Juventus take giant step towards the Champions League Final

Juventus’ prospects of securing a wonderful treble have received a major boost after Massimo Allegri’s team gained control of their Champions League Semi-Final against Monaco with a performance in the French Principality which oozed authority and class. Coming away from the Stade Louis II with a convincing 2-0 win puts the Bianconeri in the driving seat to reach the ninth final in the club’s illustrious history, and while Juventus can take nothing for granted in the second leg against a team who have set the competition alight and deserve to reach the Last 4, destiny appears to be on their side. There can be no question that Juventus possess the quality throughout the team to end their twenty-one year wait for a third Champions League trophy, and while Bookmaker Ratings may make them strong favourites to reach the final in Cardiff on June 3rd, there is still work to be done before Allegri’s team extend their relentless pursuit of glory on all domestic fronts onto the European stage.
It was always likely to be a contrast in styles between the two semi-finalists, with Monaco’s fast-paced attacking team packed with youth and exuberance coming up against a vastly experienced Juventus side who personify the Italian art of defending and providing the foundations for the more advanced players to express themselves. There are many more qualities to the current Juventus side then perhaps people outside of Italy give them credit for, but they have mastered the art of nullifying teams through one of the best backlines in Europe; even the best have found it difficult to find holes in a resolute defence, with Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli sitting in front of Gianluigi Buffon – a man who is only missing a Champions League winners medal from his glittering trophy cabinet to complete a glittering career at the highest level of domestic, European and international football – to form a unbreakable backline. They have kept a remarkable six straight clean sheets in the Champions League, with Sevilla the last team to score past Juventus back in November; the run includes two clean sheets against Barcelona as the Bianconeri backline kept the formidable ‘MSN’ trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar quiet for 180 minutes to knock the Catalan giants out at the Quarter Final stage.
Experience often prevails over youth, and while Monaco certainly tested Juventus and forced Buffon into making a few smart saves, Allegri’s men simply had too much quality for their French counterparts to handle at the other end. The first goal was right out of the top drawer, with no fewer than eight players involved in a free-flowing move that ended with Dani Alves providing a sublime back-heeled pass towards Gonzalo Higuain, who proved why he is one of the most clinical strikers around with an unerring finish into the bottom corner in the 29th minute. You will struggle to find a better goal than that in the Champions League this season. It was no less than Juventus deserved as their greater quality and hunger to win their third Champions League trophy shone through, with the same pair combining again in the second half to double their advantage and put one foot into the Final. Alves’ wonderful cross from the right was delivered perfect over the head of Kamil Glik and into the path of Higuain who slid in at the back post to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute. From then onwards, Juventus controlled the game in the knowledge that the damage was already done, with two priceless away goals putting them in the ascendancy going into the return leg at the Juventus Stadium.
Another excellent performance has added more weight behind the growing belief that it is Juventus’ time to shine again in the Champions League. It is no surprise that Bookmaker Ratings have backed the Bianconeri’s chances of lifting the trophy in June, given the level of hunger and desire they have shown throughout their European campaign this season. The 3-0 first-leg win at home against Barcelona may have been the moment that everyone connected with Juventus started to believe that this is their year, with Paulo Dybala’s wonderful performance matched by a perfectly executed pressing game which suffocated Barcelona and prevented them from playing the style of football that has made them so successful over the years. Becoming the first team since Bayern Munich in May 2013 to prevent Barcelona from scoring at the Nou Camp in a Champions League fixture also sums up the size of their achievement, but while Juventus cannot afford to become complacent and believe the job is done against a young, vibrant Monaco side who are likely to throw everything at the Serie A giants in the Semi-Final second leg, the quality and belief is most certainly there for the Bianconeri to progress to the Final and end their twenty-one year wait for Champions League glory.

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