Champions League Preview : AS Monaco v Juventus
In the opinion of many, Monaco being drawn against Juventus represented a worst-case scenario for Leonardo Jardim’s effervescent side. The Italian champions had topped a tricky group containing Sevilla and Lyon, and haven’t conceded in the competition since November, a run of nearly 500 minutes. In addition to a very solid defence, in Paulo Dybala Juventus have, like Monaco, a dangerous young attacker in form and brimming with confidence. It may seem crass to say it, but the open style of Real Madrid or the Griezmann-reliant Atletico would have surely offered an easier path to the final.
That said, a weaker Monaco were somewhat unlucky to be eliminated in the quarter-finals by Juventus two years ago, the tie hinging on a contentious penalty. Few of the players from that side remain at Monaco, and even fewer are likely to be included in the eleven, but it could go some way to engendering belief for the hosts. More pressing than the past, however, is the present, and how Monaco manage their injuries will be of primary importance. Tiemoué Bakayoko was a late absence at the weekend after suffering a broken nose, but does appear to be ready for this match.
At right back, Djibril Sidibe is unlikely to feature as a bout of appendicitis continues to keep him out, while his deputy, Almamy Toure was fit enough only for the bench at the weekend. Toure may be risked despite lack of match fitness but the likelihood is that Nabil Dirar will continue to fill in and, while Juventus certainly represent a taller order than Toulouse, the Moroccan was impressive indeed in that position, and his physicality could be key against the dangerous Mario Mandzukic on that flank. The real key to Monaco’s hopes, though, is the form of Kylian Mbappé. The young striker was reportedly the subject of a massive bid from Manchester United this weekend, and with good reason, as he has passed every test put in front of him this season, and is in sparkling form with 18 goals in his last 18 matches. He doesn’t necessarily have to score, but his pressing and pace could similarly be influential if the hosts hope to take a result to Turin next week.
For Juventus, they are relatively free of injuries, but will be without the suspended Sami Khedira. In the German’s absence, Max Allegri will call on Claudio Marchisio to partner Miralem Pjanic. Given that Pjanic is really more of a creative player than a number 6, Marchisio’s performance will be of paramount importance, potentially a big ask for a player who has battled various injuries this season and didn’t feature in either leg against Barcelona. In defence, and in goal, the reliable Italian triumvirate of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci continue to impress, with Buffon’s second-to-last encounter against French opposition having been particularly memorable as he all but single-handedly earned a win for his side against Lyon.
As important as defence and midfield will be for Juventus against Monaco’s scintillating attack, they are no small matter going forward, either. Gonzalo Higuain has something of the reputation of a bottler in big matches, but the big Argentine’s goals will hardly be needed if his countryman Dybala continues his good form. Despite his youth and a somewhat underwhelming contribution to Juventus’ Champions League campaign last season, Dybala has taken a major step forward this season. Netting a brace in the first leg against Barcelona and offering a presence similar to that of Mbappé, with scoring ability but also a good workrate defensively, Dybala is the type of game-breaking player that could give Monaco trouble.
For this evening’s match, Monaco are probably narrow favourites, but will likely find it difficult to keep a clean sheet. They have scored three goals in each of their last four Champions’ League matches, but have had wobbles of late domestically, being pressed hard by Lyon in the league between conceding first to both Dijon and Toulouse. A close match, with both teams to score and Monaco taking the lead looks a likely outcome, leaving the tie to be decided in a week’s time in Italy.
AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Nabil Dirar, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Benjamin Mendy; Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar; Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé
Juventus (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio; Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Predicted Score: AS Monaco 3-1 Juventus