Juventus still licking their wounds heading into derby showdown with Torino
Perspective is a funny thing. Manchester City have the most expensive squad in Europe, yet their fans would be happy to just be competing in the final stages of the Champions League. Juventus sell a star every summer and yet nothing short of another final and a win this year would silence the critics.
The Bianconeri drew with Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 in their last match. It's a pity after having gone 2-0 up within 10 minutes. Is it disappointing? Absolutely. But is it disastrous? No. The fact Juventus and their coach Massimiliano Allegri have suffered relentless criticism after the game is what is truly shocking.
Lest we forget, the Old Lady was abandoned by Antonio Conte for the "austerity programme" they were perceived to be running. Without stars in every corner of the pitch and heavy money being spent in every transfer market, Allegri made do with what he had and constructed a clever side that forewent beautiful play for the sake of winning and reached two Champions League finals in three years, not to mention winning relentless domestic trophies.
He does not deserve to be the victim of his own success, expected to win all that's before him just because he managed it before. The criticism has been close to unbearable and mistakes were indeed made against Spurs, but nothing that deserved such a response.
In the Champions League match preview, this blog explained that the real duel between the sides will take place in midfield, pointing out the majesty of Mousa Dembele's play. Spurs are a hardworking side with a balanced midfield that boasts physicality as well as vision and precision. They know how to press and bully their opponent and have always succeeded in provoking mistakes.
Allegri's decision to play only two in midfield (Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira) was a little baffling but not altogether crazy. The idea was that since Juve were without Blaise Matuidi, a source of dynamism and energy, it was best not to attempt to replace him with a weaker version in Stefano Sturaro but rather change the style of play. By showing attacking courage, Allegri hoped Juve's front line would peg Spurs back and allow them to score the necessary goals at home, and it worked early on. The Bianconeri started the match in fantastic fashion, playing with accuracy and fluidity as they took the Premier League side by surprise, scoring two quick goals.
The problem is that perhaps the goals came too quickly, giving Juve a false sense of security. As a side that tend to take their foot of their gas when they feel "on top" in a game, they did exactly that after 10 minutes against Spurs and encouraged the opponent to develop their confidence and take grip of the game.
Falling deeper and deeper as Mauricio Pochettino's men utilised their physical strength and relentless energy to keep pushing, Juve were eventually overwhelmed and conceded. Allegri spent much of his time on the sidelines trying to push the team forward, asking them to raise their centre of gravity and get tighter to the opponent, but Spurs were already relishing their new-found dominance and confidence in a notoriously difficult ground.
Yet despite the ball possession stats and how well Spurs controlled the midfield and play, the Bianconeri fashioned the better chances. Higuain should have scored from a counterattack and indeed from the penalty to put them 4-1 up by half-time.
Yes, Allegri made a choice that was different on a tactical level, but had Higuain put Juve up 4-1 and Gianluigi Buffon not made a rare error in goal in the second half, would the critics not have applauded the courageous Juve side that cared little for possession but still created and scored four goals?
The analysis could continue for days, but Juventus have no time to dwell as the Derby della Mole is upon them. The Old Lady has a point to prove after their European disappointment, and this match won't be easy.
Under Walter Mazzarri, Torino have become a solid and stable side that have conceded only two goals in five games and none at home. In fact, at home, the side have scored eight goals in three games, recovering a sense of tactical consistency -- Mazzarri has refused to chop and change as much as his predecessor did, instead sticking to tried and tested players.
In the derby, it's likely Juve will return to the 4-3-3 formation, offering the midfield a little help in the form of the physical Sturaro with Alex Sandro being pushed further up the field, taking his place on the left of the attacking trident. The good news is that Paulo Dybala is back in the squad and may well come on to play toward the end of the match. His vision and ability to relieve pressure off the defence will come in handy for what is set to be a tough few weeks for Juve.
Another three points will be greatly appreciated by a side that is still licking its wounds.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.