Tottenham can't be wasteful against Juventus as UCL clash looms
Almost seven years ago to the day, Tottenham travelled to Italy for the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie against AC Milan in the San Siro.
Spurs were given little chance. The team were dogged by injuries, were without their talisman Gareth Bale and AC Milan were the form team in Serie A.
Tottenham sneaked a 1-0 win courtesy of Peter Crouch partly because many of the players lifted their game, but mainly because Milan severely underestimated their opposition. The Italians started as if they believed they only had to turn up to win and by the time they realised they were involved in a tough battle, it was too late.
There will be no chance of Juventus taking Spurs for granted in Tuesday's Champions League tie. Where the 2011 Spurs team was built around a few stars -- Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric -- the current team has world class players in almost every position.
They are a side that has the understanding and trust in one another that comes having played together for nearly three years and they are hitting their best form at the right time of the season. To take seven points out of a possible nine in matches against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal is a sign of just how well they are playing.
If Mauricio Pochettino can have any gripes with his team, it is that they sometimes lack a killer instinct. They fail to put away sides that are there for the taking and make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves. Against Manchester United, Spurs had several chances to increase their first-half lead that they failed to convert. Against Liverpool, they started slowly and gave away an early goal to a silly error. But in the second half, they bossed the game. And though ultimately they will have been pleased to grab a point with a last minute Harry Kane penalty, there was a lingering feeling they missed a golden opportunity to take all three.
It was a similar story in the North London derby. After a cagey first-half, Spurs were utterly dominant in the second 45 minutes after taking the lead when Kane headed home. Tottenham had several golden chances to increase the lead and should have been out of sight at 3-0 up with 10 minutes to play. Predictably the game drew to a nervy conclusion with only the poor finishing from Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette denying the visitors a draw their performance had not deserved.
Tottenham can't afford to be that wasteful against Juventus. The Italian side are not only the dominant force in Serie A, they have also not conceded a goal in 15 games. But Spurs will get their chances and they must take them. Serie A is not nearly as strong as the Premier League and the Juventus defence does not often get tested. They aren't used to be competing against players with the attacking flair of Kane, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli. Spurs must take advantage of what may be a slight rustiness in the Juve defence.
Which isn't to say Pochettino's men should be reckless. Make no mistake, a draw would be a decent result away to one of the best sides in Europe. But neither should Spurs be too cautious and respectful. They have already brushed aside two fancied teams in Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stages and Pochettino has shown he has learned from his bruising first outing in the Champions League last season. Now is the time for Spurs to lay down a marker.
Pochettino has made most of the right calls so far this season. His one weakness has been a slowness to react when his game plan is not working. Against Juventus he must be prepared to be flexible and make the necessary changes before it is too late. The Italians are too good a team not to punish any sign of weakness.
Spurs need to stay strong and believe in themselves. If they remember the club motto, "To Dare is To Do," then anything is possible.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.