Highly-eventful Champions League season has come down to four best clubs vying for the coveted big-eared trophy.
The semi-final ties will see Monaco go head to head with Juventus, whereas the other half of the draw has pitted Madrid rivals Real and Atletico against each other in the replay of last season’s final showpiece.
And although the world is expected to focus all of the attention on La Liga derby in Europe’s elite club competition, it is the other clash that has been drawing most of attention. Rightfully so, we might add, as it is a duel of two great contrasts – of teams who both dazzled throughout the season with their formidable exploits.
AS Monaco’s explosive feats have been well-documented and talked about. The French side will have Kylian Mbappe, among others, to thank for stepping under the spotlight. Leonardo Jardim’s exciting squad is filled with promising talents and attack-oriented footballers, who can create all sorts of problems for any team in Europe – which they effectively managed to do by eliminating the likes of Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, respectively.
Still, when it comes to their duel with Juventus, there is a universally accepted consensus that Serie A champions are regarded as firm favourites to advance into the Champions League final – and win the trophy for that matter.
Organisation & Tactical Dominance
Reasons why Juventus have been priced at 13/8 to win the Champions League are plenty. But, to start with, it is their organisational ability and tactical versatility that makes them such a big threat.
When Massimiliano Allegri was appointed at Juventus, there had been more than one opposing voice, claiming that the Italian tactician was not the right man for Juventus. Truth be told, Antonio Conte’s shoes were not easy to fill. The most obvious difference between the two managers is their character. While Conte is the explosive type, Allegri is calm and composed and many people argued that he lacked passion required to lead the biggest Italian side.
Allegri faced problems at the beginning of his reign, but grabbed the helm firmly with both hands to prove doubters wrong over and over again.
Forced with a transition summer, which saw him lose key player Paul Pogba, Max Allegri was once again forced to dig deep into his magic box. Having initially struggled to make it all work, Allegri decided to shake things up and switch to 4-2-3-1 system back in January.
It proved to be just the right call for Bianconeri, who continue to thrive in the system which allows them to display all of their attacking potential without putting the backline in danger.
The most important thing one of the most underrated coaches in the world managed to do with his tactical shift is to preserve the rock-solid defence record.
Bianconeri have conceded mere 22 goals in the Serie A this season, whereas the record stands at 2 in 10 Champions League matches as a clear testament to their defensive stability. Juventus’ defensive ability has been best visible in the previous round of the competition when Bianconeri succeeded to shut down Barcelona’s front three – arguably the biggest attacking threat in world football.
Not only did Juventus kept Barcelona attackers at bay and within safe distance from Gianluigi Buffon’s goal, they also outclassed the Spanish giants in every position – exerting their revenge to the 2015 Champions League final, when they capitulated in front of the unstoppable Catalans.
The main difference to 2015 final is the tactical approach and the reinvention of the team performed by Max Allegri.
Juventus boss let his men have freedom in motion, perform fluency in attack and go forward as much as they like – under one condition thought – as long as they keep coming back to defend. Tracking back from the forward positions and holding up play is one of Juventus’ strongest suits and it all comes thanks to Max Allegri and his tactics.
With huge wind in their wings from behind, Juventus attackers have thrived this season as well.
With Miralem Pjanic as an improved version of Paul Pogba in creative position and Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic as three different – but yet complementary – attacking strengths, Juventus are adapting to every team they face and different challenges up front.
Paulo Dybala has been in particularly formidable shape this season. The Argentine maestro has had a couple of misunderstandings with his coach who, ultimately, wants nothing but the best for a player he thinks of as future leader of Juventus.
His nine goals in the Serie A and four more in the Champions League does not paint an honest picture and don’t do justice of his overall influence in Juventus’ play. The 23-year-old attacker is a huge force behind Juventus’ success with his constant runs, unpredictable movement and out-of-this-world skills.
Motivation & Desire
Another important segment that needs to be taken into consideration when we talk about Juventus being the favourites to dispatch sizzling AS Monaco and go all the way to lift the coveted trophy is motivation.
Two-time Champions League winners have waited for far too long to carve their name back into the European trophy. Having last won the elite competition back in 1995/96, Juventus came agonisingly close in 2015 when Barcelona ripped them stole it in front of their noses with a 3-1 win.
From that moment on, Champions League glory is all Juventus are thinking about. Bianconeri have successfully defended their undisputed status in Serie A and with quite a tangible lead in front of AS Roma this season they have been able to focus on their European exploits to a much bigger extent than other sides in the Champions League.
Motivation is at its maximum with Juventus and – in combination with their insatiable winning mentality – it could be the key in expected Champions League success.
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