Five points on Juventus - with Italian football expert Adam Digby
13 February 2018|Tottenham Hotspur
The return of our occasional feature taking a closer look at our next opponents - as we prepare to face Juventus in the Champions League Round of 16 in Turin, Italian football writer and Juve expert Adam Digby turns the spotlight on the Bianconeri...
Italian football writer for beIN SPORTS USA, FourFourTwo, Bleacher Report and Sport360, author of 'Juventus: A History In Black & White'.
Point 1 - Form
Juventus made it nine wins on the trot by beating Fiorentina on Friday night - how are they playing?
Adam: "Vastly better than when the draw was made, that’s for sure. Juve struggled in the early part of this season, losing Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci really took its toll on the defence and there seemed to be some hangover from the heavy Champions League final defeat at the hands of Real Madrid. However, they’ve bounced back really well over the past couple of months, looking much more like their usual selves at the back and its ominous to see they have conceded just once in their last 16 games! That run includes matches against Barcelona, Inter, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina, while they also boast Serie A’s most prolific attack, that 16-game streak alone seeing them bag 30 goals."
Below: Massimiliano Allegri
Point 2 - the manager
Tell us about Massimiliano Allegri...
Adam: "Taking over from Antonio Conte was never going to be easy, but he’s made the team – and the club – infinitely better. That’s not to criticise the current Chelsea boss, nobody could’ve resurrected the Old Lady the way he did, but Max Allegri has brought an incredibly sharp tactical mind and a wonderful man-management style to a veteran squad who needed a different approach to Conte’s relentless 'hammer'. Always ready with an impactful substitution, a perfectly judged shift in formation or a superbly gif-able (that’s a word, right?) outburst on the touchline, Allegri has taken Juve to the next level. His insight and rotation has been excellent, while younger players like Alvaro Morata, Paul Pogba and now Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi have blossomed under his tutelage."
Below: Mario Mandzukic
Point 3 - tactics
How do Juve normally set up - and will it be any different for this first leg?
Adam: "As mentioned previously, Allegri seems to always have a new approach up his sleeve and this season has been no different. They began by using the 4-2-3-1 that brought success last term, but recently shifted to a 4-3-2-1/4-3-3- hybrid with Mario Mandzukic playing either wide on the left or up alongside Gonzalo Higuain and one of the more skilful players on the right. This shift has brought added security to midfield and provided a stronger platform for the playmaking of Miralem Pjanic while simultaneously pushing Paulo Dybala and co higher up the pitch and into more dangerous areas."
Below: Gonzalo Higuain
Point 4 - key players
Who do you think will be key for Juve - and who might be missing?
Adam: "The obvious answer here is Higuain after he ended a recent scoring drought to bag six goals in his last four outings, and he’s always ready to punish any defensive hesitation or mistake. However, the two players making Juve tick in the past few weeks have been Pjanic and Douglas Costa, two players who make an impact in markedly contrasting ways. The former has taken up the deep lying playmaker role previously filled by Andrea Pirlo, able to pick out a team-mate and unlock an opposition defence from almost anywhere on the pitch.
"Like the iconic Italian, Pjanic is also deadly at set pieces, delivering perfectly weighted corners and unerringly accurate free kicks whenever the opportunity arises. But if his contributions come from static positions, Brazilian winger Douglas Costa could not be more different. Usually deployed on the right flank, he has the speed and skill to go beyond would-be markers with ease before delivering on-the-money crosses with either foot. He also pops up on the left over the course of a match, working well with full-back Alex Sandro to completely overwhelm and overload the opposition."
Below: Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring the third goal against Real Madrid in November
Point 5 - Spurs
What is the feeling towards Spurs from Turin?
Adam: "There is a huge amount of respect for Tottenham and it’s not just because English teams have often proved difficult for Juve to overcome. Their speed, strength and talent has not gone unnoticed by fans across the peninsula, and those who love the Bianconeri are particularly wary of how tough this clash should be. Both teams have a strong defence, a well-balanced midfield and a deadly number nine, while both sides are also in red hot form as the first leg approaches. It should be a superb encounter, and one that many expect to be decided by the narrowest of margins."