Weblog: The football punter

Tottenham can find way to keep Juventus at bay

Champions League round of 16 first leg
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Tuesday

Tottenham came through a tough Champions League group with flying colours, taking 16 points from a possible 18, and they can impress on their return to European competition by holding Juventus to a draw in Turin.

Juve was the second most difficult draw Spurs could have got at this stage (only Bayern Munich would have been more difficult) and the Italians, who are narrow 4-5 favourites to win the tie, are approaching the first leg on an 11-match winning streak.

However, their preparations have not been entirely straightforward.

Paulo Dybala, their joint-top Serie A scorer with 14 goals, has missed the last five weeks through injury, and a thigh strain has ruled out midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who appeared in each of the six group stage matches.

Juve have plenty of strength in depth and midfield remains a strong suit for them with Miralem Pjanic set to line up alongside Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio.

But the loss of Dybala is a major blow because his pace would have been an ideal means of exposing Tottenham's high defensive line.

Spurs will still need to be alive to the considerable threat of Juve's star striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is a fantastic technician and is deceptively quick.

The Londoners go into the match without their standout defender, Toby Alderweireld, who is not considered fit enough to feature in a game of such high intensity.

However, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen have developed a decent partnership during Alderweireld's three-month spell on the sidelines and played their part in impressive recent victories at home to Manchester United (2-0) and Arsenal (1-0).

They started as part of a back three alongside Alderweireld when Tottenham won 3-1 at home to Real Madrid in November and adapted well to a sudden switch to a back four after Alderweireld had succumbed to injury in the 24th minute.

Sanchez and Vertonghen need to have another good night to keep Juventus at bay but Spurs will have an eye on doing some damage on the counter-attack, as they did when drawing 1-1 with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Tottenham have adjusted their style in the Champions League, relying much more on counter-attacks, and it has paid dividends.

They had less possession in all of the four group matches against Real and Borussia Dortmund but collected three wins and one draw after defending diligently and causing problems with sharp, incisive breakaways.

Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri is sure to be alert to the danger and will be warning his players not to overload in attack and get caught short at the back.

It could develop into a tactical battle between teams who have respect for each other's abilities.

Goalscoring opportunities could be at a premium and the stalemate looks a likely outcome, setting up a titanic clash at Wembley next month.


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Match in Focus


Everton v Watford

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Everton have been drawing at half-time in 12 of their 15 league games this season
Expert verdict
There is a strong trend towards Everton being level at the break and the Toffees may well need to show patience if they are to give Marco Silva a win against his former club. Watford made a flying start but have picked up only eight points since the September international break and Everton can eventually find a way through.