Very few things are more annoying to football fans than clichés, and on Tuesday evening in Turin, it seemed Juventus were set to deliver a performance against Tottenham Hotspur that would rubbish every tired trope it was possible throw at them.
The game – which marked the first competitive meeting between these two teams – was just 90 seconds old when Miralem Pjanic clipped a clever free kick into the area. Gonzalo Higuain duly dispatched it into the bottom corner, his reputation for “choking in big moments” seemingly the first banality to fall by the wayside.
Just seven minutes later, Ben Davies’ clumsy challenge on Federico Bernardeschi saw the Bianconeri awarded a penalty and the Argentinian No.9 tucked that away too, doubling the advantage and putting the home side firmly in control of the tie. Juve had pressed forward at pace and in numbers over that opening period, dispelling the myth that “Italian teams are dour and defensive.”
From then on, the game descended into the worst nightmare of everyone on the Curva Sud, with each stereotypical opinion of both teams rapidly becoming a reality before their eyes. No matter how much the passionate and vocal crowd urged them on, the players in black and white began to retreat further and further back towards Gigi Buffon’s goal. The 40-year-old initially seemed determined to prove he could and should play on beyond this season, pulling out a superb stop to deny a Harry Kane header, but an emboldened Spurs continued to push forward.
Alex Sandro would hand them a huge lifeline, caught far too deep in the 35th minute and allowing Kane to stay onside and latch onto a slide rule through ball from Dele Alli, making no mistake as he slotted the ball home. The “never say die” English attitude was manifest throughout the visitors’ line-up, suddenly winning every 50/50 challenge and looking far more dangerous despite being away from home against a vastly more experienced opponent.
Higuain pulled a left-footed shot wide and ensured the half-time chatter was back to his shortcomings when he missed a second penalty, blasting the ball down the middle rather than picking out a corner as he had earlier. His frustration grew in the second half, booked for protesting a perceived foul shortly after the restart, but those same fans who packed the stadium to cheer him who would be even angrier moments later.
A free kick from Christian Eriksen saw both Buffon and his wall positioned poorly, the Dane grabbing an equaliser all to easily against a team who had not conceded a goal in 2018 before this game got underway. By the final whistle, Mauricio Pochettino’s men had dominated Juve like so many other English sides before them, enjoying almost 70% possession and completely controlling the second half.
While Spurs must be lauded for their self-belief and team spirit, it must be said that Higuain could’ve ended that brave resistance before it began. The Bianconeri did bizarrely fall back rather than continue taking the game to their opponents and Max Allegri must hope they don’t live to regret it.
Now in the second leg, it will be the Old Lady looking to make sure her well-worn mantra is the one cliché that does come true, because for Juventus at Wembley, “winning is not important: it’s the only thing that counts.”