The Champions League Round of 16 tie between Tottenham and Juventus is delicately poised, with Spurs enjoying a slight advantage thanks to their thrilling comeback in Turin last month to grab a 2-2 draw.
That result means that a home win on Wednesday will take Spurs to the quarter-finals at Juventus’ expense, and even a 0-0 or 1-1 draw would do for the home team.
The impetus is on Juve, a situation that should suit Tottenham just fine. They will feel no fear after their performance in the first leg.
Here are three talking points ahead of Wednesday night’s clash.
TIME FOR SPURS TO DELIVER
Tottenham have been a glorious team over the last three seasons – a thrilling, young, attacking side twice mounting late charges for the Premier League title and delighting neutrals with their playing style and player development. They’ve been on the verge of breaking through, on the cusp on delivering on potential, on the brink of true greatness.
On Wednesday night, it’s time to say, no more. No more talk about what this team could achieve, how breathtaking their potential is, how close they are to being something special. It’s time for them to say, we’re here.
In front of a home crowd, at Wembley, against one of Europe’s grand old clubs, in the world’s most prestigious club competition, Spurs have to deliver. Last month’s superb comeback from 2-0 down in Turin has to be a prelude, not a culmination.
That draw has made them slight favourites to progress. But nobody will be too surprised if Juve, with their tradition and the experience in their squad, overcome that disadvantage and plot a path to the quarter-finals.
The Mauricio Pochettino project at Tottenham has been waiting for a moment like this. On Wednesday, Spurs need to seize it.
DYBALA’S CHANCE TO SHINE
Paulo Dybala‘s big-game performances have been a mixed bag. He starred in last year’s Champions League quarter-finals against Barcelona, but faded in the final against a rampant Real Madrid. He’s delivered in some crunch Serie A clashes but been ineffective in others, like this season’s 1-0 win over Napoli.
Dybala comes into this game in high spirits, having delivered a crucial, potentially title-deciding win on Saturday when his injury-time goal beat Lazio 1-0. Confidence will be running high.
But he’s had only a fleeting taste of English football before, coming on briefly as a substitute in Juventus’ 2-1 away win over Manchester City in 2015 in the group stages before starting the return leg.
This Spurs side has the ingredients to trouble Dybala, with aggressive, powerful defenders and midfielders and pace to deal with his darting runs. The Argentine needs to stand up to that and be counted.
He was out injured for the first leg of this tie, an absence that made Spurs’ life slightly easier as replacement Douglas Costa struggled to have the same impact. On Wednesday, he’ll have the chance to show Spurs how different things could have been in Turin had he played.
MIDFIELD BATTLE: SPURS REPEAT, OR JUVENTUS REVENGE?
Pochettino has long been claiming that Mousa Dembele is one of the best players in the world, but the first-leg clash against Juventus made other people stand up and take notice. The Belgian was absolutely sublime, with his skill on the ball, powerful running, and sharp passing.
Christian Eriksen wasn’t too far behind, another player who shined in Spurs’ comeback in Turin. Together, he and Dembele dominated midfield, leaving Juventus overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, the Italian champions have a chance to atone for that display. Blaise Matuidi will likely return to the starting XI, making it more difficult for Spurs’ creative players to run riot, while Claudio Marchisio, who has been wrapped in cotton wool, should also return, further strengthening the Juventus midfield.
But this match could come down to how well Miralem Pjanic plays. He had an iffy game in Turin, giving away possession too easily. Dembele and Eric Dier will do their best to restrict the Bosnian midfielder. Dybala will draw some of the attention, which should give Pjanic a better chance to have an impact.
Dembele vs Matuidi will be fascinating to watch. Dembele v Pjanic will decide the match.
They stayed there throughout the night, exercising rare restraint and game management skills to see out a 0-0 draw at Anfield that booked their spot in the quarter-finals.
Here’s a look at how the players performed.
Loris Karius 6 – Had little to do of note, only required to make a routine save. On a night where he had little to gain, Karius made sure he lost nothing.
Joe Gomez 6 – For a player deployed out of position, Gomez showed decent skill and nous. He isn’t quite at the level of Trent Alexander-Arnold, but Gomez is a capable backup.
