Event: UEFA Champions League semi final 2nd leg
Date: Tuesday, 9th May 2017
Kick Off: 7:45pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
To many, this looks like a dead rubber given the first leg result in France and gulf in quality of both sides, not forgetting experience. Again, the defensive solidity of a side considered the best in that department of the pitch. Suffice to say, the Italian champions have conceded only two goals in the competition with one being a penalty.
Juventus boast in Gonzalo Higuain, one of the top three number nines in world football, according to team-mate Giorgio Chiellini.
The Argentinian’s two goals in Juventus’ 2-0 win in Monaco last week mean the Italians head into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday in control of the tie.
Much of the talk in the build-up to the first leg had focused on Monaco’s brilliant 18-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe, but neither he nor veteran strike partner Radamel Falcao could find a way past Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Higuain, in contrast, was at his clinical best, finally taking his domestic form on to the biggest stage with his first goals in a Champions League knock-out game in four years.
The 29-year-old scored again in the 1-1 derby draw with Torino at the weekend, taking his tally for the season to 32 in all competitions.
The current Juventus side have more self belief than the team which finished runners-up in the Champions League two years ago, according to star defender Giorgio Chiellini and truth be said, it is showing all over the team.
Beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in Berlin in the 2015 final, Juve have an excellent chance to reach the showpiece match again when they host AS Monaco on Tuesday holding a 2-0 lead from the away leg of their semi-final tie.
“I’d say the greatest difference between this Juventus and the one you saw in the final two years ago is inner belief,” Chiellini told reporters earlier on.
“I don’t think any of us really expected to go all the way to Berlin but we grew into the competition as it went on.
“We showed maybe a little too much respect to Barcelona in the final and that showed in our performance.
“This time around we know how to manage the key moments and we have the confidence to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s best in the knowledge that we have what it takes to beat them.”
Ahead of the clash tonight, Marko Pjaca will miss not just it but the rest of the campaign after tearing knee ligaments on international duty with Croatia in March while experienced German midfielder Sami Khedira is available after serving a one-match ban in the first leg. He will compete for a midfield spot with Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic. On the other hand, the Ligue 1 leaders still have a doubt over left-back Benjamin Mendy, who missed the first leg and the weekend win at Nancy.
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-Juventus have not conceded a goal for 621 minutes, the current longest run in the competition. Six consecutive clean sheets constitute their new record in the competition. Sevilla’s Nico Pareja was the last player to find the Turin nets, back in November.
-Juve have won all 11 two-legged ties against French sides, including against Monaco in both the 1997/98 UEFA Champions League semi-finals and the 2014/15 quarter-finals. The latter campaign witnessed their last appearance in the last four; the Bianconeri are now aiming for a ninth European Cup final.
– Monaco, who have never won in Italy in seven trips, losing all but one, are hoping to reach the final for a second time having got that far in 2003/04 – their last semi-final appearance.
– This is only Juve’s second UEFA Champions League semi-final appearance since 2003, although it is their second in three years – in 2014/15 they beat Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate (2-1 h, 1-1 a).
-Only twice in UEFA Champions League history have a team overturned a first-leg home defeat to win the tie, and both lost the first game 0-1: AFC Ajax against Panathinaikos FC in the 1995/96 semis (0-1 home, 3-0 away) and FC Internazionale Milano against FC Bayern München in the 2010/11 round of 16 (0-1 home, 3-2 away).
-This is the second time these sides have met in a Champions League semi-final, Juventus securing their passage to the final with a 6-4 aggregate victory 19 years ago before losing to Real Madrid in the final (1997/98).
-Monaco have reached the Champions League semis for the fourth time after 1993/94, 1997/98 and 2003/04. No other French team has made the last four more than once.
-Juventus, alongside Real Madrid, are the only unbeaten team in this season’s Champions League (W8 D3).
-Juventus are also unbeaten in their last 18 Champions League home games (W11 D7), their longest-ever run without a defeat in the competition on home soil. Bayern Munich are the last team to beat them, back in April 2013 (2-0).
-Monaco have only won two of their 11 away games in the Champions League knockout stages (D2 L7), and have also never kept a clean sheet in those 11 outings.
Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus): “You never know in football, we have to keep our concentration. Monaco have nothing to lose, they have quality players and are playing for a place in the final.”
Leonardo Jardim (Monaco): “In the first leg, we had as many shots on goal as Juventus but with an efficiency rate of zero percent. We need to play our game and try and score a goal in the first half.
“We will do everything we can to make sure this is not our last match in the competition. At the start of the season, nobody believed we would get beyond the group stage.”
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
VERDICT: Juventus will look to finish the job and secure a place in the Champions League final for the second time in three years. The Italians hold a 2-0 advantage from their semi-final first leg at the Stade Louis II and are strong favourites to advance.
Allegri rested several key players for their 1-1 draw against Torino at the weekend but they struggled at times despite playing with a numerical advantage for more than half an hour. Juventus’ experienced defence clearly controlled Monaco’s talented attack beautifully in the first leg, as they did with Barcelona’s attack for 180 minutes in the previous round.
I foresee another neat, professional performance from the Old Lady’s backline and they’ll be ready for whatever their visitors’ dreaded attack throw at them.
Monaco will most likely come out and look to attack from the start and Juve will just be patient knowing they have got the quality to hurt their visitors on the counter-attack.
Kylian Mbappe has scored five Champions League goals in six starts this season, however, I see him having another difficult night here at the Juventus stadium.
Gonzalo Higuain hasn’t been that prolific in the Champions League this season but he’s been on fire in Serie A and I expect him to send Juve cruising through to the final given the porous backline of the French side.
In contradistinction, don’t be surprised if this one ends in a scoreless draw because Juve knowing they have it all wrapped up in the first leg, might not play to their very best. That’s normal with humans in such circumstance.
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