How Spurs Can Find Chink In Juventus’ Armour

 • by Adam Digby
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Ask anyone who regularly watches Serie A what they think about the league’s reputation as being defensive, negative and, if you’re feeling particularly bold, boring, and the response will more than likely be as explosive as a Gabriel Batistuta volley.

They’ll talk of Napoli’s incredible free-flowing football and the rise of a whole battery of young attacking talent. There will also, in all likelihood, be a large number of expletives about the power of the Premier League’s marketing.

There’s no denying Italian football has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era, with several truly exciting players making the division’s overall style far more enjoyable to those who don’t support a team from the peninsula.

But then there’s Juventus.

Yes, the club which have won the last six Scudettos have their fair share of attacking talent; Gonzalo Higuaín is, despite his reputation for choking in big games, one of the world’s most deadly finishers, and he is ably supported by a Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado as options on the wing.

Meanwhile, Mario Mandžukić can play a variety of roles while the match-winning abilities of Paulo Dybala – a player many expect to soon be challenging for Ballon d’Or honours – are undeniable.

In midfield Miralem Pjanić combines sublime passing and unerring set-piece accuracy, and yet it is impossible to discuss the Bianconeri without lauding the incredible defence upon which their success is built.

For the majority of their six-title run Juve’s so-called “BBC” backline of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were in place, and they often made games and results as dour as you’d expect from a unit named after a state television broadcaster.

Add in the fact goalkeeper Gigi Buffon was playing like a teenager instead of a man approaching his 40th birthday and the quartet formed an unassailable wall, one against which each and every domestic challenger saw their Scudetto hopes smash to pieces.

Even Europe’s elite were swept aside as the Old Lady fought her way to two Champions League finals in three seasons, but last summer it appeared as though the Turin giants were about to fall.

Bonucci, who at 30 years old was arguably the only member of the quartet still in his prime, decided to leave for MilanDani Alves also moved on to Paris Saint-Germain less than twelve months after joining the Italian side.

When the 2017/18 campaign got underway the Bianconeri looked vulnerable. Lazio won 3-2 in the Supercoppa Italiana and then, in October, became the first visiting team to claim three points at the Juventus Stadium since August 2015 thanks to a 2-1 victory. 

That defeat came just days after Atalanta held Juve to a 2-2 draw and soon after Sampdoria inflicted a 3-2 defeat upon Max Allegri’s side. However, that was the moment the coach and players decided enough was enough. 

Since that loss against Samp, Juventus have played 20 matches and have conceded just three goals in all competitions. They’ve kept 18 clean sheets, scored 36 times and have shutout the likes of Barcelona, Napoli, Inter, Roma and Fiorentina.

Their opponents at the weekend were Lazio, who this time found no way past Buffon and were left beaten 1-0 courtesy of a late Dybala goal.

But look closely beyond the numbers, which indicate it’s business as usual, and it’s clear this Juventus side are no longer invincible. 

There are weaknesses to be found and as Spurs proved in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, there are ways to open up that previously impenetrable defence.

Juventus, Tottenham Hotspur, Champions League

It must be noted that Spurs are responsible for two of those aforementioned three goals the Bianconeri have conceded since November 19.

The first flaw is one the team has done well to mask for years; making up for a distinct lack of pace with excellent positioning and reading of the game.

Occasionally, however, the backline can be flat-footed – it’s something Mauricio Pochettino’s men highlighted in the first meeting when Chiellini was caught upfield and his team-mates stood off (above). 

It gave Delle Alli the space to perfectly weight a through ball to Harry Kane, who kept himself onside, outpaced would-be markers, rounded Buffon and scored.  

“I didn’t ask the team to go deep, more than anything else we were pushed back by Tottenham,” Allegri noted in his post-match press conference. “After that 25-minute spell when they pinned us back, we couldn’t get back out.”

That problem is likely to be compounded by Mattia De Sciglio’s lack of fitness. The Italy international has missed Juve’s last two games with injury and the team has been exploited down the right flank. 

Juventus’ problems in that area began even before Dani Alves departed, however, with Real Madrid’s Marcelo penetrating the defence to tee up Marco Asensio for the fourth goal in the 2017 Champions League final.

Fast forward two months and Lazio’s Jordan Lukaku did the same thing in the Italian Super Cup; he burst free and set up Alessandro Murgia for an injury time winner.

Those goals certainly highlight a flaw Spurs can exploit – Alli and Christian Eriksen could break into the box and wait to pounce just as the two aforementioned midfielders did.

It might not sound like much, but in a tie that is finely poised one goal could well decide who progresses and who watches the quarter-finals on television. They are the delicate margins that matter.

On paper, Juventus’ defensive pedigree and their astounding recent record of clean sheets make for imposing reading, but the reality is there are chinks in the Old Lady’s armour.

The only question is whether Spurs can take advantage. If not and it will be another night where the same “boring” Bianconeri prevail. 

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