Tottenham's Eriksen among the best and other things learned from draw with Juventus

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Tottenham will be lauded for their comeback against Champions League veterans Juventus and rightly so.

A 2-2 draw in Turin seemed unlikely on Tuesday night after Gonzalo Higuain struck twice inside the first 10 minutes to rattle the visitors.

However, strikes from Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen secured a vital draw for the away side but should they have come away with even more?

Here are three things we learned from the round-of-16 clash.

SO CLOSE TO GREATNESS

Tottenham are almost a great side just like Hugo Lloris is almost a world-class goalkeeper. The France international – like his defence – was caught off guard by Juventus’ quick free-kick and Higuain’s early strike. He did ever so well to get down to the low shot quickly but crucially didn’t get a strong enough hand to it to steer it around the post.

The same could be said about Juventus’ second with Higuain again finding the net, this time from the spot. Lloris guessed the right way and got to the rather poorly struck effort but for a second time, didn’t do enough to keep it out.

Still, it’s not as if he’s not a quality keeper, a second half save to deny Federico Bernardeschi proving as much. Similarly, Tottenham’s class came to the fore on more than a few occasions. They recovered from their early setbacks to come back into the contest and head into the second leg in the driving seat.

However, despite recent form, Juventus were there for the taking but an excellent Spurs performance was riddled by individual errors. Rash penalties were conceded and glorious opportunities squandered. Perhaps they momentarily lost themselves in the grandeur of the occasion early on as well, but a little more composure should’ve seen them leave Turin with a famous victory in the bag.

ERIKSEN AMONG THE BEST

As far as exquisite midfielders go, Christian Eriksen is one of the more underrated ones. In the face of quality opposition – and they don’t come much better than Juventus – he was the best player on the pitch. That speaks volumes, especially when the early goals made most of the game an uphill task.

Harry Kane may have scored the visitors’ first to drag them back into contention, but it was Eriksen who was the driving force behind Tottenham’s gain in momentum. The Dane set up the English striker with a delightful cross in the 26th minute only for Kane’s effort to be stopped by Gianluigi Buffon at point-blank range.

Eriksen then set up Dele Alli with an identical cross but the attacking midfielder headed over the bar. Apart from the host of chances he created, against a defence that had conceded just once in the previous 16 games, he also tested Buffon with a swerving effort in the first half before clinching the equaliser in the 71st minute with a clever free-kick to beat the Italian legend. It was an all-round super display from the playmaker who looked like he belonged.

STRANGE JUVENTUS STRATEGY

Despite starting the game with such exuberance, the hosts petered off after securing a two-goal cushion, almost like an away side would. It was a strange tactic from Massimiliano Allegri’s side, much to their detriment.

Spurs must of course be given credit for their part in coming back to dominate proceedings but there’s no question that the Bianconeri noticeably sat back and allowed the away side possession. Once the likes of Mousa Dembele and Eriksen got on the ball, even a defence as sturdy as Juventus’ came under threat.

Tottenham were indisputably the better side, the dominant force over 80 minutes, but the Serie A giants were the ones that surrendered control and once they did, there was no retrieving it. Spurs fly back home with two precious away goals and the tie level.

For a side that has reached two Champions League finals in three seasons, Juventus’ surprisingly poor strategy could well see them eliminated in the round of 16.

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Sergio Aguero poses problem for Pep Guardiola and other Man City talking points

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Sergio Aguero (l) scores a thumping third for Manchester City at Basel.

Manchester City can look forward to the Champions League quarter-finals after goals from Ilkay Gundogan (two), Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero earned a clinical 4-0 first-leg triumph at Basel.

Pep Guardiola’s men were out of sight at a freezing St Jakob-Park by 23 minutes courtesy of Germany midfielder Gundogan’s header, Portugal playmaker Silva’s excellent volley and Aguero’s rocket from 30 yards. A consummate second-half display saw Gundogan add to the score with a refined curled shot.

AGUERO IS A MAN APART

There are few superlatives left to describe Aguero’s contribution to the Blues cause.

The Argentina centre forward only had one shot at goal, but he made it count as he lashed home from 30 yards. Such is the quality of his ball striking, his 198th effort for the club still found the side netting despite the distance at play.

But the relationship between Aguero and Guardiola remains a curious one. Brazil No9 Gabriel Jesus is scheduled to return “maybe in one week, 10 days, two weeks” and his mobility makes him a better fit for the Spaniard’s famed system.

And yet, in Jesus’ absence, Aguero has scored a stupendous 14 times in his last 11 run-outs.

