3 Key Things from Juventus-Monaco

Alves

Juventus travelled to Monaco for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie, and they did exactly what their coach, Max Allegri, would’ve wanted. The Bianconeri controlled the ball for the first half-hour, scored an away goal and then settled into a more defensive shape to lessen Monaco’s threat in transition. In many ways, it was a perfectly orchestrated performance from a tactical point of view, and with a 2-0 win to show for it, the experienced Italian outfit now sit in the box seat.

Here are three key things from the match:

1. Juventus wingbacks

Early on, Juventus wanted to assert themselves. They passed the ball around between themselves, and given that they played in a 3-4-3 formation, their three-man defensive unit became the first port of call for this. Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci had the responsibility for effectively starting off Juve’s passing chains, and due to Monaco’s formation, a 4-4-2, they only found themselves up against Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe initially. That meant they had the spare man and could therefore shift possession across the backline in a fairly composed manner, and with Miralam Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio also assisting in the central midfield positions, Juventus never looked overly hurried in the opening stages.

Yet if the central defenders provided the foundation for Juve’s extended periods of ball retention, it was their wingbacks who provided the attacking thrust. Allegri selected two offensively-minded Brazilians to fill those slots, with Dani Alves lining up at right-wingback and Alex Sandro taking up the the same station on the left. This meant they were always going to bomb on, and so it made sense for Juventus to ask Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, who filled the left- and right-sided forward positions, to tuck into more central locations, which is exactly what happened. Mandzukic and Dybala floated infield, something which forced Monaco’s already compact defence to be even more so. The Principality club’s fullbacks, Djibril Sidibe and Nabil Dirar, had to tuck in to an even greater degree to cover Juve’s wide forwards, and that was what allowed Alves and Sandro to get so open.

Juventus would often play through the centre initially before trying to find one of their wingbacks in space, and even when Monaco did enough to get out and cover the first option, Allegri’s men simply changed the point of attack by switching to the wingback on the other side of the field. This meant Monaco were constantly having to shuffle from side to side, and with Juventus passing the ball so proficiently in the early going, they couldn’t help but leave some gaps in their defensive shape. Alves was the main beneficiary of this, having no less than four opportunities to cross before Juventus took the lead, and while one of these came through a neat combination between the former Barcelona man and Dybala, the others all arrived courtesy of quick switches of the play.

The best of these came when Pjanic swung a lofted crossfield ball in behind the opposition defence. Sidibe was tucked into a central location, so the Bosnian didn’t really have to extend himself to find Alves on the open side. Courtesy of an outside-to-in run, the 33-year-old wingback latched onto the pass inside the area, and instead of taking it down, he opted to play a volleyed square ball into the goalmouth. Gonzalo Higuain looked set to head it home, but whether he got his feet in a tangle or simply didn’t quite have the time, he failed to get to the pass. Alves showed his displeasure at his teammate’s efforts, but despite that moment of petulance, he was the game’s key player in the first 30 minutes.

He would go on to have a massive hand in Juventus’ go-ahead goal, first helping to puncture the Monaco press before providing a backheeled assist for Higuain, and that wasn’t overly surprising. Juve stretched Monaco through the attacking instincts of their wingbacks from the off, and though it took a few bites of cherry, it was eventually that style of football which allowed the Turin-based club to hit the lead.

That’s not to say they had it all their own way, however.

2. Monaco transition

The Monagasques have been excellent this season, often through the youthful exuberance of their attacking unit, and they tried to get their counter-attacking game going against Juventus as well. Leonardo Jardim’s side started in a flat 4-4-2 formation, which featured Falcao and Mbappe up front. They were flanked by wingers Thomas Lemar, who played on the left, and Bernardo Silva, who took his place on the right-hand side. This meant Monaco’s attacking quartet four featured an impressive blend of athleticism and technique, and despite not seeing much of the ball to begin with, they were desperate to make of most of the chances they did get.

As always with Monaco, they wanted to move the ball from back to front with speed. There was a good early example of this, with Dirar, playing as a makeshift right-back, winning back possession inside his own half before driving forward into the final third. His more typical attacking instincts had set in by this stage, and he acted upon them with a firmly-hit cross into the near post. The electric Mbappe sprinted beyond the Juventus defence to latch onto it, and by opening up his left foot, he managed to deflect a solid effort at goal. Gianluigi Buffon was on hand to swat it away on this occasion, but this was nonetheless the type of chance that Monaco were looking to generate.

The home team also created chances through shorter-distance transitions too. Just after the interval, for instance, they pinched possession following a Juventus throw-in, and having won the ball back so high up the pitch, Silva found himself in a promising position in just over a second. The young Portuguese playmaker then moved things on with a lovely ball in behind to slice open the Juve backline. That presented Falcao with a chance to equalise, but despite a decent connection, Buffon again prevented the ball from skidding into the back of the net.

This was the way Monaco went about it in attack, but Juventus were awake to it. They altered their approach after going ahead 29 minutes in, and rather than controlling the ball and risking the chance of gifting Monaco opportunities in transition, they started to sit back.

3. Juventus switch up their strategy

After going ahead, Allegri wanted his players to be a little more circumspect. He’s a manager who quite enjoys sort of strategy, as he likes to get the lead and then set about protecting it. This time around, he asked his team to move into more of an absorb-and-counter mode after they hit the front. In simple terms, this is illustrated by the possession statistics. Juventus scored around half an hour in, and up until the 30 minute mark, they enjoyed 66% of possession. From 30 minutes onwards, however, they only had 41% of the ball, so the difference in strategy was obvious.

Following the opener, Juventus handed the ball back to Monaco. They knew Jardim’s men were strong in transition, so they asked questions of their ability to penetrate a solid defensive structure instead. This wasn’t exactly without risk – Silva and Lemar have plenty of playmaking ability – but given Monaco’s proficiency on the break, it was certainly the more sensible option. Moreover, the shift was also helpful in an offensive sense, as Juventus were now more likely to get the chance to break against an unset defence. After all, Monaco wanted to get back into the game, especially given the fact it that was their home leg, so they were always going to, at least at times, stretch themselves out in the pursuit of a goal. Which, of course, is exactly what happened on 59 minutes.

Tiemoue Bakayako struggled to sort his feet out while Monaco were building up. This wasn’t good news for the Monagasques, as Dybala and Alves used the midfielder’s loose control as a cue to pounce, and they quickly won the ball as a result of doing so. Dybala then charged forward with the ball at his feet, and after spotting Alves out on his right, he played a short pass into the Brazilian’s feet. Monaco were very much on the back foot now, rushing frantically to avoid going two goals down, so Alves wasted no time. He launched a lofted cross to the far post, and its accuracy was such that Higuain could lope towards the ball and, after showing the composure to gather himself, push a left-footed shot at goal. He finished the job with a nice little jab beyond Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, and at that point, Juventus were 2-0 up and cruising.

The scoreline didn’t change from that point onwards, and all in all, this was a very capable performance from Juventus. They put their foot down early at the Stade Louis II, controlling the ball and using the width of their wingbacks to take a first-half lead. The Bianconeri then switched to a more measured mindset, and in tactical terms, it worked out well. Juventus managed the game and pinched a second away goal in the process. Naturally enough, Alves was the man to assist that second-half strike, and in a lot of ways, he was the star of the show with a dynamic performance from the right-hand side.

Because of this combination of tactical superiority and excellence from Alves, Juventus now find themselves with a heavy advantage heading into the return leg.