Champions League: Three key battles in Spurs v Juventus

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino
Pochettino can be confident of beating Juventus on Wednesday.
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Alex Keble returns for his Champions League tactical analysis, picking out three key battles ahead of the finely-balanced Tottenham v Juventus second leg clash...

"Juventus’s preoccupation with Eriksen, coupled with their natural inclination to squeeze space centrally, means Tottenham’s best route to goal is via the full-backs."

Tottenham Hotspur welcome Juventus to Wembley on Wednesday night brimming with confidence. On a run of 17 matches undefeated in all competitions, Spurs are playing with the swagger of a team who knows they can go a long way in this competition. Juve will be worried.

The visitors are likely to repeat the narrow counter-attacking tactical system they used in Turin, while Mauricio Pochettino's side will dominate the ball and look to grind the Italian champions into submission.

Here are three key battles ahead of the Champions league second round tie between Spurs and Juve:


1) Spurs' slow midfield v Dybala-led counters

The primary area of weakness highlighted by Max Allegri during the first leg was Tottenham's relative lack of speed in central midfield and defence, particularly for a team who play with such a high back line. Juventus tried to exploit this by giving Douglas Costa a free role in Turin, with the Brazilian looking to wriggle clear of Eric Dier and get the ball into the flanks (behind Spurs' advanced full-backs) as quickly as possible.

This time around he has Paulo Dybala available for this role, with Costa likely to move out wide. The Argentine, likely to be high on confidence after scoring a 92nd-minute winner against Lazio at the weekend, is devastating in this position. Dybala will find space among the Spurs midfield and turn sharply in possession, forcing the midfield shielders to commit themselves and thus open up the pitch for a Juve counter-attack.

Pochettino might try to nullify Dybala by fielding Victor Wanyama and instructing his defensive midfielder to man-mark Juve's star player out of the game, although it is unusual for Poch to sacrifice overall team shape for such individualised roles. Instead, Dier and Mousa Dembele must work hard to track back, ensuring they don't get too tight to Dybala.

Tottenham's best bet is to get Dier to alternate between defence and midfield, dropping into a back three when Juve are attacking the flanks (so the other two defenders can stretch wide, covering for the full-backs) but stepping up to meet Dybala when necessary.

Back Dybala to score any time at 21/10.


2) Eriksen & Dembele v Matuidi & Khedira

Also returning for this one is Blaise Matuidi, whose defensive positioning might prove crucial should Christian Eriksen and Dembele perform as well as they did during the second half in Turin. After a slow start, in which Juve's narrow midfield squeezed out the space centrally, Spurs began to dominate. Dembele's slaloming dribbles through the centre carved Juventus open and forced them into retreat, while Eriksen took advantage of the chaos by dropping deep into the half-spaces.

Matuidi, if fielded alongside Sami Khedira as he was at the weekend, provides the Italian club with a much firmer defensive midfield. The Frenchman will need to be on top form to prevent Spurs from controlling the central spaces on the wide Wembley pitch, although Allegri's brilliant tactical coaching - coupled with the harsh lessons they learnt in the second half of the first leg - should mean Eriksen is slightly less effective in central areas.

It is also worth noting that Juventus will need to adapt their shape to keep Eriksen quiet. Their 4-2-3-1 increasingly left space in the middle because Miralem Pjanic would drop to form a back three, leaving Khedira with far too much to do (they amassed just three tackles and one interception between them).

Given their formation and individual approach needs to change, it is worth backing Spurs to win at 6/5.


3) Davies & Aurier v Juve's narrow blockade

Juventus's preoccupation with Eriksen, coupled with their natural inclination to squeeze space centrally, means Tottenham's best route to goal is via the full-backs. Serge Aurier and Ben Davies attempted 10 crosses in Turin, while the team in total crossed 18 times from open play.

There is no doubt that crossing is Tottenham's secret weapon. They attempt more crosses per match (23) than any other club in the Premier League, which is hardly surprising given how much importance Pochettino places on his full-backs. One of his core tactical principles is to suck the play inwards by overloading the centre before suddenly switching the ball wide, where the full-backs find the space to whip balls into Harry Kane. The England international should have scored in the 27th minute in Turin, when a perfect cross landed on his head six yards from goal.

However, Tottenham's use of advanced full-backs does leave them vulnerable. Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi frequently found room to attack the byline - and beat Aurier and Davies when one-on-one. The battle for supremacy on the flanks should ultimately decide a contest that, while cagey on the surface, will probably be end-to-end as the match progresses.

Back over 2.5 goals at 1/1. Spurs to win & over 2.5 goals is available at 7/2.


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