17:30 KO (BST); Saturday 5th August; Wembley Stadium (London, England)
Tottenham bring their pre-season campaign to a close with their first fixture at temporary home Wembley against Serie A champions Juventus. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have had a mixed bag of results this summer, beating Ligue 1 runners-up Paris Saint-Germain 4-2, then losing to Roma 3-2 in the final minute, as well as a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Whilst pre-season results mean little, and Pochettino has stressed the importance of friendlies in getting up to speed in terms of fitness and match sharpness, eight goals conceded in three games is a far cry from the best defence in the Premier League in 2016/17 and the manner of the defeat to City in particular must be cause for concern.
This Saturday represents the perfect opportunity to get a psychological boost prior to the beginning of the new season with a win against high class opposition in a home that has not served them well in recent years.
Last Time Out
Manchester City 3-0 Tottenham (International Champions Cup)
The Citizens produced a dominant performance against Tottenham to earn a 3-0 friendly victory in Nashville in the International Champions Cup as Kyle Walker faced his old teammates for the first time.
John Stones opened the scoring with a header after ten minutes, whilst Sergio Aguero twice hit the post in the second half before Raheem Sterling extended the lead to two in the 72nd minute. Brahim Diaz added an injury-time third to cap an impressive display from Pep Guardiola’s side.
Results matter little, but the nature of the performance will be of concern for Pochettino. Spurs looked sluggish and sub-par, rarely testing Ederson and struggling to get out of their own half. Not the intensity you want to see against fellow Premier League opposition.
Roma 1-1 Juventus [4-5 on penalties] (International Champions Cup)
The Old Lady closed their International Champions Cup campaign with a 5-4 penalty victory over fellow Serie A side Roma.
A first half goal from Mario Mandzukic was cancelled out by Edin Dzeko with 16 minutes to go in a match that offered a glimpse into a potentially competitive battle for the Serie A title next season.
Juventus ‘keeper Carlo Pinsoglio proved the match-winner when he saved 18-year-old Marco Tumminello’s opening spot kick before loanee Douglas Costa sealed a 5-4 win. Both Max Allegri and Eusebio di Francesco named strong XIs for a balanced and combative game that offered little in the way of clear-cut chances.
Pochettino is expected to name a full strength side in Spurs’ final test before the start of the Premier League. Kieran Trippier will retain the right back position in another test against quality opposition, whilst Harry Winks keeps his place in midfield as Victor Wanyama is still side-lined with a knee injury.
Allegri gave a substitute runout to new 40 million signing Federico Bernardeschi against Roma and he could feature from the first whistle at Wembley. Elsewhere, Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira and Douglas Costa are expected to start following their cameos on the weekend.
Key Battle: Mousa Dembele vs Miralem Pjanic
Two beastly central midfielders, two of the most important players for their respective sides and the two that will likely determine the outcome of the game. Mousa Dembele, despite his injury and fitness concerns, is a monster in the centre of the park for Tottenham and is absolutely vital to the way Spurs play.
He serves a dual function in the middle, winning the ball back when out of possession, successful in 56 tackles, and driving forwards after having won it back, using his strength power and agility. He completed 84% of his take-ons (76/91) and was accurate in 92% of his passes; the Belgian rarely loses the ball
Battling him for control of the midfield, though, is Miralem Pjanic. He performs a slightly different role for Juventus, functioning as the side’s deep-lying playmaker; Pjanic created 60 chances and assisted nine goals last season. Whether he can out-muscle Dembele is a different story. One has to take control of the midfield, but who will take the initiative?
Recapturing last season’s form
Spurs have been somewhat off the boil during their pre-season campaign and they urgently need to rediscover their form of last season prior to the commencement of the 2017/18 season. In particular, Harry Kane and Dele Alli need to pick up the slack.
The duo scored 47 Premier League goals between them last year and formed a wonderful connection in the final third, using intelligent movement and spatial awareness to wreak havoc on defences.
Thus far in pre-season, Kane and Alli have just one goal between them, with Kane scoring from the spot against PSG. They’ve looked sluggish and seemingly lack match sharpness.
Saturday’s game is a perfect opportunity to test themselves against a high-class defence and recapture that instinct that saw them blossom into one of the deadliest attacking duos in Europe.
A solution to Dani Alves
Arguably the best right back in world football, even at the age of 34, Dani Alves left Turin for the riches of Paris over the summer and Juventus have been left scratching their heads about how best to replace him.
Against PSG in a friendly earlier in July, the Old Lady harked back to years gone by with Stephen Lichtsteiner taking over from the Brazilian, but it’s something of a step backwards to replace Alves with somebody not perceived as good enough to start anymore.
Mattia De Sciglio was brought in from AC Milan over the summer for £11 million, but even still the Italian was considered more of a utility player rather than a guaranteed starter, hence their decision to sell to a rival.
Two assists, 14 chances crated and six take-ons completed is nothing to brag about and he’ll have to improve his attacking game should he want to succeed with the Serie A champions.
Nkoudou’s important role
Whilst Georges-Kevin Nkoudou isn’t expected to start against Juventus, or for a majority of games this season, he will have an important role to play in the squad, especially at home games.
He’s a tricky, direct and extremely quick winger that likes to stay wide and hug the touchline, a type of player Spurs don’t really have in their squad as of yet. His run and fantastic cross for Vincent Janssen earlier in pre-season is a testament to what he can do when given the chance.
Such speed and width will be vital playing on the bigger Wembley pitch, as defences will be stretched with significant space out wide and in behind. It will leave Nkoudou isolated against defenders and the 22-year-old thrives in one-on-one situations.
However, this was something he was denied last season, limited to just eight Premier League cameos. With a proper pre-season, game time and crucially confidence under his belt, it will be interesting to see how Nkoudou can rise to the challenge in 2017/18.
PREDICTION: Tottenham 1-2 Juventus
Tottenham will want to impress their home fans and they face a very stern test against the defeated Champions League finalists, especially under the pressure of playing at Wembley, a psychological factor they’ve so greatly struggled with.
As a result, I think Juventus will have enough to edge this game. Spurs have looked sloppy, off the boil and defensively fragile, areas on which Juventus can capitalise given the experience of their squad.
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