Joel Matip 7 – A solid display from a player who had gone off the boil this season. More displays like this will see him challenge for a starting berth again.
Dejan Lovren 7 – Alongside Matip, Lovren extinguished what little threat from Porto there was, showing his newfound calmness at the back yet again.
Alberto Moreno 6 – Not asked to do much defensively. The Spaniard could have done more in attack, often failing to deliver a telling ball in the final third.
Emre Can 7 – Can embodied Liverpool’s control of this game, helping Liverpool keep possession and popping up in attack and defence whenever necessary, without being spectacular.
Jordan Henderson 7 – One of Henderson’s better displays this season. Given time and space to operate, Henderson was composed on the ball and showed off his passing range.
James Milner 6 – The veteran midfielder should have gotten on the score sheet, slipping when presented with a glorious chance. Was his usual industrious self otherwise.
Sadio Mane 8 – The hat-trick hero from the first leg came closest to scoring, with an acrobatic effort that just missed followed by a shot against the post. Unlucky not to find the back of the net.
Roberto Firmino 5 – This looked like a Roberto Firmino conserving himself, with Manchester United to come at the weekend. Certainly not one of his more effective displays.
Adam Lallana 6 – Slightly less energetic than his usual displays, probably by design as Liverpool knew they didn’t have to strain themselves. Set Milner up for one of Liverpool’s best chances.
Danny Ings 6 – A good run-out for the Englishman, after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Nearly scored, as well, being denied by a brilliant Iker Casillas save.
Mohamed Salah 6 – It was strange to see the Egyptian even come on, with the Reds in no need of a goal. He definitely added impetus to their attack, but on current form, any game in which he doesn’t score is a disappointment.
Ragnar Klavan 7 – Pulled off an absolutely stunning block to preserve Liverpool’s draw late in the game. He’s been criticised this season, deservedly, but that moment should give him a huge confidence boost.
In the absence of waylaid Brazil forward Neymar, the Parisians needed at least two goals to advance after a 3-1 loss in the Spanish capital, but fell behind on the night to Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo’s towering header. They then had Italy centre midfielder Marco Verratti recklessly sent off for a second booking accrued because of dissent, prior to Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani’s lucky goal to give some hope.
This was soon extinguished by Brazil defensive midfielder’s deflected effort to earn the two-time-consecutive holders Madrid a 2-1 victory at Parc des Princes.
Here are our player ratings:
Alphonse Areola – 7: Pulled off several fine saves and could do nothing to deny Ronaldo’s bullet header.
Dani Alves – 4: Has played more than 100 Champions League games, but was criminally lackadaisical for Madrid’s opener.
Marquinhos – 7: Defied his recent hamstring problems to offer stoic defence. Talent is becoming more refined.
Thiago Silva – 6: Had one crunching collision with Madrid’s Dani Carvajal. Played a role in Edinson Cavani’s goal.
Yuri Berchiche – 6: Provided a positive influence going forward. But he was eaten alive by Ronaldo for his goal.
Adrien Rabiot – 4: Was a passenger in midfield. So many passes went astray and his tracking back was risible.
Thiago Motta – 4: Provided no defensive shield, making zero tackles or interceptions before being hooked as PSG chased goals.
Marco Verratti – 5: Best of bad bunch before dismissal. Unforgivably saw red mist and eight career club red cards is shocking.
Angel Di Maria – 5: Will definitely be no seller’s remorse for Madrid. A pale shadow of the man he replaced – Neymar.
Edinson Cavani – 6: Knew absolutely nothing about his goal as the ball bounced off him. Otherwise, starved of service.
Kylian Mbappe – 5: Bossed last year’s knockouts, but will rue selfish decision to shoot when Cavani was in space.
3 - 3 of Paris' last four red cards in the Champions League have been received by Marco Verratti. Nervous. pic.twitter.com/XCCRvA13v7— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 6, 2018
Javier Pastore – 6: His header caused chaos in Madrid ranks and led to Cavani’s fluky goal.
Julian Draxler – N/A: Tried to breathe life into PSG’s attack, but cause was already a lost one.
Lassana Diarra – 6: Was given a few minutes against his former employers.