Formidable Juve defense faces stern test from Kane's Spurs
European Football Headlines
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham, files)
By DANIELLA MATAR
This is one defense even Harry Kane might struggle to breach.
The world's leading scorer in 2017 comes up against one of Europe's tightest back lines when Tottenham takes on Juventus on Tuesday.
Only one goal has been conceded in 16 matches by the Italian champions.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is hoping such a formidable record doesn't spook his players heading into the first leg of the Champions League last-16 match in Turin.
"It's better that I don't tell them. That will be my psychology," Pochettino quipped. "It will be a tough battle."
The players, however, are well aware how strong Juve is at the back.
Within minutes of his first start for England in 2015, Kane was felled by a tough tackle from Italy and Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini. Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon also played in that 1-1 draw.
"I had a dead leg for about 10 minutes so it was a good welcome to international football," said Kane with a smile on Monday.
"We know how good their defense is as a whole and obviously their goalkeeper as well, they're a fantastic team. I'm looking forward to the challenge of coming up against him (Chiellini) again."
There were questions over how the Juve defense would cope following Leonardo Bonucci's shock departure to AC Milan. For six years, he linked up with Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini and won six league titles.
However, after an inconsistent start to the campaign, which saw Juve concede 14 times in 13 league matches, the back line has settled down.
Medhi Benatia has stepped up to fill the void left by Bonucci and the Morocco international has formed a solid partnership with Chiellini, after both missed several matches through injury.
"After the start of the season, when we had games ending 3-2 or even 6-2, like against Udinese, we went back to normal," Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "You can control games simply by defending well and not affording your opponents any chances."
The turning point was its last Champions League home match: A 0-0 draw with Barcelona in November. After losing 3-0 at Barca earlier in the group stage, the return fixture was only the second time Juve had not conceded in a competition since the end of September.
It was the start of the impressive defensive run.
There was a caveat. Barca rested Lionel Messi for nearly an hour that night in Turin. There is little chance of Tottenham starting Kane on the bench on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old England forward has scored 36 goals in 37 games for club and country this season, and has netted at least one goal in six of his last seven matches, but admits this is "probably" one of the biggest tests of his career.
"Recent form, they've done very well, they've kept a lot of clean sheets but we've scored a lot of goals in the Premier League," Kane said.
"It should be a good test, one I'm looking forward to. I've always said I want to test myself against the best defenses, the best teams and this is definitely one of them so I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Juve is no slouch going forward either, having scored a Serie A-leading 61 goals this season while tussling with Napoli for the title.
The Bianconeri will be without Paulo Dybala on Tuesday. The Argentina forward hasn't played since limping off at Cagliari on Jan. 6 and is still recovering from a muscular injury.
Compatriot Gonzalo Higuain is in fine form, with six goals in four matches, and is likely to be partnered up front by Mario Mandzukic, who has four goals in his last five Champions League matches.
Juan Cuadrado, Benedikt Howedes, Blaise Matuidi and Barzagli are also out.
More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague
Updated February 12, 2018