UEFA Champions League 2017-18: Tottenham Hotspur prove European mettle, press Juventus into submission
Before the UEFA Champions League returned to the big screens last night, the stats making the round across Europe before the Juventus vs Tottenham Hotspur game in the round of 16s was scary enough to make an opponent and one as effective as Kane wince at the sight of it.
Juventus had not conceded in 2018 and the last time the defence was breached was back in November 2017. Some stat that was.
It was barely two minutes into the game when Gonzalo Higuain redirected a Miralem Pjanic freekick past the despairing dive of Hugo Lloris. First blood was drawn, some seven minutes followed and the Bianconeri won a penalty.
Higuain stepped up to smash it in - sending Juve 2 up in no time - leaving Spurs looking like roast meat, getting slaughtered at the home of the Turin giants, fans of the Old Lady looking as boisterous as they know how to be, some probably wondering what the fuss was about this Spurs team, even.
Spurs were unflinching
Hopes of going into the quarterfinals were looking like they were going to be dashed for the Lilywhites as they'd been way off the pace for the early minutes and played very much unlike the Spurs the world has come to love.
Until something in them clicked or better still, until Moussa Dembele cranked up his gears and drove his side’s onslaught in the face of Black and White pressure.
From the moment the second Juve goal went in, there was a contrasting change of approach to the tie from both sides as they both utilised systems that have come to be defined as their trademark in recent times.
Juve retreated into their shell, inviting waves of pressure from the Spurs players, relying on their defence to hold out and trying to hit the English side on the counter. It worked for a while but this Spurs side is made of sterner stuff, all credits to Mauricio Pochettino.
Spurs, however, were more intent on trying to break them down with the guile of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen who proved more than capable on the night, their high press and ability on the ball gave Juve more headache than they bargained for
The high press is one aspect of their game that keeps on surprising opponents, even those of the highest calibre, as it forces them to think faster than they're originally used to and when they can't match up, mistakes would inevitably be made which would lead to goals.
Plenty of perseverance
The core of the Spurs side refused to cower in the face of the Juve pressure and ably led by the barnstorming Dembele and the brilliant Eriksen, they came roaring back into contention and as soon as Dele Alli slipped Harry Kane in on goal with a beautifully weighted reverse pass.
With the Englishman drawing out Gigi Buffon, there was only going to be one finale, the ball nestling the back of the net and so it proved to be, as Kane rounded Buffon before finishing expertly with his left foot to give his side something tangible to hold on to before the break, in the process becoming the first player to score past Juventus since the turn of the year.
Not like there were not heart-in-mouth instances though as there was still time for Higuain to crack a penalty onto the crossbar and off to safety.
The Lilywhites weren't done yet though, and the letoff they got from the missed penalty served to reinvigorate them further as they came into the second half with more verve, hope and passion, a better start than they had in the first half, they went on to create chances in the game and when Dele Alli was fouled on the edge of the box, only one man was overlooking the ball, Christian Eriksen, and he duly delivered, smashing it low and into the ground as the fightback was well and truly complete.
Spurs have been one of the most dominant sides in the Premier League for the past 2 years but have been unable to replicate their home dominance on the European scene as they've been eliminated after some woeful performances in Europe belying their status as a fast-rising team.
This season, however, has changed everything, they've become more adept at handling European challenges, imposing themselves and their style at stadia across Europe, including that of traditional giants like Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and now, Juventus.
The sky is the starting point for this hugely talented side and under the guidance of Pochettino, they look like they'll take some more scalps before they let off.