The exciting young energy of AS Monaco has taken them a long ways in the Champions League, but against the experience and guile of Juventus they came up short, losing 2-0 at home in the first leg of their semifinal tie thanks to a brace of goals from Gonzalo Higuain.
The match started with Juventus having to weather a bit of an early storm from AS Monaco, with the younger team coming out strong out of the gates. Juventus looked prepared for such an instance, though, with a strong defensive showing from the veteran trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli — and of course, Gianluigi Buffon was on point whenever he was challenged in goal.
Weathering that storm lead to some opportunities on the counter attack for the Italians, and Juventus struck gold on one of them just before the half-hour mark, with Dani Alves easily beating Djibril Sidibe on the right side of Juventus’ attack and playing a one-two with Higuain that gave the Argentine striker a clear run to the top of the box to hammer Alves’ return pass home. It was a perfect example of the kind of dynamic football Juventus can bring to the table, something that surprises people who expect to just see an Italian team sit back and defend.
That goal knocked Monaco off balance for a spell of the match, and allowed Juventus to establish a measure of sustained control for a spell that saw them make it through to halftime with their lead intact, through a flurry of attacking play from Monaco at the end of the half made that a near thing. That flurry was sustained at the start of the second half with young star Kylian Mbappe putting significant pressure on veteran Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci that nearly saw Juventus crack at times. The rest of their defense were able to starve Mbappe of support, though, and despite how excellent their young star was playing, he couldn’t quite get the job done all on his own.
Once Monaco’s momentum started to slow, Juventus started seeing openings show up to try and take advantage of. They did just that, with another counter attack striking up the pitch in eerily similar fashion to their first goal: Paulo Dybala feeding a Dani Alves run, and then a ball served up on a platter for Higuain to finish. They finished the chance with just as much poise as they had earlier in the match, and Juventus held a huge 2-0 lead on the road.
Juventus went into a bit of a defensive mode from there, looking to take what chances were offered to them when they could, but focusing more on frustrating Monaco’s efforts to chase down a goal of their own. Those efforts worked quite well, with Monaco struggling to create chances in front of goal, and when they did create chances, whoever was taking the shot generally had three Juventus players around him. Radamel Falcao was able to create a few half-chances, but never managed to get that degree of control he needed to take advantage of them.
The win is an important one for Juventus, who can go into the second leg in Italy with the tie all but won. With two away goals in hand and a clean sheet so far, they already have one hand on a place in the Champions League final in Cardiff — now it’s up to Monaco to see if they can find a way back into this tie and shock the world by taking that place for themselves.
AS Monaco: Danijel Subasic; Djibril Sidibe, Jemerson, Kamil Glik, Nabil Dirar, Thomas Lemar (Valere Germain 67’), Tiemoué Bakayoko (João Moutinho 67’), Fabinho, Bernardo Silva (Almamy Toure 81’), Kylian Mbappe, Radamel Falcao
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Alex Sandro, Miralem Pjanic (Mario Lemina 89’), Claudio Marchisio (Tomas Rincon 81’), Dani Alves, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Gonzalo Higuain (Juan Cuadrado 77’)
Goals: Higuain (29’, 59’)
Three things we learned
Juventus made the right adjustments
We saw Juventus throttle Barcelona last month in the Champions League quarterfinals, but Monaco represented a much different kind of challenge than the Spanish giants. Juventus would need to come into this match with a different approach against the speed and suddenness of Monaco’s attack — and they seemed to have found exactly the right setup.
The 3-4-1-2 that Juventus deployed gave them the right mix of defensive surety, putting all three of their excellent veteran center backs on the pitch, and added to the dynamism of an attack that’s exceeded many people’s expectations this season. Their ability to put layers into both defense and attack left Monaco struggling for answers in the first half, and struggling even more after that layering lead to an excellent team goal finished off by Higuain. Max Allegri pulled all the right strings in this match, and it worked wonderfully.
Monaco got beaten at their own game
Leonardo Jardim probably saw something terrifyingly familiar in how Juventus went about their performance. The use of quick twitch counters that moved the ball up the pitch at extreme pace — using overlapping runs and switching the ball rapidly to keep the defense off balance — is exactly how Monaco got to this point in the Champions League. It’s also how Juventus scored both of their goals.
The difference between this match and Monaco’s previous Champions League battles is that Juventus was ready for what was coming against them. Their defense was prepared to deal with what Monaco were going to throw at them, and they decided to give them a taste of their own medicine in reply. It was very clearly not what Monaco were expecting from the Italians, and they’re staring at a big deficit in the tie because of it.
Dani Alves has still got it
Many wondered how much Alves still had in the tank when he joined Juventus last summer. At 33 years old — turning 34 in just a few short days on Saturday — and with a long string of leg injuries, the Brazilian fullback appeared to be nearing the end of his career. But of late and especially against Monaco, Alves has seemed to find a piece of his youth again, because he still looks very much like one of the best right backs around.
Alves made a superb run to help set up Juventus’ opening goal, was instrumental in creating their second, and constantly got involved in helping set up their attack. But more than that, he had an excellent game on defense, keeping Thomas Lemar almost entirely contained, and even doing well against the audacious talents of Mbappe when the two went head-to-head. It was one of the best matches we’ve seen from Alves in a long time — but instead of just being a nice moment for an older player on his way out, it was simply a continuation of the excellent form he’s been in.