F365’s early losers: The old men of the Old Lady

Date published: Wednesday 14th February 2018 11:36

This was billed as the wily old buggers v the green young bucks and after ten minutes it looked very much like age and experience had trampled all over youthful vigour as Juventus stormed into an early 2-0 lead that exposed Tottenham’s naive lack of focus and undoubted weakness in the full-back areas. This was a Juventus team who knew how to win games, knew how to keep clean sheets and knew how to intimidate cowed opposition in their own stadium. Seven successive clean sheets give you that kind of confidence.

But fortunately for Spurs, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and an even thinner line between ‘experienced’ and ‘past it’. As Tottenham stared potential humiliation in the face, pulled themselves up to their full height and became stronger, their supposedly savvy opposition retreated, lacking both the energy and the impetus to stop the tide. They clearly thought the job was done. But then Tottenham’s ludicrous pressing forced them into mistakes as the crowd – used to subservience from the opposition – pressured them into more.

When you have an ageing team, you simply cannot afford not to dominate possession. You cannot afford not to give yourselves breathers with patient possession. Against Tottenham they were afforded no such control and no such time to breathe. A team that averages 58.9% possession at home was given 33%. A team that averages 88.5% pass completion at home was allowed to reach 71%. When your 31-year-old forward is playing as an auxiliary left-back, you know that the game has not gone as planned.

Said 31-year-old forward Mario Mandzukic is one of eight Juventus players over the age of 30 who have played over 1000 minutes of Premier League football this season; Tottenham have three. On Tuesday night the total age of the Italian club’s players was 323, giving away over a Buffon to Tottenham on 280. That’s an average of four years per man – a hell of a gap when the younger man has the ball. Or when the younger man is racing onto a through ball and the veteran goalkeeper has a decision to make. Or when the younger man is taking a free-kick and the veteran goalkeeper looks like he might need help going down, never mind standing up.

“We’ll try to win the Champions League but if you believe a draw like tonight could depress us, I don’t accept it,” said a very angry Massimiliano Allegri, incensed with questions from an Italian media clearly not accustomed to seeing Juventus dominated in their own stadium. He repeatedly insisted that Juventus were never favourites for this Champions League clash, which would have surprised every bookmaker across Europe. They were last season’s finalists and they were playing the fifth best team in England; of course they were the bloody favourites.

“The priority of Juventus is the seventh championship,” he insisted and then the penny drops. Allegri – if nobody else in Italy – knew that there was no chance of this over-ripe Juventus squad fighting off the might of Napoli in Serie A and also mounting a challenge in Europe. This time last year they were not only 12 months younger but had Serie A breathing space. Oh and they did not face a Tottenham side that boasts an unusual combination of vim and nous. For all Monaco’s effervescence last season, they lacked the latter.

The tie is not over and Juventus could yet emerge triumphant. But if not Tottenham, there will be another team who realises that youth could be their greatest asset if it is allied with intelligence. And the old men will not have the energy to challenge them.

Sarah Winterburn


Planet Sport exclusiveUmpire: Officials shouldn’t be pally with players. (Tennis365)


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