Tottenham vs. Juventus Preview: Which Attack is For Real?

Tottenham vs. Juventus Preview: Which Attack is For Real? article feature image

Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain

Tottenham Hotspur are a better team than Juventus.

This, however, is not a fact that goes down easily. Juventus are, after all, JUVENTUS. They’ve won six Serie A titles in a row, and are neck and neck with Napoli for a seventh. They’ve reached two Champions League finals in the last three years. They’re one of the most storied clubs in the world.

Tottenham (+123), while certainly possessing their own rich history, are considerably less accomplished. The Spurs sit in fourth place in the Premier League, and this is only the second time they’ve reached the knockout stages of the Champions League.

But historical tendencies aside, when Juventus (+250) travel to Wembley to take on Tottenham at 2:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, they’ll need to figure out a way to overcome some big tactical barriers if they want to win (or improbably draw while scoring three goals or more) and advance.

On a basic level, Tottenham’s points per game also aren’t nearly as impressive as Juve’s. They’ve got 58 points from 28 games, which is a strong but not spectacular 2.07 points per game average, while Juventus has 68 points from 26 games for a mammoth 2.62 ppg. The Italian side also appears better from a simple goals scored and goals conceded perspective. They score 2.42 goals per game and concede 0.58. Those numbers are 1.90 and 0.83 for the Spurs.

But dig a little deeper, and subtle alarm bells start to go off for Juventus.

First, there’s the large discrepancy between Juve’s goals scored, 63, and their expected goals scored (xG), 42. That’s a stunning gap, albeit in a league in which talent differences can allow top teams to outrun their expected goals scored a little more readily than in some other leagues. That said, over the last three seasons Juventus have outscored their xG by eight, 12 and 13, so 21 in 26 games is extreme even for them. The lion’s share of those goals have been scored by attackers Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain (pictured above), who have 15 and 14, respectively.

Dybala in particular has been scorching hot when he’s been on the field, flying almost six goals ahead of his xG in just under 1,500 minutes. The two make a formidable pair and are a large part of why Juventus are so hard to defend. The problem is that Higuain has been battling an ankle injury since going off on Feb. 18 against Torino and may not be healthy Wednesday.

Tottenham, meanwhile, have been good value for every inch of the 55 goals they’ve scored this season. In fact, that total is ever so slightly below their xG of 56. And star striker Harry Kane has similarly managed to rack up an astonishing 24 goals without running hot at all; his xG is at 23.99. Kane’s numbers atop the Spurs’ attack suggest he’ll create and score chances against anybody, while Dybala’s (and Higuain’s if he plays) suggest that they’ve benefited from exploiting bad defenses and finding chances that are better than they seem.

Juve’s potential to struggle is exacerbated by their tendency to play extremely conservatively against good teams. In a Saturday visit to fourth-place Lazio, a game they desperately needed to win to keep pace with first-place Napoli, they had 60% possession and completed 522 passes, but only a measly 55 of them were in the final third of the pitch. Lazio, by comparison, completed only 307 passes, but 78 of them were in the attacking third. Juventus’ first shot on target came in the 93rd minute. It also happened to be the game-winning goal from Dybala.

All the signs point to Juventus coming to London with a conservative game plan: Keep the ball if they can, don’t take too many risks and let Dybala (and possibly Higuain) create something out of nothing to win the match and put them through. It’s a risky proposition, and one the Spurs will be well-prepared to combat. Juve have a couple of great attackers, but without real aggressive support from the rest of their team, it probably won’t be enough to see them through to the quarterfinals.

All odds current as of Tuesday evening.