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THE HAVE-NOTS

Did Spurs actually ‘bottle it’ or did Juventus simply remind us all of football’s most-desired trait?

At some point last night's game at Wembley became less about Spurs v Juventus and more about challengers v champions

15 minutes.

That’s how long Juventus were better than Spurs over the course of the two legs.

The other 165 minutes or so were either dominated by Mauricio Pochettino’s side or evenly contested.

And yet, the Old Lady marches on to the quarter-finals, while Spurs are left to reflect on what might have been… again.

You have to feel for Son — he didn’t deserve to be on the losing side last night

PA:Press Association
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You have to feel for Son — he didn’t deserve to be on the losing side last night

Inevitably, fans of other clubs were quick to label Spurs as ‘bottlers’ but something more nuanced was at work at Wembley last night.

As Giorgio Chiellini and Gigi Buffon celebrated each tackle, block, clearance and save as if it were a goal, there was a sense of futility about the hosts’ desperate late onslaught.

Even when Harry Kane’s header came off the inside of the post and flirted with going over the line, you just knew it would end 2-1 to the visitors.

And that’s because the moment Gonzalo Higuain bundled in the equaliser, the game became less about Spurs vs Juventus and more about challengers vs champions.

Winners. Simple as that

Getty Images - Getty
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Winners. Simple as that

Group mentality is one of the most inscrutable yet powerful influences in football.

At the risk of reducing a complex issue to its bare bones, Juventus have an elite mentality and Spurs don’t.

And that’s why, the moment Paulo Dybala was given a clear run at goal, the tie was settled, you could have put Juventus’ ball in the pot of the quarter-final draw there and then.

An emphatic finish

Getty - Contributor
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An emphatic finish

Pochettino should be commended for his positive approach to the game and when the excellent Son Heung-min scored in the 39th minute, it appeared the Premier League club had earned the ultimate reward for their offensive approach when a 0-0 would have done the job.

But in the space of a three-minute raid, their refreshing positivity was unmasked as naivety.

There’s no way Juventus would have allowed for such an open, high-tempo game had the roles been reversed.

And that’s why I’m uneasy with the ‘bottlers’ tag, because to bottle it you have to be clearly in the ascendancy first and while Spurs were the better team and had a slender lead, they were still always up against the mighty Juventus.

Max Allegri’s tactical tinkering gave worked wonders at Wembley

PA:Press Association
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Max Allegri’s tactical tinkering gave worked wonders at Wembley

Aside from the persistent diving, this Spurs side is rather likeable.

If they are to evolve and join the top tier of European clubs, they need to become a little less likeable, and a lot more ruthless.

As the game reached a climax and the pressure increased, the Juve players thrived.

Andrea Barzagli, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Buffon and the irrepressible Chiellini, all looked like they were having fun — they couldn’t get enough of it.

There’s a lot to admire about Juventus, none more so than their elite mentality.

Forwards be afraid

PA:Press Association
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Forwards be afraid

Instilling such a mindset in players takes time and only certain individuals are capable of adopting it.

Pochettino’s greatest test now is breeding a culture of success in a squad thought of as perennial nearly-men.

The psychological theory of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ suggests that if you make someone believe they are a certain type of way, they will eventually adopt the attitude suggested.

A browse on social media and the Spurs players will see mention of them being ‘bottlers’ over and over again — and maybe, subconsciously, they’ve accepted that.

Spurs are 95% of the finished product

EPA
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Spurs are 95% of the finished product

On the other hand, Juve’s harsh lesson may trigger a change in Spurs.

Which way they go depends on Pochettino and the players but for the club’s sake, they’ll have to learn quickly.

Otherwise Alderweireld, Eriksen, Alli, Son and Kane may seek superior environments.


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