Tottenham Hotspur inflicted a 3-2 defeat on Juventus in an entertaining 2019 International Champions Cup meeting.
The showdown in Singapore, which marked Maurizio Sarri’s unofficial debut as Juve’s new manager, was heading towards penalties, but in the final minute of stoppage time Harry Kane would produce a stunning piece of brilliance, lobbing Wojciech Szczęsny from inside the centre circle.
Following this performance there’s so much Sarri can extract from his new charges. As for Spurs, it was no surprise to see them more energetic given they’ve been in pre-season mode that little bit more longer than the Old Lady, as the Premier League begins 15 days earlier than Serie A.
Erik Lamela would give Mauricio Pochettino’s men a half-time lead before Gonzalo Higuaín and Cristiano Ronaldo struck in a four-minute spell to turn the game on its head. However, the goals didn’t quite dry up, Lucas Moura – hungry for a regular starting berth next season – equalised before Kane’s stunning finish.
As we begin to catch our breath, here are five things we learned from this pulsating encounter.
1. Where games are often won or lost
If there’s one area of Juve’s team which could substantially transform following the appointment of the proactive Sarri, it’s their engine room. Under former boss Massimiliano Allegri they weren’t exactly pensive but rather pragmatic and often playing it too safe. This won’t be the case with Sarri at the helm as those playing between the defensive and forward lines will be heavily involved.
His arrival lit a fire underneath the metronomic Miralem Pjanić, who started alongside Emre Can and Blaise Matudi against Spurs, with the Bosnian international suggesting he’s going to have fun playing under the former banker. This wasn’t the case here, however, as you’d expect there would be opening day nerves. It does, after all, take a while for a new philosophy to be fully implemented.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) July 21, 2019
Spurs – in sync to what their long-serving manager demands – proved to be irresistible and were all over Juve like a rash, not giving them any room to breathe, which could work to Sarri’s advantage. It remains to be seen what his preferred triumvirate will be. The addition of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot – both arriving this summer on free transfers – suggests they’ll play a role with Pjanić forming a slick midfield reminiscent of the one he forged at Napoli to devastating effect.
Today, being Sarri’s unofficial debut, was the first chance supporters and neutrals had to see his theory of how Juve will play during his reign become a practical reality. It’s way too early to draw any conclusions, but it’s clear dominating the centre of the park is mightily important if he’s to realise his ambitions at Italy’s most followed club.
2. Ronaldo’s role
Since leaving Manchester United, where his legend was born, Cristiano Ronaldo – the five-time Ballon d’Or winner – has been coached by no fewer than six different managers. Each has brought something new to wherever he played. Some have preferred expansive football whilst others have been more conservative; during these respective tenures his game has evolved, going from an explosive winger to a deadly forward.
Sarri, conscious to get the best out of Juve’s talisman, gave Ronaldo a licence to roam in his 4-3-3 system this afternoon, and this will likely be his position next season, deployed from the left, which he did in their showdown against Spurs.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Spurs;
•7 dribbles completed.
•88% pass accuracy.
•3 key passes.
•1 big chance created.pic.twitter.com/dUZxPLW5rs
— CR7 Studio🇵🇹 (@cr7studio7) July 21, 2019
Here in Singapore, given this was their first pre-season game, he didn’t overexert himself aside from an early run towards goal that saw him whip out his trademark stepovers which the boisterous audience greeted enthusiastically.
He did celebrate Juve’s equaliser, like it was scored in a Champions League semi-final, when Gonzalo Higuaín – whose Juve future is up in the air – slotted past Paulo Gazzaniga and four minutes later Spurs’ keeper was again picking the ball out of his net when Ronaldo finally got his goal: a well struck first-time shot from Mattia De Sciglio’s cross.
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3. All eyes on Spurs’ full-backs
The departure of Kieran Trippier has opened the door for Serge Aurier, Kyle Walker-Peters and possibly Juan Foyth to make Spurs’ right-back position their own. Pochettino in reacquainting with Sarri opted for Walker-Peters from the get-go.
His unenviable task was to keep Ronaldo at bay, which he did at times, but more impressive was his bursts forward and getting involved in Spurs’ attacks. Something we know he’s capable of, just flashback to their 5-0 win over Bournemouth last December, a game that saw him register a hat-trick of assists.
A strong shift in the first half 💪
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) July 21, 2019
On the opposite flank there was no Danny Rose – who is expected to end a 12-year association with the north London club this summer – or Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen who often filled in at left-back last season.
Instead an opportunity for academy graduate Anthony Georgiou who has to date played just six minutes for the senior team. Against such an illustrious opposition, even if this wasn’t a game of incredible importance, he handled himself well, which his manager would have made a note of.
4. Enter De Ligt
It was clear from the first minute what Sarri wants from his backline. Leonardo Bonucci, renowned for his long-range distribution, partnered Daniele Rugani with Joao Cancelo and De Sciglio either side of them. There was no starting place for latest big money recruit Matthijs de Ligt, who in fairness only joined up this week, or Giorgio Chiellini missing through injury.
It’s expected the latter will form Juve’s new-look central defensive partnership. Both, especially, De Ligt are super comfortable on the ball which Sarri is requiring from those playing in front of their goalkeeper.
— adidas Football (@adidasfootball) July 19, 2019
None of the starting quartet seemed at ease with passing from the back, a job made difficult by Spurs’ incessant pressing, something that needs to be soon resolved given their manager will not be changing his ways.
The moment everyone waited for came just after the hour mark when De Ligt came on, though he wasn’t the only one come on to make his unofficial debut, Tanguy Ndombele – the Lillywhites record signing – replaced Lamela and his first contribution, mere seconds later, was an eye of the needle pass that cut through Juve’s defence which ended with Lucas Moura scoring.
5. Poch’s options up front
One criticism last season of the recent European Cup runners-up was a lack of options available to Pochettino, particularly in the final third, a by-product of their decision to not make a single purchase.
Ultimately it didn’t cost them as Spurs reached a first Champions League final as well as making the Premier League top four. But it’s silverware that creates memories, even if Pochettino has moved the goalposts to what success looks like. Heading into the new season it doesn’t seem that problem will rear its ugly head.
📸 🇮🇪 Troy Parrott getting his first taste of first-team action tonight!
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) July 21, 2019
The return of Erik Lamela at the backend of 2018/19 felt like a new signing. Son Heung-min meanwhile has reached a new level whilst 17-year-old marksman Troy Parrott is one to keep an eye on; being Harry Kane’s understudy isn’t the worst education, and he was unlucky not to break the deadlock, his shot parried by Gianluigi Buffon fell into Lamela’s path which he buried. Moura and Kane – ever-presents last season – came on in the second half and proved their worth. Kane’s goal in particular going down in folklore.