Juventus, Spurs more similar than different heading into first leg
On Tuesday evening, Juventus will host Tottenham in Turin and to most, this will be an intriguing tactical match between two sides that don't have a lot in common. But look a little closer and you'll find a few similarities, which is perhaps why each club have been so effusive in their praise of the opponent in their prematch interviews.
Both sides are considered tactically intelligent, knowing how to adjust to the opponent. Both have invested in developing rather than purchasing talent and both possess master tacticians who are underrated at times. While Mauricio Pochettino and Massimiliano Allegri are tracked by the biggest clubs in the world due to their achievements they are also harshly criticised -- Allegri because he plays boring football and Pochettino for having never won a trophy.
They possess neither Pep Guardiola or Maurizio Sarri's delectable brand of football nor Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte's charisma. They care about deploying balanced tactical schemes, improving the intelligence of their players and in accruing impressive results against impossible sides. Pochettino's team just beat Manchester United, drew with Liverpool and defeated Arsenal while Juve have smashed the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid to reach two Champions League finals in three years.
They might never boast the "brand" other managers have but are both tactically crafty, placing a huge emphasis on playing a balanced game. Perhaps this is why we shouldn't expect too many goals when their respective teams face off.
For many, this will be a duel between two great strikers, Gonzalo Higuain and Harry Kane -- for others it will Kane vs. the defensive warrior, Giorgio Chiellini -- but in truth, it might just be all about the midfield.
Both the English and Italian sides are defensively sound and capable of a goal or three, but when we consider Mousa Dembele's form and Blaise Matuidi's absence, the Old Lady ought to be a little scared. Juve's remaining midfielders might possess guile and intelligence, knowing how to close down passing lanes and impressing off the ball, but without Matuidi, they lack dynamism, physicality and relentless energy.
In Pochettino's words, Dembele is a "genius," combining physicality, accuracy and intelligence. The reason he isn't considered among the best midfielders in the world is his lack of consistency, but he alone can dominate the midfield in Tuesday night's game.
Of course, Juventus boast a little genius of their own in the form of Miralem Pjanic, but the problem with the Bianconeri midfield is that it can be bullied, silenced by pace and physicality. The players have at times struggled to control and provide geometric passes when pressed and hassled by the opponent.
Spurs will focus on doing just that, playing in the style of a real English side. They will utilise pace, strength and energy within the team to provoke errors and Juve must play with intelligence and maturity to ensure they overcome the press and not surrender to their frustration.
Keeping a clean sheet is of paramount importance for Juve. That requires a complete team effort, starting from the front. Douglas Costa will need to provide a performance similar to the one he managed against Napoli, playing with the same generosity to ensure brilliance in both phases of the game.
Having conceded only one goal in their last 16 matches, Juve are expected to be impenetrable and don't want to disappoint.
As for Higuain, he has proved he knows how to silence the critics in the big league games but has yet to perform with consistency in the big European clashes, disappointing in last year's Champions League final. The man who Juve will depend on, Higuain has developed greatly under Allegri in terms of all-around play. He has learned how to sacrifice, how to provide and how to elevate the level of play in the final third.
Without Paulo Dybala available, Costa and Mario Mandzukic must provide more support than usual and ensure Higuain is not left alone carrying the ball forward when Juve win back possession in advantageous positions.
Moreover, Spurs' impressive backline will focus all their attention on halting the Argentine striker, so it will be up to his teammates to create space for him -- or exploit the space he leaves behind in his quest to be the perfect offensive leader.
Spurs can only be defeated if Juventus work twice as hard, ensuring they are disciplined and intelligent. Their off-the-ball movement will be crucial, and they need to make their growing confidence and extensive experience in Europe count. They might not be as young as their opponent but are cunning and rarely outwitted. A tactical battle awaits us all.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.