Tottenham drew 2-2 with Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie in Turin. Having come back from being two goals down inside 10 minutes, it is a result that underlines the fact that they can outplay Europe’s biggest clubs, writes Adam Bate.
“We cannot compare with Juventus,” Mauricio Pochettino had declared on the eve of Tottenham’s Champions League tie against the Italian champions. “I think it’s impossible to compare the history of the two clubs. Of course, our dream is to reach the level of Juventus and we will be competitive tomorrow and we will see if we can compete with them.”
For 10 minutes, it had seemed as though Pochettino would not enjoy discovering the answer. Juventus went two goals up and this looked likely to be a tale of lessons being learnt. Mousa Dembele conceded a needless free-kick. Dele Alli did not react well when it was taken. Ben Davies dangled out a leg to concede a penalty soon after. Nowhere near savvy enough.
But then a funny thing happened. Tottenham began to play. They were not cowed by the experience, they were emboldened by it. Harry Kane missed one chance but seized his second. And when it was all over, Spurs had not only scored two goals of their own to take a 2-2 draw back to Wembley, they had completely outplayed last season’s finalists.
This was a test of character, nerve and skill. They passed.
Of course, they rode their luck too. Gonzalo Higuain hit the crossbar with a penalty in first-half stoppage time that would have completed his hat-trick and restored Juve’s two-goal lead. But the abiding memory of this match was Tottenham’s dominance. It was truly telling that it was they – not the home side – who were pushing for a third goal late in the game.
Tottenham had more shots on target and more shots off target. They had two-thirds of the possession and completed more than twice as many passes. Those are the stats. But for the Spurs fans who travelled to Turin, it will be the sights they remember. Their team camped in the Juventus half, Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen probing for openings.
Max Allegri’s team were rendered supine by comparison. The great Gianluigi Buffon in goal was made to look all 40 of his years as Kane danced by him for the first before Eriksen crashed a free-kick low to his right for the second. In doing so, Tottenham scored twice as many goals in this game as Juventus had conceded in their previous 15 matches.
In fact, Spurs are the first team to overturn a two-goal deficit in this stadium since Juventus moved into it seven years ago. It is only the second time ever that the Italians have failed to win a Champions League home game after being two goals up. The first occasion was against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the famous semi-final second leg in 1999.
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United, of course, went on to win the Champions League that season. Could Tottenham pull off a repeat? Perhaps Pochettino is fortunate that Serge Aurier is suspended for the second leg given his recklessness in conceding the second spot-kick. They will surely need to tighten up. But there are certainly echoes of that swashbuckling young United side.
“We are going to be aggressive, brave and try to win,” the Argentine had said beforehand and he was true to his word. In Kane, Tottenham have a formidable forward – now the first player in Champions League history to score nine goals in his first nine games in the competition. All evidence would suggest that Kane is capable of scoring against anyone.
C Palace vs Tottenham
February 26, 2018, 7:00pm
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So are Spurs. They have now beaten United and Arsenal at home and drawn 2-2 away to both Liverpool and Juventus all in the space of a fortnight. What’s more, they have been the better side in each of those four matches. Having already got the better of defending champions Real Madrid over two group stage games, this team has earned its swagger.
The questions about the need for Pochettino to win a major trophy are not going to go away because of a 2-2 draw in a round-of-16 tie. But his Spurs side are here, they are competing with Europe’s biggest clubs and they are getting the better of them. The Champions League quarter-finals are in sight. And it is a stage that this team is more than worthy of gracing.