Football: Spurs not scared of Juve

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino feels that life around Spurs now is just about as good as it gets.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino feels that life around Spurs now is just about as good as it gets.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite Italians' great defence, Pochettino aims for away win in wake of team's fine spell

LONDON • After witnessing Tottenham Hotspur defeat Arsenal 1-0 to crown a challenging set of fixtures, manager Mauricio Pochettino was feeling bullish about today's Champions League last-16, first-leg clash at Juventus.

The Argentinian was so confident of his side's quality that ahead of the trip to Turin, he joked that he will not need to warn his players about the Italian giants' recent imperious defensive record.

"It's better that I don't tell them, that will be my psychology," he said. "Look, it's a great team and it will be a tough battle.

"There are many challenges - to overcome our lack of experience in the Champions League, to beat a great team like Juventus, to score against a team that has conceded just one goal in 16 games.

"But if we could win the first leg it would be fantastic. My idea is to keep playing the same, to try and be a little bit braver if we can."

He clearly feels that life around Spurs now - they defeated Manchester United 2-0 last month and drew 2-2 at Liverpool this month - is just about as good as it gets.

"After United, Liverpool and now Arsenal, this was a very tough period," he added.

Tottenham have won just one of their last eight games in Italy - against AC Milan in 2011 - while losing four. They are, however, on a 12-match unbeaten run.

One of the key players today is Harry Kane, who scored more goals (56) than Cristiano Ronaldo (53) or Lionel Messi (54) last year. But it is on the Champions League stage the striker must deliver to be truly measured against the duo, both named World Player of the Year five times.

Kane, scorer of 32 goals for Spurs in all competitions this season, will lead his team into the Allianz stadium in Turin, where the Italians have lost only once in 27 Champions League games.

He would not find it easy against Juventus' defence, led by legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 40, and rugged defender Giorgio Chiellini, 33.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri may be making all the impact but two Champions League final defeats in the past three editions have dented his standing.

Ironically, an ageing squad could also hamper his quest for the European title Juventus won in 1985 and 1996.

Besides Buffon and Chiellini, he also depends on the 36-year-old Andrea Barzagli, while star striker Gonzalo Higuain is a sprightly 30.

Injuries are also a concern with Barzagli and Paulo Dybala in a race against time to be fit, and Juan Cuadrado, Blaise Matuidi and Benedikt Howedes out of action.

Pochettino has left Toby Alderweireld from the travelling party even though the defender has just returned from a three-month lay-off with a hamstring injury. Other than that, the Spurs manager is, without a doubt, raring to go.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2018, with the headline 'Spurs not scared of Juve'. Print Edition | Subscribe