AS Monaco have been the surprise package of this year's Champions League, coming through a fairly even group and defeating Arsenal in the round of 16. The Principality club has made it this far largely on the back of a remarkably sturdy defense, conceding only once in the CL group stage and leading the defensive classification in Ligue 1 with just 23 conceded. Coach Leonardo Jardim has re-molded the club in the wake of James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao's departures, incorporating exciting youngsters with an experienced spine.
Monaco line up in a Jose Mourinho-esque 4-2-3-1, settling in to a solid defensive 4-4-2 without the ball. Even in possession the two central midfielders — often Geoffrey Kondogbia and Jérémy Toulalan — rarely leave their defense exposed. Of the midfielders, Kondogbia is more likely to get into the box, but even that is only a couple times per game. Aymen Abdennour and Ricardo Carvalho form a veteran defensive core, with all the street-smarts and craftiness that implies.
There were some concerns over the fitness of Toulalan and the just-returning Carvalho after they were forced off with muscle problems in the match against Caen on Friday, but both were able to train on Sunday and are set to travel to Turin. If they are not able to go Fabinho is likely to slot into midfield, as he did in London, while another Brazilian, Wallace, is the backup in central defense.
On the attacking front, most of Monaco's excitement comes from the youngsters. On the wings. Anthony Martial and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco are the best known players, with the Belgian winger already breaking into the crowded ranks of his national team. The young winger has startling acceleration, and uses his stop-start ability and technique to be a real handful around the box. Martial is something of a prototype modern striker, tall and physical enough to win high balls, but with the pace and energy to roam from corner to corner, something like a French version of Álvaro Morata. A more defensive option on the right is the Moroccan Nabil Dirar, who has been brought into the team for most of the big games this season, whether in Ligue 1 or the Champions League.
Dimitar Berbatov and Bernardo Silva offer something different in attack. The young Portuguese is a talented dribbler who always looks for goal, and the veteran an inimitable combination of nonchalant flicks, impeccable control, and swirling cigarette smoke. Whoever plays around him, the key to Monaco's attack will be João Moutinho. Directing the attack, the veteran Portuguese midfielder has been underrated for years, and may see this as his final shot at Champions League glory and the recognition he deserves.
Juventus, for its part, has an even more impressive defensive record in the league, with the Italian champions conceding just 14 times in 29 games. With two defenses so well-drilled and comfortable sitting back, the tie looks to be poised on a knife-edge, and it would be no surprise to see extra-time or away goals determine the winner.
Unlike Borussia Dortmund or Arsenal, the sides Juventus and Monaco met in the previous round, here both teams will be very attentive to space left behind as they try and avoid counter-attacking situations. The dribblers on both teams, who can take out a man and create something out of nothing, will likely be crucial for creating goal-scoring chances, and it would not surprise to see the tie come down to a single mistake.
Although Monaco were something of a surprise package in the group stage, at this point they must be considered contenders. Leonardo Jardim has done a wonderful job in constructing a competitive team when many had written the side off after selling their stars, and although Juventus go into the tie as heavy favorites (Bet365 has Juventus at 3/10 to qualify*, implying that 10 times out of 13 they expect the Italians to go through,) Monaco have already ruined more than their fair share of betting slips.
*Odds accurate as of April 12