In Europe, it’s kill or be-killed
The UEFA Champions League is a harsh mistress, and it is not welcoming to newcomers. On Wednesday night, superior football was trounced by experience when Juventus beat Tottenham Hotspur to clinch a spot in the Champions League quarter finals.
It was a laughably one-sided affair. Spurs outclassed the Old Lady of Europe in almost every area of the pitch. They were younger, faster, fitter, and stronger. They won virtually every second ball and barely allowed Juventus to string two passes together. So why did they lose? It’s simple, Juventus outclassed them in the only area where it matters—experience.
Where Spurs coaxed themselves into a false sense of security with a 1-0 lead, Juventus dug in and hung on. They had all the dominance on the ball, but did nothing with it. Then, in a critical moment, Allegri made changes that caught Spurs unawares, and Juventus struck twice. It was a rookie mistake that ultimately cost them the tie.
A more experienced team would have gone for the jugular. Tottenham delayed the kill and let Juventus back in the game. Juventus learned this same lesson two years ago, when they lost a 2-0 lead to Bayern Munich and were eliminated in extra time. We have seen time and time again that, in the Champions League, failing to finish off your opponent results in disaster.
This is a lesson the Bavarians need to learn, because they have been guilty of the same laxity in recent years.
When life gives you lemons, squirt them into the eyes of your opponent
VAR isn’t a thing in the Champions League, no matter how much Karl-Heinz Rummenigge wants it to be. Therefore, refereeing mistakes can and will occur. The team that comes out on top will be the one that can best use the referee’s mistakes in their favor. Spurs were handed a lifeline in the early stages of the game, when the linesman failed to call an obvious foul on Douglas Costa inside the penalty box. What should have come as a warning made no difference to the North Londoners, and they failed to capitalize on chance after chance afterward.
Juventus meanwhile were lucky to not be called out on a few handball instances, and the stomp by Barzagli on Son went unpunished. Juventus used this to their advantage, using questionable tactics to defend their box and shut down the incredible Heung-min Son. The bianconero stepped up their physicality and it ultimately played to their advantage. The fouls they got away with were arguably unfair, but that’s how it is. This is part of the game.
Last year, Bayern Munich got a completely undeserved penalty against Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena. Arturo Vidal stepped up to take it, and he missed. You simply cannot give up gifts like these in the Champions League. Juventus proved that they know how to use any advantage they had to the fullest. Bayern Munich will need to do the same, if they want to win this competition.
Here’s the most important bit that Bayern Munich can learn from Juventus — the art of defending. Tottenham were exceptional in attack but Juventus kept them at bay, with the evergreen Giorgio Chiellini in fine form on the night. Spurs’ threatening duo of Harry Kane and Dele Alli were completely shut down and unable to threaten. Only Son did anything of note to the Juve defense, and he was muscled out of the game by the Italians.
It wasn’t a clean performance. It wasn’t a dominant performance. It wasn’t even much fun to watch, if you’re a fan of Pep Guardiola and the like. But it was effective. That’s what Bayern Munich need to be. Effective in defense, just like Juventus. Juventus got outclassed by Spurs, but their superior defense allowed them to hold on and stage a comeback. It never would have happened had they shipped three or four goals in the period Spurs dominated the game.
This is something the Bavarians need to learn. How to put in a gritty, ugly performance and come out on top. Spurs played better football, but Juventus were deserved winners on the night — because THEY DID WHAT IT TOOK. In the absence of a freak like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, that’s what Bayern Munich need to be as well.