Massimiliano Allegri masterminded a comfortable victory for the Serie A champions over Leonardo Jardim’s exciting young AS Monaco side at the Stade Louis II.
Gonzalo Higuain’s 30th and 31st goals of the season ensured that the Biaconeri had one foot in the final at Cardiff already. It was a triumph of experience over youth at Monaco and despite a few issues, Juventus never looked like they would succumb to defeat.
Higuain and Dani Alves combined beautifully for both goals, with one coming in each half, and those proved to be enough. Gianluigi Buffon was called into action on a few occasions to save from Mbappe and Falcao, but the 39-year-old managed to end his 100th Champions League appearance with a clean sheet.
We take a look at some of the key talking points and things we learnt from Juventus’ easy victory against As Monaco in the first leg of the semi-final of the Champions League.
One can only imagine how much Barcelona have missed having Dani Alves’ talents and services in their squad over the course of this season. They weren’t able to to replace him after letting him leave the Nou Camp for free last summer and Barcelona arguably never, ever will.
He was at his very best on the night, linking up with Paulo Dybala on the right flank and setting up both of Higuain’s goals with two glorious assists. The first, a stunning backheel pass right into the path of of the onrushing Argentine and the second, an inch perfect cross into the Monaco box.
Most of Juventus’ attacks started or came from the right flank and Alves was involved in almost every move going forward. The 33-year-old rarely defended as he kept Monaco’s wingers and fullbacks occupied with his attacking prowess and surging runs forward.
His first season in the Italian top flight hasn’t gone as well as he would have liked, but he has slowly found his footing and has slowly been getting back to his best, especially in the Champions League rounds. With 2 assists, 3 tackles, 6 tackles, 10 recoveries and an 88% pass completion rate, it would suffice to say that it was a great night at the office for the Brazilian legend.
Mbappe Shows His Mettle
His teammates weren’t able to leave much of an impression, but Mbappe certainly stood out as he almost single-handedly ensured that this match wouldn’t be a stroll in the park for Barzagli & co. He couldn’t get on the score sheet, but it was yet another promising show from the Frenchman.
He completed all four of his attempted take-ons against Juventus, a statistic only matched by Paulo Dybala. He took three shots at Buffon’s goal, two of which were saved. The rest of his teammates being kept silent by Juventus’ organization for most of the match didn’t help his cause either.
One often needs to stop and remember that he is all of 18 years of age and to handle the pressure of a Champions League semifinal is no mean feat. Not to mention that he was coming up against the greatest goalkeepers to have ever played the game.
He will only learn from his errors and his performance in the second leg will be key to Monaco’s hopes of qualification at the J Stadium next week.
This was Gianluigi Buffon’s 100th Champions League appearance. An astounding statistic in this day and age and it was a victory and a performance from Juventus worthy of the legend. This clean sheet was Juventus’ 6th this season and it is the first time they have ever achieved the feat.
And that is thanks in no small part to the Italian stalwart and also a testament to his talent and ability, which show no signs of fading even at the grand old footballing age of 39. Barring the 2 goals on the other end, Buffon was the busier of the 2 keepers with respect to shots face.
With still a lot to play for in the second leg, he will once again be relied upon to keep Mbappe & co off the scoresheet and take Juventus to their second final in three years for what might be his last opportunity to get his hands on the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Gonzalo’s Glorious Night
Higuain’s form did not make for good reading going into this tie. 7 goals in the past 16 games is not what is expected out of a striker worth €90 million during any part of the season. However, a clinical finish in each half was enough to give his side the victory and silence his critics, for now.
The first, a move started by himself just inside the opposition half where he sent Dani Alves away and ran a good 30 yards into Monaco’s box, before the Brazilian set the ball onto his path with a brilliant backheel and Higuain placed it into the bottom left corner past a helpless Subasic.
The second goal after Paulo Dybala recovered the ball in the opposition half on the right flank and passed it to Dani Alves, who spotted Higuain asking where he wanted the ball placed. Alves made no mistake and launched a teasing ball at Subasic’ far post for the Argentine to guide it in with his left foot.
With that superb double, Higuain took his tally for 31 goals this season, in 48 appearances across all competitions. It was only the second time in his career that he crossed 30 goals in the season and he still has time to match last season’s tally of 36.
It was the first time in his career that he had scored 5 times in the Champions League in a single season, and his 2 goals on the night took his tally in the knockout stages of Europe’s Premier football competition to 4, in 25 appearances.
At 29, the former Real Madrid and Napoli striker shows no signs of slowing down and just keeps getting better and better. These 2 goals should keep his critics quiet for a while and give him the confidence to rediscover his best scoring form as they approach the final few games of the season.
Despite being able to take a 2-away-goal advantage to the J Stadium for next week’s tie, Biaconeri boss Massimiliano Allegri was visibly irked by some of the things he saw over the course of the match and made no secrets about it, calling out Dani Alves and Miralem Pjanic after the match.
Even Mario Mandzukic wasn’t spared, with the former AC Milan boss saying: “I think we did very well at the start, then Monaco’s quality players caused problems and we followed our man too many times, especially Mario Mandzukic, whereas we should’ve held our positions.”
He then pointed out Dani Alves’ error, where he left his teammate Andrea Barzagli in a precarious position.”We did better in the second half,” he said as per Sky Sports,”except for when Dani Alves got a big caught up in his desire to push forward and left two against one for Barzagli.”
The 49-year-old was most displeased with Miralem Pjanic. In his post match interview, ESPN quotes him having said that he was ‘very angry’ with the Bosnia and Herzegovina International with his performance.
He said: “I am very angry with Pjanic, because he can become one of the three best midfielders in the world, but every now and then when he gets a pass wrong, he acts like it’s the end of the world. He needs to stay calm and relax, because his potential is only partially expressed.”
Allegri knows all too well that this tie could have just as easily gone the other way had Monaco been a bit more clinical and the margin for error is absolutely minimal in matches of such magnitude. Juventus may have one foot in the final, but this tie is far from over.
Leonardo Jardim’s men have absolutely nothing to lose going into the second tie and they will certainly come out all guns blazing. Allegri will be wary of the danger of that scenario and they cannot afford to get complacent at this stage of the tie.