Champions League: Free-scoring Monaco face Juventus wall
Monaco have scored plenty of goals this season and boast one of European soccer’s most exciting newcomers in striker Kylian Mbappe but that might not be enough to break down the defensive wall of Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals.
Mbappe, 18, has scored 18 goals in his last 18 competitive games, including three in the 6-3 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the last eight.
The pacy forward provides a symbol for the rise of a fine counter-attacking team featuring other dangerous players such as Colombian marksman Radamel Falcao.
It takes more than that, however, to impress Juventus, the tightest defence in Europe’s top club competition with just two goals conceded in this campaign.
“Even Barcelona could not score in two games against them so it will be complicated for us”, Monaco’s Poland defender Kamil Glik said ahead of Wednesday first leg in the principality.
The Italian champions, who advanced to the last four with an aggregate 3-0 win over Barca, were held to a 2-2 draw at Atalanta in a rare defensive mix-up in Serie A on Friday.
Their pedigree and record for being impregnable when it matters, however, suggest Juventus should be regarded as the favourites.
“Monaco have technical and tactical qualities as well as talented young players,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said.
“They do not have the same history as Juventus but that does not mean it will be easy for us to make it to the final”, he added.
While Allegri can rely on a fully-fit squad, his Monaco counterpart Leonardo Jardim, criticised for fielding a B-team in a 5-0 French Cup semi-final thrashing by Paris St Germain last week, has a defensive worry with midfield dynamo Tiemoue Bakayoko doubtful due to a broken nose.
Monaco have shone in Europe and at home this season and their domestic title hopes received a welcome boost when a nervous PSG side lost 3-1 at Nice on Sunday, leaving the club from the French Riviera three points clear at the top with a game in hand.
Juventus, meanwhile, are closing in on a record sixth straight Serie A title and can turn to their European history for inspiration, having won the showcase club competition twice, in 1985 and 1996.
Monaco, by contrast, reached the Champions League final only once, in 2004, losing 3-0 to a Porto side coached by Jose Mourinho after a great run featuring wins over Real Madrid and Chelsea.
The sides have faced each other twice before on the Champions League stage with Juventus winning both ties, in the 1998 semi-finals and the 2015 quarters.
Juventus have never been eliminated by a French team in 11 previous meetings in European club competitions.