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On the whole, Monday’s Champions League round of 16 draw was kind to English teams, Manchester City and Manchester United should comfortably come through their respective ties against FC Basel and Sevilla, whilst Liverpool should have too much attacking power for Porto.
Chelsea face Barcelona in what is one of the better matchups of the round, however Tottenham Hotspur’s achievement of topping a group which contained both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund landed them a glamour tie against Juventus.
This, though, is not the Juventus which reached the final of the competition last season; they are significantly weaker due to a poor transfer strategy in the summer and an inability to restructure their defence after Leonardo Bonucci’s departure to AC Milan. Tottenham head into this meeting as the better team and the tie should be winnable.
Despite falling off the pace in the Premier League title race, Spurs’ continental form has been nothing short of fantastic. Harry Kane’s goals have propelled them into the knockout stages after the team failed to progress last season.
Mauricio Pochettino has seen a marked improvement in the nous of his squad with regards to European football and it’s unlikely Juventus’ defence will be able to keep them out over two matches.
Bonucci’s departure came as a surprise to many, although it quickly became clear he simply wished to leave the club. The trio of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli had brought the Turin club so much success in recent years, as well as numerous plaudits, yet all of a sudden their stability has vanished.
Napoli and Internazionale’s blistering starts to the Serie A campaign have put the Bianconeri on the back foot domestically, with both of the aforementioned clubs having conceded four less goals than the defending champions.
Last term, Massimiliano Allegri’s incredible tactical display saw his team overcome Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-0 aggregate scoreline, the Catalan giants barely troubled them.
The real illustration of the Italians’ decline was just how easy Ernesto Valverde’s team found facing Juventus in the group stage this season.
The first match finished 3-0 to the Blaugrana whilst the return fixture in Turin was a 0-0 draw. This is a weaker Barcelona team than last year without Neymar; however Allegri’s charges simply couldn’t challenge them in any way.
One of the issues surrounding the Italian defender’s transfer away from the Juventus Stadium was a fraught relationship with his coach, there are growing concerns that something similar could well be happening with the team’s crown jewel, Paulo Dybala.
Having lost his place in the starting line-up and being a substitute in the Derby d’Italia clash with table-topping Internazionale on Saturday, there has now been a suggestion from club legend, Pavel Nedved that the Argentine star needs to sort his private life out in order to regain his form on the pitch.
Rarely do you see a team’s star player being admonished in such a way, especially when most teams tend to protect their prized asset, even if just to avoid them forcing their way out of the club.
It does little for the general harmony around a squad and you can see how much of Spurs’ success is due to incredibly positive vibes blending with supreme individual talent.
Of course there have been issues with Tottenham this season; they have slipped way off the pace in the Premier League with a poor start and the occasional sloppy result putting them into a position where they are closer to the relegation zone than they are to Manchester City, despite sitting in 6th.
Dele Alli’s form has been one of the concerns as the campaign has progressed but with Son Heung-Min stepping up once again, it’s hoped that the English midfielder will rediscover his best performances during the heavily packed festive season.
Juventus carry such a reputation, especially in recent years, that immediately causes people to think Tottenham are heading straight out of the competition. Whilst the tie will be difficult, there is no real reason to suggest that the Italians are clear favourites.
They lack quality in key areas, especially at right-back and in central defence, whilst Spurs’ greatest strength is their varied methods of attacking play.
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Juventus can keep Kane at bay for 180 minutes; you would also imagine that if Dybala hasn’t regained his place in the starting line-up by February, Gonzalo Higuain will find himself significantly isolated up against the three-man central-defensive structure of Tottenham.
For the moment focus returns to domestic hostilities for both teams, the first-leg isn’t until February 13th, however Spurs are in a fantastic position ahead of that clash and must not be overawed by their Italian counterparts, it’s certainly a winnable tie.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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