It’s not been too long since Juventus faced Monaco in the Champions League, but the teams couldn’t be more different in identity. The French side are this season’s clear dark horse, and their entertaining, attacking displays should prove a fascinating tactical counterpoint against the matured, refined, defensively sound and balanced approach by the treble chasing Italian giants.
Below we preview the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League 2016/17.
Monaco will need to create some history in this tie given that they’ve never beaten any Italian opposition they’ve faced in European competition. That said, it’s fair to say they’ve progressed further than most expected, and they’re well deserving of their first semifinal appearance in 13 years.
How They’re Doing Currently:
Juventus may have been focusing on a record 6th consecutive Scudetto in 2016/17, but their campaign has continued to exceed expectations; the Bianconeri now face the prospect of the first treble in their illustrious history. Their unbeaten home run in European competition extended to 22 matches against the might of Barcelona, and their highly composed, mature display of controlling the Catalan attacking threat over 3 hours of football drew lavish praise and admiration from pundits and peers alike. They’ve not conceded a goal in the Champions League in their last 5 matches. They’re unbeaten thus far in their entire Champions League 2016/17 campaign, but the visit of the highly attack-flush Monaco makes for an intriguing test of their defensive capabilities. The squad doesn’t appear tired yet of its fight on three fronts, and coach Massimiliano Allegri is taking the pragmatic, one-game-at-a-time approach that is typical of his style seriously and successfully.
The pressure has been immense on them, but Monaco remain on track for their first Ligue 1 title in 17 years. Les Rouge et Blanc have continued to charm many football followers across the world with their goalfests and while their win over Dortmund in the Champions League was mired with controversy due to the regrettable incidents in Germany on the eve of the originally scheduled date for the first leg, it’s difficult to begrudge the French side too much for their presence in the semifinals of the competition. The youthful side has retained its free-flowing identity throughout the season, playing without reservation, and being proficient in scoring goals of all forms and flavours.
Players to Watch:
Rinse, repeat. Juventus beat Barcelona by subduing the attacking threats on display, so once again it’s hard to see past the importance of veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Both of them were superb vs the Spanish giants, delivering a masterclass in defence, management of space, anticipation and general game control. The arrows in the Monaco quiver are numerous, but the buck stops with Chiellini and Bonucci and one would be hard pressed to find a better centre back pairing in world football at the moment. And the records often show that defences do empower their teams to win championships, not just matches. Then there’s Paulo Dybala. The young Argentine hasn’t just supplemented the goal responsibilities required from Gonzalo Higuain, but has quickly risen to prominence, even drawing comparison to a certain Lionel Messi. Dybala’s trickery and goal instincts proved decisive vs Barcelona and could make all the difference at ensuring a good defensive display vs Monaco is capped off with goals at the other end.
Given that Juventus’ strength is defence, the true test will be if Monaco’s attack can simply succeed where Barcelona failed. Monaco’s defence isn’t as proficient as the Italian side, but they’re not going to win unless their attackers carry their impressive form into the semifinal. Hence, new sensation Kylian Mbappe needs to continue his goalscoring feats and offering his pacy trickery to unsettle the Juventus backline. Equally integral however, will be the influence from wide areas of Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva. Juventus’ use of their fullbacks to spread play and manage space is superlative, but if Lemar and Silva are able to inhibit Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, or even force their strong centre back pairing out of central positions, that could suddenly make things far more complicated for Juventus.
It’s unusual to have two favourites for the neutrals facing each other; Monaco largely command most of the romance given their entertaining football and underdog status. However, there’s too much to appreciate about Juventus’ collective in reply. As if Monaco’s initial fixture congestion isn’t enough to create concerns for coach Leonardo Jardim, the Bianconeri are well balanced, fluid in organisation, impressive in their displays of game management, defensive solidity, attacking efficiency and effective use of all their players. Allegri’s experience is showing its worth too, and the Italian side appears both confident and determined to write their name into European legend. They’ll have to beat Monaco to do it, and even though Monaco are enjoyable to watch, engaging to relish and appetising to behold, it’s Juventus who have all the right ingredients to spoil the party and progress to the final in Wales to give legendary keeper Gigi Buffon one more shot at winning the only trophy that has bizarrely avoided his incredible career.