Monaco vs Juventus: The 3 key questions answered ahead of the Champions League semi-final


As the Champions League semi-finals approach, one match sees a rematch of last year’s final as Real Madrid take on Atletico for a place in the Cardiff showpiece. However, there is no shortage of intrigue in the other clash as the young and impressive AS Monaco take on the veteran experience of Serie A giants Juventus.

The two teams have changed drastically since they met in the 2015 quarterfinals, but both have unquestionably impressed this term. With the first leg set to take place at the Stade Louis II, we took time to speak with French football expert Andrew Gibney and Italian football writer Adam Digby, asking them three key questions that are likely to shape this encounter.

 

What are the biggest strengths of your respective teams?



Andrew Gibney: Monaco have shown time and time again this season that their movement in the final third is as good as anyone in Europe. Both Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar, playing as the wide midfielders, are encouraged to come inside, leaving space for the full-backs. Benjamin Mendy on the left plays almost like a winger and is as important to the attack as any of the forwards.

What has been key to Leonardo Jardim’s success during his time in the Cote d’Azur, is the way he installs an understanding throughout his team. Everyone not only knows their role, but they know what everyone else should be doing and where. Fabinho, a converted full-back, can go wide, cover in defence and as a winger. Bernardo works as hard in defence as he does in attack. This team could all rotate positions and know exactly what to do to punish the opposition.

Adam Digby: For Juventus, it is undoubtedly their organisation and depth. It may be somewhat stereotypical to talk about a well-organised Italian side, but under coach Max Allegri that is undoubtedly what the Bianconeri have become. His 4-2-3-1 formation – adopted after a comprehensive defeat at Fiorentina back in January – provides great attacking prowess, but it has only been effective because the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado and especially Mario Mandžukić have sacrificed for the team behind them.

With that trio of attacking stars working hard to ensure the side maintain their shape, focus and defensive solidity, it is no surprise that Juve have only conceded two goals in the Champions League, keeping clean sheets in each of their four knockout matches thus far. Having the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani in reserve ensures that the defence is never short of reinforcements.

 

And what would you perceive as the biggest weakness in their current side?



AD: A lack of speed, particularly in midfield, seems especially important here. Of course, the likes of Miralem Pjanić, Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira have immense tactical awareness, but they are not the quickest trio of players. The latter is suspended for the first leg, but there is little doubt that Monaco hold a distinct speed advantage, something they will surely look to capitalise on when counterattacking.

Similarly, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci lack the acceleration of those they’ll be facing here, and Juve’s options on the bench – the likes of Tomás Rincón, Mario Lemina and Stefano Sturaro – are not especially quick.

AG: In the Coupe de la Ligue final, Paris Saint-Germain managed to take advantage of Monaco’s one weakness. Catching them on the counter, the space behind the full-backs was punished time and time again. Mendy is great with the game in front of him, but get him turned and they look much weaker.

On both the left and the right, both players are allowed to attack at will and neither Mendy, Djibril Sidibe nor Almamy Toure need a second invitation. They are much stronger on the front foot and they often leave the centre-backs exposed. Kamil Glik and Jemerson are often left to fend off constant threats from wide, and that is playing with fire.

 

Which opposition player are you most fearful of?

AD: The obvious answer here would of course, particularly with my previous answer in mind, be Kylian Mbappé and the breakaway pace he possesses. However, Juventus are too well-drilled to be beaten by the most likely option and my biggest concern would be in them forgetting about Radamel Falcao.

The Colombian striker has been in deadly form recently, netting three goals in his last four outings despite playing just 274 minutes in those games and he certainly punished Manchester City’s inattention during their last-16 clash. If the Bianconeri drop deep to guard against Mbappé’s speed, they could find the former Man United and Chelsea flop waiting to pounce.



AG: The hype around Paulo Dybala is real. You could see from that first leg against Barcelona just how deadly the little Argentine forward can be. He only needed two opportunities to punish the Spanish side. Monaco with the way they defend will leave space between the defence and midfield and that’s where the former Palermo man operates.

In both the league and Champions League, Dybala has four goals from outside the penalty area. You can’t assign just one player to track his movement. Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria caused the Monegasque defence huge problems in the Lyon final, Jardim’s back four couldn’t cope. If Dybala is in the mood, he is the perfect weapon to punish the Monaco back line.