Higuain, Mbappe ensure there's plenty of intrigue ahead of second leg
After their debate earlier in the week, Julien Laurens and James Horncastle caught up after Monaco and Juventus' eventful Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday...
James got the ball rolling:
Je suis desole (I am sorry). I really am. You must be Mon-aghast at that result!
My head's spinning, a little like Radamel Falcao's after that Giorgio Chiellini elbow (Giorgio was looking at the ball!). Watching the game got me curious. Do you remember where you were on Nov. 26, 2015? I ask because that was the last night Monaco failed to score at the Stade Louis II. The 146-goal attack stopped in its tracks.
As if shutting out the Barcelona's MSN trio in back-to-back games wasn't enough, Juventus' wonderwall kept out Kylian Mbappe and Falcao. You've probably seen the stat, mon ami, but Barack Obama was still president when Gianluigi Buffon and Co. last conceded in the Champions League. It was all the way back in November. We're talking more than 10 hours on the pitch. Of course, Gigi had to make some big saves from Mbappe and Valerie Germain on the night -- indeed, the Germain one was reminiscent of when he tipped a Zinedine Zidane header over the bar in the 2006 World Cup final.
I felt for Monaco a bit. Juventus were ruthless in how they went about exploiting the problems Leonardo Jardim had at full-back, what with midfielder Nabil Dirar filling in at right-back and Djibril Sidibe playing out of position on the other side. But what do you expect at this stage? Max Allegri got his tactics spot on. I wasn't expecting the 3-4-2-1 and the in-game changes made Juventus so tough for Monaco to read.
Merci Jim for your commiserations.
I am not sure why you apologise though but it is sweet. I love how you have sent me a 246-word long email and you haven't written once the word "referee" in it. I mean come on! OK, I give you that Allegri got his tactics spot on (once again); I loved the 3-4-2-1. But, on the other hand, Jardim got his tactics spot "off"!
I don't think Tiemoue Bakayoko should have started in a game like this where you had to be more precise technically than strong physically. Joao Moutinho showed when he came on that he had the potential to unlock a Juventus defence who didn't look that strong at times.
To come back to the referee's performance though: Chiellini should have been sent off every day of the week. It was a blatant elbow. I still don't know what the referee was thinking and I think Mr. Antonio Mateu Lahoz was poor overall anyway, like Pavel Kralovec was two years ago.
I wish Mbappe, Falcao and Germain had taken their chances like Gonzalo Higuain did, but they didn't. An inspired Buffon was there every single time. That is the difference between having a world-class keeper like him and one like Danijel Subasic.
This game was always going to be part of the learning curve for this young Monaco team, but they can be proud of themselves despite getting taught a lesson in ruthlessness and efficiency. And don't forget that there is a second leg to be played! They will be under no pressure at all and, with Benjamin Mendy back in the team to terrorise the Juventus right flank, I would not book my trip to Cardiff just yet!
I tried reading your email but in all honesty I couldn't finish it. I kept daydreaming about Juventus's opening goal. Paulo Dybala's flick. Dani Alves' back-heel. Higuain's finish!
I was delighted for "Pipita"; he gets such a hard time outside of Italy. You've heard it, Jules, I'm sure:
"He choked in the World Cup final!"
"Then in the Copa America final!"
Seriously! Come on people, have some respect. Last season he broke the most hallowed record in Serie A -- the single-season scoring record -- that had stood since 1950. This season he's having the best debut campaign of any Juventus player since John Charles and Omar Sivori in 1957-58. But there was pressure on him going into the game. The scrutiny about his long-wait for a goal in the knockout stages of the Champions League was beginning to intensify. It had been four whole years. (Although, when you break it down, we're only talking seven games.)
It didn't help that Napoli went out in the group stages one year, even with 12 points, and that they then blew a playoff. On Wednesday, you did wonder if it was going to be one of those nights. He fell over. He hooked a shot wide. He ducked out of a header. But goals are like ketchup. You tap on the bottle for ages and nothing comes out, and then, all of sudden, tomato sauce splurges everywhere.
In fact, Gonzalo scored as many goals against Monaco as he did in his previous 24 appearances in the knockout stages. Thursday's Corriere della Sport front-page is hailing him the "Prince of Monaco." Comparisons have been drawn with Luca Vialli too. Old Luca didn't score until the semis back when Juventus last won the Champions League in 1996. You probably remember who that was against, don't you Jules? That's right, Nantes. Another French team. Sacre bleu!
I wouldn't be at all surprised if Higuain takes Alves out for dinner after the game. What a performance from the veteran Brazilian. After an underwhelming start to his Juventus career, admittedly hampered by injury, he has delivered right when it matters and in the competition he was signed to make the difference in. Alves was brilliant up against Neymar at the J Stadium and on Wednesday, in a wing-back role where Allegri preferred him to Juan Cuadrado, he once again left everybody wondering why on earth Barcelona let him leave and become the latest free transfer success story at Juventus.
Alves has now been involved in six Champions League goals this season. He has created more chances than anyone (270 in the competition. Yes, you read that right.
"When I got here, they told me: 'Come and make history with this team,'" Alves explained this week. "And making history didn't mean just win the league it meant also dreaming bigger."
That dream is now closer to reality. By the way, Jules, did you notice Sami Khedira was suspended? He's back next week. Do you think Monaco have any chance? Juve haven't lost at the J Stadium in Europe since, err, March 2013. Mbappe still impressed!
No, I am sorry in advance, mon ami.
You know that records in football are made to be broken. There will be a day when Juventus lose at the J Stadium, when they finally concede a goal in Europe, when they eventually get outsmarted tactically by an opponent. This might not happen all in one match, or not until Buffon has retired, but it could also all happen next week against Monaco, even if Khedira is back. There is still a slim chance for Monaco to do something. If they score early in Italy then anything can happen, even winning 2-0 to take the tie to extra-time or 3-1 to reach the final!
"Miracles exist. We have to believe in the second leg," said Vadim Vasilyev, the Monaco vice-president on Wednesday after the defeat. "Buffon had a great game but we created chances and if we score first in Turin..."
This has been such a crazy season that another twist could well be on the cards.
And guess who could be the hero then next week in Turin? Oh yeah. The prodigy. The future Ballon d'Or winner. The next big thing in world football. J'ai nomme Kylian Mbappe! You mentioned him in your last email, right at the end. He "impressed." Boy, he did just that! I think Andrea Barzagli is still looking for him after that moment in the first half where he twisted and turned and almost broke the Italian's back with his skills. He is only 18 years old but everything about him is special; his speed, his skills, his runs, his intelligence. You could tell how much the Juve defence feared him.
Of course, there were times where he dropped off the radar a bit and that's the thing he has to work on, staying in the game from start to finish, but what a talent! And what a privilege to see him blossoming like this in front of our eyes. Like the rest of his teammates, however, he was taught a lesson of how to be clinical. But that's ok.
"They had two chances and they scored two goals," he said after the match. "We had plenty of opportunities and we didn't take them. It is a great experience and it makes us improve quicker."
And he is right: Monaco will learn a lot, like they did from all the other tough games they won or lost this season. Mbappe surely learnt a thing or two from Higuain on Wednesday. Not how to put on that much timber and still play at the highest level, but how to basically touch the ball twice in a game of this calibre and score each time.
And I bet you one thing: Mbappe will score next week at the J Stadium, just like he did in Manchester and in Dortmund in the last two rounds. It might not be enough for Monaco to go through but he will certainly leave his mark on the second leg.