As problems go, it is a welcome one.

Gabriel Jesus was injured at Crystal Palace on December 31.

Gabriel Jesus was injured at Crystal Palace on December 31.

SECOND STRING MAKE THEIR CASE

The wealth of Guardiola’s options are the envy of Europe.

His riches were on full show in Switzerland as two players who will not make his full-strength XI grasped their chance to shine.

Gundogan is a man renowned for his supreme passing, yet his completion rate was down at 82.1 per cent – for comparison, he recorded 90.2 per cent in Saturday’s 5-1 humiliation of Leicester. What he lacked in precision with his passing he made up for with his finishing.

Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was rested just past the hour mark for David Silva. But it will be Guardiola’s first signing in June 2016, from Borussia Dortmund, who will surely make way on a permanent basis.

This was also a better night for Bernardo Silva. A bouncing ball was expertly slotted home, although the sight of Germany winger Leroy Sane returning as a second-half substitute should signal the end of his six-match run of starts.

NOT IN GOOD NIC

This might not have been a walk in the Park if referee Jonas Eriksson had been alert in the early stages.

Nicolas Otamendi was the luckiest man in Switzerland when his clumsy body check on forward Dimitri Oberlin in the penalty box went without punishment.

This continued an uncertain few days for the Argentina centre-back. He provided the only blemish on the thumping of Leicester, gifting the ball to England striker Jamie Vardy to score.

Has the January introduction of France Under-21 international Aymeric Laporte unsettled him?

The rough edges which defined his first two seasons in blue looked to have been sanded down. He cannot afford for them to reappear.

Nicolas Otamendi (c) had an uncertain start in Basel.

Nicolas Otamendi (c) had an uncertain start in Basel.

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Ilkay Gundogan scores twice as Manchester City close in on Champions League quarter-final with 4-0 thrashing at Basel

David Cooper 14/02/2018
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Ilkay Gundogan scored twice as Manchester City put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals with an emphatic 4-0 win over Basel.

In-form Sergio Aguero scored his 198th City goal and Bernardo Silva also got on the scoresheet as Pep Guardiola’s side cruised to victory on a freezing night at St Jakob-Park.

Most of the damage was done as City rattled in three goals in a blistering nine-minute spell early in the first half, dashing Basel’s hopes of causing an upset after making a bright start.

Gundogan struck a sublime second after the break but the Premier League leaders were cruising by then, having eased off to conserve energy in their continuing quadruple quest.

Kevin De Bruyne was removed from the action early and Guardiola also eased Leroy Sane back into action as a second-half substitute following his rapid recovery from an ankle injury.

It was not long before City established control, although they did survive a couple of early scares.

First the pacy Dimitri Oberlin got behind the defence as he raced onto a long ball. He had options as Ederson raced out to meet him, including trying to lob the advancing keeper, but he miskicked and allowed Nicolas Otamendi to clear.

Otamendi and Oberlin were involved again as the Basel striker went down in the area attempting to beat the Argentinian but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson gave nothing.

City made the most of those reprieves to power into a commanding lead.

Gundogan, who had already tested Tomas Vaclik with an early header, got the opener when he met a 14th-minute De Bruyne corner with another firm header at the near post.

A second goal quickly followed as Raheem Sterling’s cross from the left was cleared only as far as Bernardo Silva by Leo Lacroix. With time and space to compose himself, the Portuguese allowed the ball to drop before hitting a firm half-volley past Vaclik.

The visitors were now rampant and the tie soon seemed as a good as over as Aguero let fly from outside the area to register his 29th goal of the season after a charge upfield by Fernandinho. The Argentinian’s powerful shot rocketed into the bottom corner in another example of clinical finishing following his four strikes against Leicester at the weekend.

That allowed Guardiola’s men to drop the tempo but De Bruyne still went close as he shot over before the break.
Basel started the second half well, with Mohamed Elyounoussi testing Ederson from distance and Oberlin dragging a shot across the face of goal, but they remained vulnerable to City’s attack.

Gundogan put City even further in front when he wrong-footed the defence and fired a superb curling shot beyond Vaclik from the edge of the area.

He should have completed a hat-trick after being teed up by Aguero in the latter stages but Vaclik saved. Aguero was given a big hug by Guardiola as he left the field soon after.

Basel fought on, with Oberlin heading wide and Elyounoussi shooting at Ederson, but the Swiss champions were well beaten and their frustrations showed as tempers threatened to boil over in the closing minutes.

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