Friday 23 June 2017

First half double helps Juventus cruise into Champions League final

Juventus 2 (4) Monaco 1 (1)

Juventus' forward Argentina Paulo Dybala, Juventus' goalkeeper from Italy Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus' forward from Argentina Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus' forward from Croatia Mario Mandzukic and Juventus' defender from Italy Giorgio Chiellini celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions League semi final second leg football match Juventus vs Monaco, on May 9, 2017 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. AFP PHOTO / Alberto PIZZOLI
Juventus' forward Argentina Paulo Dybala, Juventus' goalkeeper from Italy Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus' forward from Argentina Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus' forward from Croatia Mario Mandzukic and Juventus' defender from Italy Giorgio Chiellini celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions League semi final second leg football match Juventus vs Monaco, on May 9, 2017 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. AFP PHOTO / Alberto PIZZOLI

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Has a win this important against an opponent this good ever looked so easily routine? Juventus strolled into the Champions League final here, completing a 4-1 aggregate defeat of Monaco that barely covers their all-aspects superiority over three hours of football.

This was Monaco, the team who have lit up this season’s Champions League and knocked out Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City with their unstoppable attacking football. They have scored 150 goals in all competitions this season and are about to win the French title. In Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva they have the two best young players in Europe.

But here this evening, at the Stade Louis II last night, Juventus  made them look like boys against men. After winning the first leg with incisive ruthlessness, Juventus saw out the second leg with control and authority. They weathered an early storm then got their grip on the game and scored two goals of brilliant quality.

By that point Monaco needed four to go through and while they managed one, from Mbappe, there was never any doubt Juventus were heading to Cardiff. That goal may have robbed this performance of its perfection, but Juventus still did more than enough. They can still consider themselves the most complete team there is, in all aspects of the game, and they have an excellent chance of ending their 20-year drought in this competition on 3 June.

Monaco knew how hard their task was. Only one team has ever lost by two goals at home and then gone through, and that was Ajax in 1969, and they needed a play-off on neutral ground to do it. But this was still a Champions League semi-final, and what could Monaco do but try?

Leonardo Jardim abandoned his 4-4-2 for a 3-4-1-2 system pushing wing-backs Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe high up. The plan was to pin back Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, and, for a few minutes at least, it worked. Mendy started swinging in crosses, Gianluigi Buffon flapped at one, and when a Joao Moutinho shot deflected to Kylian Mbappe, his narrow-angle dart hit the inside of the post.

But Juventus are always more in control than they look. In the first leg they were under early pressure, but they were never actually rattled. They were just defending. Juventus had not conceded at home for more than 10 hours, and not conceded in Europe since November. They know what they are doing.

They also knew that with the quality they had, they could kill Monaco on the counter. Gonzalo Higuain burst through but could not get enough on a chip. Higuain set up Mario Mandzukic, whose shot was saved. Paolo Dybala set up Miralem Pjanic, whose shot was blocked.

A goal felt inevitable and it came from another brilliant break. The ball went from Dybala to Marchisio to Alves who swung a perfect cross round the back of the Monaco defence. Up popped Mandzukic at the far post. His header was saved so he lifted the rebound in the roof of the net.

More noise followed with more attacks and in the last minute of the half Juventus scored again. Danijel Subasic punched out a corner but it fell to Alves, 25 yards out. Such a good player, playing so well, and his volley flew into the corner of the net before Subasic could recover. It was that kind of night.

Monaco started the second half needing an implausible four second half goals to reach the final. That would be two more than Juventus had conceded in European football all season. Still, to their credit, they continued to push, determined to get something out of this tie and not to leave this competition, which they had lit up, with nothing to show for it.

It was Mbappe who continued to cause Juventus more problems than anyone else. He raced in behind and forced a sharp Buffon save at the near post. When Monaco forced a corner, Moutinho burst in down the left and rolled a pass across to Mbappe. He darted in at the near post and tapped the ball in past Buffon, to at least give Juventus something to think about.

But Juventus have won five Serie A titles in a row and are aiming for their sixth by getting a result at Roma on Sunday. They know how to see out leads and after Mbappe's goal they simply killed the game. They will need their energy in Rome, but beyond that, in Cardiff.

(© Independent News Service)

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