Juventus appear Cardiff-bound but don't rule out Monaco just yet
Ahead of Juventus and Monaco's Champions league semifinal second leg, Julien Laurens and James Horncastle have been chatting again.
The Italian side lead 2-0 on aggregate after a commanding display in the teams' opening game but, as Julien says to begin; it's not over yet...
So James, my friend,
You didn't think you would get rid of me so easily, did you? No, I am still here, just like Monaco! And Juventus should be careful not to write them off before the second leg, as many people -- including you! -- are doing. This tie is not over just yet. Juve were so "Juve" last week, efficient with Gonzalo Higuain and solid with Gianlugi Buffon; nothing new there. But there is still hope for Monaco, who found a way to create big chances in the first leg, and unsettle the Juve defence.
This time, playing away from home will even be better for them. They are so good on the counter, as we saw at Manchester City (despite their defeat), at Dortmund and also at Wembley against Tottenham. Leonardo Jardim and his players have learnt from the first leg; they won't make the same mistakes and they will not give up. They really believe they can come back in this tie. They have already scored over 150 goals this season in all competitions and so naturally fancy themselves to add two more -- at least -- to that tally.
Julien, I'm glad you brought up Buffon, mon cher,
I still find it baffling how reluctant people are to consider him the undisputed world No. 1. Maybe it's because he's 39 and, after a while, people want to see a new champion. But if Juventus have kept a club record six consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League this season and are currently 621 minutes and counting without conceding a goal, it's down in no small part to their inspirational captain.
OK, Paulo Dybala stole the headlines against Barcelona and it was Higuain and Dani Alves' turn against Monaco. But, in each of those games, Buffon came up big. People are quick to forget how he denied Andres Iniesta when the score was 1-0 in Turin or, last week, Kylian Mbappe at 0-0, Radamel Falcao at 1-0 and Valerie Germain at 2-0. Buffon had to pull off five saves at the Stade Louis II, which is the most he's had to make in this competition since the group stages of last season. No wonder La Stampa celebrated his Mani d'oro -- "golden hands."
"He's still the best goalkeeper in the world," Juventus manager Max Allegri said after the first leg; Buffon ttranscends his position. On the flight back to Turin, one of his teammates was overheard saying: "He's our Cristiano Ronaldo." And even if Monaco do get past him, Jules, do you really see them winning at the J Stadium, where Juve have lost only once in Europe? Need I remind you that was more than four years ago.
Ha, I love Buffon too, James!
And I agree with you that he is the undisputed No. 1. The Champions League is the only thing that is missing from his trophy cabinet and unfortunately for him, he will have to wait at least another year to win it, because Monaco will win in Turin and go through. After all, this is a season in which Barcelona produced the remontada of all remontadas against Paris Saint-Germain; there is another twist to come and it will happen on Tuesday. If any team is capable of a great comeback, it is Monaco!
This time, Jardim will get his tactics right. Benjamin Mendy will be back, while. Falcao and Mbappe want their revenge over Buffon and will take their chances. The Monegasques will continue to create chances and bring craziness, pace and intensity to the game, everything that Juve will not want. They will want to slow the game down and control it but Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Co. will be unstoppable. Monaco have a rendezvous with destiny and they won't miss it.
Jules, tu es fou! Crazy, I tell you.
You do know that only two teams have overturned a first-leg defeat at home in the Champions League knockout rounds? One was Louis van Gaal's Ajax against Panathinaikos in 1996 -- let's just pause for a moment to reminisce about Jari Litmanen. OK, done -- and the other was Inter against Bayern Munich back in 2011, AKA when Inter used to get into the Champions League.
Granted, Monaco have been breathtaking on the road this season.They scored twice at Villarreal and Spurs and three times at Man City and Dortmund; beads of sweat are forming on my brow just thinking about it! But then I remember that this Juventus team has reached half-time in 12 games this season without even allowing a single shot on goal. What really struck me in Monaco was how confident, assured and unflappable Juve looked. They seemed completely at ease, which is perhaps the biggest measure of how far Allegri has brought them on from the days of Antonio Conte.
Perhaps by dint of not being associated with a buzzword style like gegenpressing or tiki-taka, Allegri does not receive the acclaim he richly deserves. He is a masterful tactician, has great instincts, has managed a transition to enable young players to come through and turned Juventus into so much more than a team with a great defence. No one saw 3-4-2-1 coming last week and, watching the game back, Juventus changed system five times in the game. Allegri kept Jardim guessing and I'm not sure he'll have the answers on Tuesday!
Come now, James!
As an educated man, you know what R. D. Laing (who died in France, not far from Monaco, by the way) used to say: "Insanity: a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world." It has been a crazy season in a crazy world and Monaco beating Juve on Tuesday, however hard it might seem, would be a perfect addition to the story!
And I am glad you brought up the Ajax '96 team because, in many ways, this Monaco side is similar to that of LVG back them, boasting youth, talent, belief and insouciance. I am convinced that, before being dismantled like Ajax were, Monaco will make it all the way to the top. Just like Ajax did.
Focus on the league, Jules; leave Europe to the Old Lady.
Allegri rested eight players for this game, while. Jardim only rotated Mbappe and Tiemoue Bakayoko. A big part of that is to do with depth, but I think it also shows Monaco's intentions. A first league title since 2000 is within touching distance and, regardless of how this project started, that's a remarkable achievement. Jardim said he wouldn't swap winning the league for one night in Turin. Ligue 1 is returning to the Principality but the Champions League is en route to Turin via Cardiff.