Juventus too good for Monaco and move into Champions League final
Here are three thoughts from Juventus' 2-1 (4-1 aggregate) win over Monaco to book their spot in the Champions League final.
1. Juve have matured, but can they win it all?
Juventus were too strong and too well-drilled for AS Monaco over the two legs, with a 4-1 aggregate victory securing a ninth European Cup final for the Italian champions, but are they ready to emerge from their recurring nightmare and win the final?
The Old Lady has lost four successive Champions League finals (the most recent coming against Barcelona in 2015), and there is no doubt that Italy's biggest and most successful club have become European football's great under-achievers. Only twice, in 1985 and 1996, have Juventus been crowned European champions, but they will travel to Cardiff for next month's final believing that they have grown and matured since the loss to Barca in Berlin two years ago.
Defensively, Juventus are a match for any team in the world and Kylian Mbappe's second-half goal for Monaco, after Mario Mandzukic and Dani Alves had put the hosts 2-0 ahead before half-time, was the first they had conceded in the Champions League for 689 minutes. It ended a run of six successive clean sheets, including two against Barcelona in the quarterfinal. Now, Juventus will face the winners of the Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid semifinal -- Real lead 3-0 from the first leg -- believing that they have the discipline and organisation to lift the European Cup for the third time.
At 39 years old, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will surely see Cardiff as his last chance to get his hands on the trophy after playing in two losing finals, and the World Cup winner will be a key figure next month. If, as is likely, they face Real in the final, Juventus will go into the game as underdogs, but they have the defensive game plan, at least, to win.
2. Higuain, Mandzukic must be sharper
While Juventus are unquestionably good enough to frustrate any opponent with their rock-solid defence in the Champions League final, doubts remain about their ability to be ruthless against the very best when it comes to finding the back of the net.
Gonzalo Higuain and Mandzukic both came up with the goods over the semifinal's two legs, with Higuain's double proving decisive in the 2-0 first-leg victory in Monaco and Mandzukic putting Juve on course for the win Tuesday. But the pair of them missed good chances, maybe easier chances than the ones they converted, and such misses might prove costly in the final when they will most likely face Real Madrid in Cardiff.
There are no such doubts over the quality of Real's forward line, with Cristiano Ronaldo proving once again with his first-leg hat trick against Atletico Madrid last week that he remains one of football's most deadly finishers, even at 32. Higuain and Mandzukic are top-class strikers, and each has a big club pedigree, but if they each have one chance in the final, will they take it?
Few would bet against Ronaldo in such a situation, but Higuain and Mandzukic are the kind of forwards who will convert one in three or four of their chances. That strike-rate has taken Juventus as far as the final, but if they are to win it, Massimiliano Allegri will need his forwards to be more clinical and ruthless than ever before because at the highest level, games are decided by goal scorers rather than defenders.
3. What now for Monaco?
Monaco have performed beyond all expectations in this season's Champions League and eliminated some mighty opponents to make it to the semifinals, but their chances of repeating such heroics next year depend on the club's ability to hold onto their array of star players this summer.
The worst-case scenario for Leonardo Jardim's team is that they lose as many as 10 players this summer, including teenage sensation Mbappe, and start next season with an entirely new squad. A mass exodus is unlikely, with Monaco confident of holding onto Mbappe for at least another year and the club determined to keep the core of the team together, but some big names will leave, and they will be difficult to replace.
Monaco might be owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, but he is not in the same league as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich or Manchester City's benefactor, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan. He has already made it clear that he wants the club to be self-sufficient and not reliant on his money; as a result, Jardim will see some players go, and the breakup of this team, to some extent, is inevitable.
This defeat against Juventus will prove to be an invaluable learning experience for many Monaco players, though as recent history has shown, no matter how many stars leave, Monaco have an enviable track record of finding other young talents to come in and take their place.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_