Champions League: Monaco’s attack hosts Juve’s defense

An intriguing battle lies in store between arguably best the attack and the toughest defense in European football when Monaco faces Juventus in the first leg of its Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.

Monaco's teenage striker Kylian Mbappe has been earning rave reviews after scoring in each of the four knockout matches so far, and his partnership with Radamel Falcao has produced 52 goals.   -  Reuters

 

An intriguing battle lies in store between arguably best the attack and the toughest defense in European football when Monaco faces Juventus in the first leg of its Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.

Monaco has been scoring freely all season, with 146 goals so far. But coach Leonardo Jardim now faces a more difficult challenge in how to approach the game.

Mbappe looks forward to Buffon battle

In the previous knockout rounds, Jardim had a specific plan to impose his style of play against both Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund -- teams rich in attacking promise, but wide open at the back. So confident was he in his attacking play that Jardim even announced in pre-match news conferences what was required to go through.

 

“They've scored an avalanche of goals this season,” Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said Tuesday at a pre-match news conference. “I have total respect for Monaco and whatever happens tomorrow it will be open for the return leg.”

Monaco's attack has pace, skill and power, and passes the ball at thrilling speed. But so did Barcelona's, and the five-time champion failed to score in either leg of its quarterfinal defeat against Juventus.

“Experience will be more in our favor, but Monaco is a young side full of vitality,” the 39-year-old Buffon said through a translator. “I remember having this great feeling of being indestructible when I was young.”

Buffon accepts the pressure is on Juve to get through.

“Two years ago, when we reached the final against Barcelona, it was unexpected,” Buffon said. “But this season it would be a logical conclusion to the work we've done, and it's important to keep this in mind.”

Allegri talks of perfect preparation

The sides met two years ago in the quarterfinal, with Juventus edging through 1-0 on aggregate. But this is a far more adventurous Monaco side.

“Jardim's done an extraordinary job, semifinal in the Champions League and top of the French league ahead of PSG,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “Monaco breaks forward very quickly.”

Jardim, however, may have to adapt his team to an opponent this time, rather than taking the initiative. This poses a huge test of the Portuguese coach's tactical shrewdness, and the ability of his highly-rated forwards to break down the Juventus rearguard.

“I don't think Monaco will change the way it plays,” Buffon said. “Monaco has been brilliant this season and plays a brand of total football that is great to watch. I don't think they'll back down because it's Juve.”

Mbappe spotlight

Monaco's teenage striker Kylian Mbappe has been earning rave reviews after scoring in each of the four knockout matches so far, and his partnership with Colombia striker Radamel Falcao has produced 52 goals.

But theirs is a nascent partnership, and together they have not faced defenders of the calibre of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini: a formidable centre half pairing in Italy's national team and Juventus teammates for seven years.

The 30-year-old Bonucci, who joined Juventus in 2010, is more skillful than most centre halves, giving the team a precious outlet with his excellent passing.

The 32-year-old Chiellini, who has been at the club since 2005, is a rugged man-marker and far stronger in the challenge. Just ask Robin van Persie: the former Netherlands striker was left with torn ankle ligaments after one challenge from Chiellini during an international in 2009.

Italy's 168-cap veteran Buffon is arguably still the best in the world.

Add former Barcelona livewire Dani Alves at right back, and veteran Andrea Barzagli -- when the 35-year-old center back is required --” and you have a experienced and solid defense that any coach would dream about.

The attack-minded Alex Sandro has meanwhile proved himself to be a reliable left back since arriving from Porto last season, and has made the position his own since Patrice Evra left to join Marseille in January.

Domestic success

Allegri's side has only conceded 22 goals in 34 league matches and two in 10 Champions League games. Juventus remains on course for the treble, opening up a nine-point lead over Roma with four games left in Serie A and reaching the Italian Cup final.

But Allegri also has a prolific attack, with Gonzalo Higuain -- the club's record signing for €90 million ($100 million) -- and Paulo Dybala. Dybala netted two fine goals against Barcelona, while the presence of muscular Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic will give Monaco's vulnerable defense nightmares, considering its weakness on set pieces.

Allegri will be confident of leaving Stade Louis II with an away goal or two.

For Jardim, the target will be to at least outscore Juventus in order to have some kind of safety net away; especially as Juventus is on a league record 33-match winning run at home and has not lost in Turin in the Champions League for four years.

In previous knockout rounds, Monaco was away first; applying significant pressure with three goals at City and Dortmund.

Now it's time to see if Monaco can apply the pressure on Juventus.

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