any consolation to Tottenham that they contributed to one of the finest Champions League ties we'll see this season. Tell any of them, "Well done, you entertained us," and you will probably get quite a sharp response.
Entertain us they did, but it's Juventus who will progress. Rapid goals from Gonzalo Higuain and the brilliant Paulo Dybala gave the Italians a 2-1 win on the night, 4-3 on aggregate, after Son Heung-Min put Spurs ahead in the first half.
The tension inside Wembley was remarkable from the opening exchanges to the last seconds of added time. At the end, the visitors celebrated as if they had won the trophy -- and rightly so.
The game started at a fearsome pace. Three penalties could easily have been awarded inside the first 20 minutes: two for Tottenham, which were touch and go (though a handball from Giorgio Chiellini looked reasonably clear), but the Juventus players were incandescent when Jan Vertonghen tripped the lightning-quick Douglas Costa, with good reason. It was extraordinary that the additional official, standing behind the goal line and no more than 10 yards away with nothing in his sightline, didn't spot the foul.
Harry Kane had the best chance of the opening exchanges, flexing Chiellini aside, rounding Gianluigi Buffon but scuppered by the narrow angle. Beyond that, it was a slightly uncoordinated and frantic match, with neither side really exerting much control, which isn't to say it wasn't entertaining, for it was the sort of frantic football that is great fun to watch.
Spurs took the lead a few minutes before halftime. Son had looked uncertain for most of the game, his touch was dicey, and he had just dragged a shot wide when through on goal. But his off-colour performance actually benefitted him: Dele Alli was tackled when through, Kieran Trippier squared across the 6-yard box, and Son scuffed a finish from right foot and off his left ankle, looping and bobbling into the net.
Spurs had the better of the initial stages after the break too, but soon after making two substitutions, Juve equalised with a rare attack midway through the second half. Sami Khedira nodded on a cross from the right, and Higuain, markers nowhere to be seen, expertly hooked it into the corner.
Two minutes later they went ahead in the tie. Higuain slipped a neat ball through to Dybala, who was played onside by Ben Davies, and the Argentinian forward emphatically swept home. The Italian corner of Wembley bounced with delight.
Tottenham pressed and pressed for an equaliser. Juventus lined at least seven men across the edge of their area at all times. Chiellini and friends defended with frenzied commitment, throwing themselves in front of shots like presidential bodyguards. Kane hit the post with a looping header that inched along the line but failed to cross it, and Juve held on.
2. Allegri's tactical shift the difference
Massimiliano Allegri isn't often discussed among the lofty echelons of Europe's best coaches, despite his creaking trophy cabinet. His detractors will say that he could hardly fail to win Serie A with this Juventus while pointing to a failure to win the Champions League as evidence that he isn't all that.
Yet it was a tactical switch by him that completely changed the course of the game and ultimately put Juventus through to the quarterfinals.
In the first half, Tottenham expertly made this side look older than they are. The defence featuring Andrea Barzagli (36), Medhi Benatia (30) and Chiellini (33) was simply unable to cope with the intensity and movement of Tottenham's forward line.
Two of the three were booked early in the second half, which prompted Allegri into a change. On came Kwadwo Asamoah for Blaise Matuidi, quickly followed by Stephan Lichtsteiner for Benatia. The switch to 4-3-3 meant Barzagli was mercifully removed from the firing line on the right.
It worked immediately, with Lichtsteiner providing the cross from which, via Khedira's flick, Higuain got the first. The system also freed Dybala and Douglas Costa to cause their own brand of havoc around the centre-forward, which the former turned into something tangible with the second.
That's really a neat summary of this Juventus team. This season, they have shown their brilliance in patches, but the fact that they're one point behind a Napoli team for the ages with a game in hand displays their ruthlessness.
3. Spurs fail to make their advantage count
For a while, this looked like another step in the development of this Tottenham team, another performance in which they blew away a fine team with their relentless pressing, an intensity that many simply can't live with.
This is what they did in the first half. They made this admittedly aging Juventus team look comfortably past their best, the buzzing runs of Son and Alli, along with the underrated physicality of Kane, frankly bullying a collection of players who for as long as most can remember could not be bullied.
They scored one, through Son, but could have got more -- should have got more -- and it was their failure to press home the advantage that ultimately cost them.
Tottenham's intensity dropped in the second half, not by much, but then again, they were playing Juventus. It doesn't need to drop by much, and before you know it, joy becomes pain, elation deflation and a lead a deficit.
You could say they don't really deserve to be castigated too much for dropping away against this dynasty of a team, a winning machine that has bulldozed better and more experienced sides than Spurs.
But these are the harsh lessons of the Champions League. Sometimes, your luck can change just that quickly.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.