Maybe it was something about being in the “home of football” that made him do it, but after a season in which Max Allegri has looked to make changes to his usual approach, the Juventus boss reverted to old school defensive grit in order to grind out a crucial victory.
The Bianconeri travelled to Wembley knowing nothing less than a win would take them through to the next round, Tottenham’s two away goals making anything else almost irrelevant. Yet the Coach arrived without many of his attacking players, Mario Mandzukic joining Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi on the sidelines.
Those injuries limited Allegri’s options, but most were relieved to see both Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa feature in support of Gonzalo Higuain from the outset. The team needed to score, and eventually their Argentinian stars would do just that, but before and after the 169 seconds between their goals, it was events at the other end of the pitch that stood out the most.
Andrea Barzagli was given the nod at right-back, and the sight of the 36-year-old playing in a back-line that also included Medhi Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini was like pulling on a well-worn pair of slippers. Both comforting and familiar, this new-look ‘BBC’ unit were everything they needed to be, particularly as time wound down at the end of the match.
Time and time again, Spurs drove forward, but each and every attack seemed to be repelled by Barzagli or his long-term side kick. In a performance that can only be described as “typical Chiellini,” the big defender won seemingly every individual duel with Harry Kane, making no fewer than 13 clearances on the night and blocking three shots. Any promising moments for the home side seemed to end with his forehead getting in the way, and anything that got past him was mopped up by Barzagli.
Then there were the substitutions. It sounds ridiculous in 2018, but somehow Allegri changed the game by sending on Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah, deploying a good old fashioned 4-4-2 system that somehow turned the tie around completely.
It was a cross from the Swiss full-back that Sami Khedira turned across goal for Higuain’s strike, a crucial moment that sparked the Bianconeri fight back. In the meantime, the introduction of Asamoah allowed Alex Sandro to play further forward and, like Lichtsteiner, Chiellini and everyone else, he was solid and prevented Spurs from finding any time and space on the flank.
As implausible as it sounds, that was all it took. Yes, Son Heung-Minscored the first goal of the game, but only after Gigi Buffon slipped and was unable to make a save. Outside of that, it wasn’t the millions of Euros Juventus have invested in attack that made the difference, it was the same old virtues of defensive prowess and tactical awareness that saw them progress.
In a game many expected to boil down to Higuain vs Kane or Dele Alli vs Dybala, it was the fact the Bianconeri have Barzagli, Chiellini, Asamoah and Lichtsteiner that made the difference. Isn’t that the way it’s always been?