Spurs deserve praise for comeback, but Juve are no strangers to adversity
Daniele celebrated Juventus' goals in a bar on Tuesday night. They're his team after all. But before the game he felt conflicted. "My heart is divided in two," he told the Corriere Torino. Daniele believes it is "very probable" he is related to Mauricio Pochettino. They share the same surname and on Monday he drove into town to pay the Tottenham manager a visit at Turin's Golden Palace hotel.
The family tree isn't complete and the paperwork needs verifying. "It's a long job," Daniele admitted. But it seems as though Pochettino's great-great grandfather was from Virle, the village 40 kilometres outside of Turin where Daniele is now deputy mayor. "He was very nice and open about it all," Daniele said. "[Mauricio] assured us he'll come and see us sooner or later, it would bring us immense joy." The hope of an invitation to the second leg at Wembley did not go unexpressed either, and understandably so.
For the neutral sitting in front of the TV, Tuesday's first leg definitely lived up to the hype, and exceeded expectation from a Tottenham perspective. Juventus, on the other hand, traipsed back to the dressing room with the whistles of a demanding and evidently disapproving home crowd ringing in their ears.
The commentators on Mediaset described them as unfair and you can see why. Massimiliano Allegri couldn't believe what he was hearing. Both from the sideline and in his seat during the postmatch news conference. It's been a long time since he was this angry. Why is everyone so depressed, he wondered. OK, a 2-2 draw leaves Juventus up against it but it is by no means a disastrous result coming as it did against a side that has already defeated Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund this season.
"The Champions League is a dream and an objective," Allegri snapped. "But winning it is not easy. I think some perspective has been lost. Juve play to win but is not the favourite. You can't get to the final every year. The lads are having a great season. But to go from that to thinking we should be winning the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie 3-0 is a big leap. And it annoys me because it's as if you have no idea of the dimension of the other teams [at this level] ... A 2-2 draw cannot depress the ambiance [around the club]. I will not accept it."
And if you are one of those depressed by it, Allegri has the following piece of advice for you: go and see a doctor for a dose of realism. Have some respect for Spurs prescribed.
The sense of entitlement offends Allegri. As does how Juventus winning the league is taken for granted when they are currently second in the tightest title race in Europe's top five leagues. Making the extraordinary look ordinary on the domestic front and reaching the Champions League final in two of the past three years despite being the continent's 10th richest club -- Spurs, incidentally, rank 11th -- has not helped. It has created the false impression this is normal when it is not.
Allegri's line of argument is shared by Marcello Lippi. "I completely agree with him," the former Juventus and Italy manager told Tuttosport. "Max is right. And he did well to completely reject all of the negativity coming from the outside. Victory is by no means assured in the Champions League."
Nevertheless the criticism hasn't stopped. Allegri's decision to deviate from the system Juventus have found balance in and play 4-2-3-1 backfired. But it's not hard to understand why he made that choice.
Clearly he wasn't confident in Claudio Marchisio or Rodrigo Bentancur's ability to do the job the injured Blaise Matuidi does for Juve in a 4-3-3. The starting XI he named looked brave at the time and, while it feels like a long time ago now, we shouldn't forget that when Juve raced into a 2-0 lead there were some people prematurely declaring it a stroke of genius. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the selection now looks foolish for its top-heaviness.
That said, the actual composition of Allegri's team is as good a counter-argument as you will find to this idea that Juve chose to sit back and defend their advantage. The team he picked was far too attacking for that.
Credit instead should go to Spurs, Allegri insisted, for pushing Juventus back and pinning them there. Not that the papers saw it that way. For La Gazzetta dello Sport, Juventus were "too Italian". While they recognised Spurs' merits, particularly how they kept playing at 2-2 as if they were still 2-0 down -- a lesson Juve could learn -- it deeply disappointed the pink to see that "the champions of Italy left a team ranked fifth in England and 20 points off the league leaders 66.6 percent possession [at home]."
Juve's "attitude was" in their opinion "indefensible." And here's the thing: the Old Lady still had the chances to score a third; once at 2-0 up and again at 2-1. It was also as quintessentially a Gonzalo Higuain performance as you're likely to see. While the Argentine managed to score twice, hold the ball up really well and start some very promising counterattacks, his performance will instead be remembered for the two opportunities he missed, one of which came from the spot. If he'd put either of them away, maybe the fight in Spurs would have died.
"It's easy to be critical from the sofa," Higuain complained.
Sure, and mitigating factors are not in short supply for the Old Lady. Matuidi's absence was a big one. Bigger even in the context of this season than that of Paulo Dybala, the most talented player at the club, whose performance against Barcelona in Turin a year ago elevated him to the status of one of the best players in the world.
You then have the injuries to underrated but tactically important pieces like Andrea Barzagli and Juan Cuadrado, who one imagines Allegri would have turned to as he has so often in the past when he needs to see a game out in Europe. The two of them give Allegri the chance to switch in-game to 3-5-2 and lock things down. But Allegri wouldn't hear it. When Juventus' lengthy casualty list was put to him as a palliative he said they had "no excuses," feelings that were echoed by Giorgio Chiellini on the eve of the game. "The strength of this team," he said, "is coping with absences from [Gianluigi] Buffon and Higuain, to Dybala."
In short, they only had themselves to blame and Spurs should be applauded. It's a delicate phase of the season. One in which Juventus' famous resilience finds itself undergoing a stress test. After the grudge match with Fiorentina down by the Arno last Friday, it's the Derby della Mole this weekend, a fixture that won't be easy. Torino are unbeaten under Walter Mazzarri and perfect at home. Then come the back-to-back games with Atalanta in league and cup, followed by Lazio and Spurs. A gauntlet that will go a long way to deciding their season.
Can they come through it? This team has been there and done it before. It was this time two years ago that they came back from 11 points behind to overtake Napoli. And the 2-2 with Spurs won't faze them either. Juve have qualified in similar circumstances before. Go back to Dortmund in '95, Dynamo Kiev in '98, Barcelona in '03. Juve almost did it against Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich two years ago. Those precedents should serve as a warning to Spurs not to get too confident on the back of their display in Turin. The Old Lady is prone to mood swings but she remains a femme fatale.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.