No matter how you feel about Juventus’ opposition on Wednesday night, the possibility of the Italian champions reaching the Champions League final is as real as ever before this point. It’s more real than it was before Juve played and then beat Porto in the Round of 16. It’s more real than it was before Juve played and then beat Barcelona in the quarterfinals a few weeks ago.
Juventus were thought of as a team that COULD make a deep run in the Champions League entering the season.
Now, Juventus are being looked at as, alongside Real Madrid, the favorite to win the whole damn thing. That’s quite a leap from some tipping Juve to be a sleeper pick to do some things to now, as we sit around 180 minutes of game time away from knowing which two teams will be playing in the Champions League final in Cardiff on the first Saturday of June.
As is what seems like one of the many theme of this season’s Champions League, this is a meeting from a couple of years back. And In just a few years, things have changed quite a bit from the last time these two teams played.
Juventus’ kits are now made by adidas, not Nike. The starting strikers that night in Monaco were Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. Wednesday night, it will be Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala leading Juve’s offensive attack into battle against Monaco. The man who scored the only goal over the two-legged affair, Arturo Vidal, headed off to Germany to sign with Bayern Munich that next summer.
Monaco’s roster is still very much filled with young and incredibly talented players. They’re still going to make an amazing amount of money from the sales of some of their young stars because that is what they do. And yet, with all of that being said, they’re in a place where Monaco hasn’t been in recent years — the final four in Europe.
Juventus’ opponent this round isn’t an established power like a few weeks ago. Juventus enter as the favorite to beat Monaco rather than the team that many are picking against. They are the young, upstart, surprise team left amongst three other European heavyweights.
Sounds like a nice little way to spend a Wednesday, if you ask me.
It’s time again, my friends. It’s time for Juventus to continue this journey that will hopefully end next month in Cardiff, not next week in Turin. It’s time to continue to do it for Gigi, who needs a Champions League trophy on his resumé before his incredibly legendary career comes to an end. Oh yes, Juventus social media campaigns, it sure is time for (hopefully) some more Champions League magic.
"The dream is in reach. We could make history this season and that is exactly why I came here. We have to keep going and do what need to do day in, day out on the training ground."
Those are the words of Dani Alves, a guy who knows a thing or two about not just getting to a Champions League final but also winning the whole damn thing. If he says the dream is in reach, then it most certainly is within reach. Then again, this is the Champions League semifinals, so it’s pretty understandable that he would say that things are within reach. Smart man, that Dani Alves.
IT’S THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMIFINALS, PEOPLE.
Sami Khedira, a player who has been quite good since Juventus switched to the 4-2-3-1 after the Fiorentina loss a few months back, is suspended after picking up a yellow card in the second leg against Barcelona. I don’t know about you guys, but with no Brother Sami, I think I can safely assume that Claudio Marchisio will be in the starting lineup come Wednesday night. Just a hunch, I know.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Juventus’ defense vs. Monaco’s offense.
Of course, there’s much more to it than just four defenders going up against Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé and the likes from Monaco. Much, much more than just that.
Monaco’s goal scoring totals in the Champions League — especially the last few rounds in the knockout phase — are just absurd to think about. Monaco has failed to score at least two goals in a game only once since I ditched being a 29-year-old for my 30s back in late-October. Their attack is getting a lot of attention, and if you don’t think it’s deserved then you probably want to go back and see what they’ve done to get to the Champions League semifinals.
Now, Juventus’ defense has earned a lot of praise and pub for what it did against Barcelona. Lionel Messi entered the quarterfinal tie having never scored a goal against Gianluigi Buffon and he finished the 180 minutes with the same total against Juve’s legendary No. 1. As much as we hear about Italians knowing how to defend, Allegri really did lean on his defense to get the job done — especially during the second leg on at the Camp Nou.
Here’s to hoping Juventus’ defense is more of the one we saw against Barcelona rather the one that was in Bergamo over the weekend. You know, the one that can shut down even the most dangerous of teams rather than allowing stupid goals that have no business being goals in the first place.
2) Gonzalo Higuain on the big stage — again.
Do you remember the last time that Higuain found the back of the net in the Champions League? Go ahead, you can try a guess. I won’t be mad.
If you had the second time Juventus faced Dinamo Zagreb in the group stage, then you’re right on the money. That game, however, was played all the way back on Dec. 7.
When you have Paulo Dybala doing things like he did against Barcelona, the lack of Higuain goals on the European stage is a little easier to cope with. But Juventus didn’t shell out close to nine figures to see their new No. 9 squander would-be scoring opportunities we’ve seen him put away with what seems like somewhat-frequent regularity over his days with Napoli and then this season with Juve.
Higuain has had chances. Plenty of them, really. He has gone from scoring six goals in the span of four games to not finding the back of the net in his last three outings. I’m not saying he’s been a waste because he hasn’t. Should he have continued his run of goals from the two-game stretch within four days against Napoli last month? Yeah, you don’t become who he is and score the goals he has without making a living off some of the chances he’s missed over the last few games.
3) The Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic pairing in the center of the midfield.
For a handful of reasons, the Marchisio-Pjanic combination hasn’t been used all that much since Allegri’s switch to the 4-2-3-1. But with Khedira suspended for the first leg, there’s no debate as to who’s taking the big German’s spot in the starting lineup. Marchisio didn’t play on Friday night against Atalanta, meaning he’s about as well rested as he can get entering the latest biggest game of the season.
The thing is, the pair have been in different kind of form during the second half of the season. We know that it’s been a long road back from Marchisio after tearing his ACL a little over a year ago now. His form has been relatively so-so, and Allegri has rightfully not rushed him by stacking up appearance after appearance.
Pjanic, on the other hand, has been quite good for the better part of the last four months. He, of course is known for his ability to drop absolute dimes like he did to Dani Alves over the weekend against Atalanta, but it was his defensive contributions in the two legs against Barcelona that truly impressed me. It was truly a pair of performances that made the €32 million investment Juventus forked over to Roma this past summer worth it. The more Pjanic grows into this role as one of the two in the two-man center midfield, the better he seems to get. He’s found his spot, and he seems to be thriving.
Now, in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals, we get to see this combination that we haven’t seen that much of the last four months. I like Marchisio. I like Pjanic. I could well like them both ... if Juventus does well, obviously.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Stade Louis II Stadium, Monaco, France
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: Fox Sports 1 USA, ESPN Deportes USA (United States); beIN SPORTS Canada (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD, Canale 5 (Italy)
Online/Mobile: Fox Soccer 2GO USA, Fox Sports GO, WatchESPN, fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
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