Gonzalo Higuaín scores his and Juventus’s second goal in their 2-0 win away to Monaco. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
This was ruthless, a systematic and shrewdly executed dismantling of one of the brightest, young attacking sides in Europe. And it showcased everything that is impressive about Juventus. After 21 years in which they have come close only to stumble at the last too often, Italy’s dominant club side can sense a third European Cup is close, even if Real Madrid await in Cardiff next month.
An authoritative display on the Côte d’Azur, with Monaco dismissed in an arena where they have recently proved untouchable, has merely fuelled confidence. This side’s time seems close.
There is such conviction to Max Allegri’s players that they would surely not wilt even if confronted by Real’s current crop of seasoned galácticos. This team have struck the perfect balance between defensive surety and attacking pizzazz. They remain unbreached in the knockout phase of this year’s Champions League – five matches and contests with Barcelona and a normally irrepressible Monaco already played – and teased out their decisive goals every time the home side were just convincing themselves their own reward was imminent. There was strength at the back, bite on the break and in Gonzalo Higuaín, an £85m forward justifying his fee.
Monaco v Juventus: Champions League semi-final, first leg – as it happened
Gonzalo Higuain scored twice as Juventus put on a commanding display to take an ominous advantage into the second leg
The Argentinian’s double was neatly taken here while the Monaco defenders, always a split second behind the play as they heaved to suffocate Juve’s threat, gasped at the brutality of it all. “I fight so hard for these moments,” said Higuaín, who had scored only three times in Europe this season before this tie. “I’m delighted with the goals. I just had to stay calm and keep working hard, and it has paid off. But this isn’t over yet.”
That seemed diplomatic. More telling were the celebrations, hands linked with Juve players strung out in a line in front of a delirious away support, after the final whistle. Beating another of the most potent attacking forces in European competition felt like a statement of intent.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were tested by Kylian Mbappé and Radamel Falcao, but they also demonstrated that canny, occasionally sly, ability to leave rival strikers with bruised egos as well as bodies. Mbappé, the home side’s brightest attacking force, will be a better player for having experienced this suffocation of his talent. Gianluigi Buffon was in a World Cup squad before the 18-year-old forward was born, but the Italy goalkeeper celebrated his 100th Champions League appearance with a 44th clean sheet, a fine stop at his near-post from the striker’s volley and, late on, a sharp save to turn away Kamil Glik’s header.
“In every game I want to show that I deserve to play at this level despite my age,” he said afterwards. “I work hard every day for this. The day I quit, I want people to be sad about it. We played a great game today, exactly the game that we needed to survive at Monaco because they have a great attack. We want to improve day by day. We are close to our objective and it would be naive not to work as hard as possible now.”
Further forward there was the menace of Paulo Dybala and the energy of Claudio Marchisio. Any lingering suspicions that Dani Alves might be a spent force at this level post-Barca can be shelved too, given his blistering performance on the flank, but this is a collective laced with quality. It seems perverse that this club have not won this competition for so long. On this evidence, and barring something outlandish in the semi-final second legs, they can aspire to end that run against Real at the Millennium Stadium.
It was a painful education for Monaco to endure. There had been moments of promise, particularly when Nabil Dirar exploited space from right-back to feed Mbappé in the centre, or when Falcao wriggled away from his markers. But Juve would not be pierced, and the more potent threat was always theirs on the counterattack.
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Both goals were exquisite in their construction. The first had actually stemmed from Buffon’s short throw to Andrea Barzagli but, via a few sharp touches from team-mates, Dybala was soon flicking Alves free for the Brazilian to slip a pass infield for Higuaín.
While the forward gathered possession, Alves was already darting with purpose up the flank to collect the return and as Glik trundled across hoping to intercept, back-heeled the ball into space behind a wrong-footed and stumbling Jemerson.
There was Higuaín, permitted a free run by Tiemoué Bakayoko, to sweep a first-time finish across Danijel Subasic and into the corner before Dirar could summon a block. Bakayoko, coveted by Chelsea, endured a torrid evening in a protective mask after breaking his nose in training. His suitors would acknowledge he, like so many of this young team, is still a work in progress.
Falcao had missed the best opportunity to force parity, but Leonardo Jardim, pacing his technical area in frustration, must have feared his team would be wounded again. There had already been one warning, Marchisio eluding Djibril Sidibé to force Subasic into a smart save with his feet, but lessons were not learned. Bakayoko was duly robbed by a combination of Dybala and Alves on the right touchline, the Brazilian easing free of that tangle of legs and with space away from Jemerson, floating a gorgeous centre over Glik to the far post. There Higuaín slid in to score on the half-volley. “This could become an extraordinary season for us,” Allegri added.
Juventus have not conceded three goals at home since November 2012. Optimism abounds.
Source: The Guardian