Champions League Preview : Juventus v AS Monaco
Monaco head to Turin seeking to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg against Juventus, to reach the Champions League final for the first time since 2004. While they rebounded nicely to win at Nancy at the weekend, keeping their sights firmly on the Ligue 1 title, the league-leaders must surely have been disappointed with their 2-0 loss at the Stade Louis II last week. Gianluigi Buffon made a handful of saves to preserve a clean sheet, and Juventus’ away goals look difficult to overcome. Monaco did have their chances, however, and while a comeback looks unlikely, it isn’t impossible.
Much will depend on the fitness of Benjamin Mendy, whose absence was keenly felt last week. Without the French international’s dynamism and attacking mindset to keep Dani Alves in check, the Brazilian had a field day against Djibril Sidibé. The former Lille player has been used at left back a handful of times this season, and played there opposite Sebastien Corchia with Les Dogues, but lacks the necessary defensive rigor on either flank to effectively limit attack-minded fullbacks. Mendy isn’t exactly a defensive pearl himself, but his ability to stretch play both laterally and vertically makes him effective through the principle of offense as well as defense.
Mendy has been included in the traveling squad, but at this point Sidibé looks more likely to retain his place. If Mendy is somehow fit, Sidibé would likely displace Nabil Dirar at right back, as Almamy Touré is still absent through injury. That said, might Monaco opt for Andrea Raggi at left back if Mendy is unavailable? The Italian is far from a threat in attack, but as he showed against Dortmund, a three-man defense can often be more susceptible if the wingback is more attack-minded. It would seem at odds with Monaco’s attacking philosophy, but given what a liability Sidibé seemed to be in the first leg, manager Leonardo Jardim should at least consider his options.
Monaco’s centre backs and front six should be the usual cast of characters, so beyond the availability of the team’s stable of fullbacks, confidence seems to be the most pressing issue for the visitors. Juventus haven’t conceded in more than six matches now, but Lyon severely tested the Bianconeri‘s resolve in the group stage, a late winner from Juan Cuadrado all that separated the sides. If Monaco can nick a goal before the interval, they have every chance of recovering this tie. That is, admittedly, a big “if” but with Thomas Lemar having turned in a masterful display at the weekend and Kylian Mbappé no less a bright presence, Monaco could yet bring this tie back to life. As Sidibé said in yesterday’s press conference, “we believe, and we’ve come to show that. The task is difficult, but not insurmountable.”
Not insurmountable, no, but difficult is an apt description for how Monaco found things last Wednesday, as Juventus turned in a complete performance at the Stade Louis II. Most bookies have the Italian side as the 4/6 favourites in contrast to Monaco’s 5/1. The latest free bet offers at Bonus Codes may be of interest to punters looking to back Buffon’s prediction that Juventus will reach the Champions League Final. Max Allegri surprisingly opted for a “retro” 3-5-1-1 in the first match, preferring the veteran guile of Andrea Barzagli as part of a three rather than the wing play of Juan Cuadrado to limit Monaco’s attack. The veteran was indeed impressive and Juventus should persist with that formation, although more important than Barzagli were the performances of Mario Mandzukic and Alves.
With two assists and a thrilling set of dribbles, the former Barcelona man was integral to much of Juventus’ attack. With Sidibé doing little to offer width, either in defense or going forward, the Brazilian was afforded far too much space, and readily took advantage of it, with a pair of sublime crosses to Gonzalo Higuaín. Mandzukic’s role wasn’t as flashy, but the Croatian was perhaps even more important, as his ability to effectively play as a left wingback, central midfielder or striker as the situation dictated allowed Juventus to readily cope with Monaco’s initiative whilst themselves remaining a threat.
Mandzukic’s work ethic may indeed be a bit more important as Claudio Marchisio looks set to be replaced by Sami Khedira. Khedira was suspended for the first leg, and offers much more going forward, especially with the ball at his feet, but he can also be more suspect defensively. With Miralem Pjanic a similarly attack-minded presence, if Juventus have an Achilles’ heel, it may be in a central midfield that lacks an orthodox defensive player. Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva are given to cut inside, and that will put Pjanic and Khedira to the test, perhaps offering a glimmer of hope.
All told, Monaco should make this another entertaining match, but progression seems rather unlikely, even if Mendy is fit. Nevertheless, a courageous effort against an imperious Juventus side would be a fitting conclusion to an impressive Champions’ League campaign; one that, more than nine months on from a scrappy loss away to Fenerbahce, seemed little more than a pipe dream.
AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Nabil Dirar, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Djibril Sidibé (or Benjamin Mendy); Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar; Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé
Juventus (3-5-1-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Dani Alves, Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic, Alex Sandro; Paulo Dybala; Gonzalo Higuain
Predicted Score: Juventus 1-1 AS Monaco