Despite Win, Juventus Need to be Wary of Monaco’s Speed in Transition

juventus monaco

As the full-time whistle sounded, the fans at Juventus Stadium were happy. Their beloved Bianconeri had just claimed a 1-0 win over Monaco, in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, and as they gazed down from the steep stands to watch their idols shake hands with the opposition, there was a sense that the tie was theirs to lose.

And that feeling was justified, too. Juventus probably shaded the contest on home soil, kept a clean sheet and head into the away leg knowing that, despite Monaco’s lofty third-place standing in Ligue 1, the club’s home form is only the ninth-best in France. It’s not a fantastic record, and Monaco’s six wins in 16 appearances at the Stade Louis II will hardly make Max Allegri’s men feel as though they’re visiting a fortress.

The Juventus coach himself, however, is still wary. “Monaco have great players, some great youngsters and are really well-organised,” he said in the post-match. “Anybody who thinks it’s easy in the quarter-finals is wrong.”

Of course, these are the sorts of quotes football fans have come to expect from their managers. Allegri knows that while his side have the advantage it’s equally important to guard against complacency. More than that, he knows that Juventus still have a challenge ahead of them.

After all, this Monaco side is no pushover. Coached by Brazilian Leonardo Jardim, they are determined, disciplined and difficult to beat. They’ve only conceded 22 goals domestically, which is not only an excellent result from the 32 matches they’ve played, but also gives them the best defensive record in France. They’ve taken that miserly approach into the Champions League, too, where their Goals Against tally is also unparalleled.

But while that chiefly tells you the Principality club is tough to break down, it also hints at their modus operandi in attack. Indeed they like to sit back and absorb pressure in their well-drilled defensive shape, conceding very few goals as they do so, before breaking quickly and directly once the ball is turned over. Littered with pace and dynamism up top, the likes of Anthony Martial, Bernardo Silva and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco drive them forwards on the break.

It’s upon this combination of defensive diligence and speed in transition that Monaco’s progression has been based, and Allegri was all too aware of these things prior to the match. “When you play against a team that concedes few goals, the games are more complicated,” he said, “because you risk throwing yourself forward in a daredevil way and leaving space in behind.”

It follows that controlling for these things was important to Allegri. He wanted his players to be circumspect in attack, to finish the fixture with a clean sheet and thus avoid conceding an away goal. He wanted them to be sensible, but as the two sides looked to find their feet in the early going, the players draped in the famed black and white were anything but.

Perhaps it was the occasion that made them a little too cavalier, a little too eager to assert themselves upon the floodlit turf. But whatever it was, they clearly failed to heed Allegri’s advice, and instead left a number of spaces in behind for Monaco’s attack. This was particularly problematic down the right, where the ever-energetic Stephan Lichtsteiner, always ready to provide width in the final third, regularly found himself exposed going the other way.

Indeed it didn’t even take 10 minutes for this concern to make itself apparent. As Monaco sought to take an early throw in deep in defence, Lichtsteiner stayed high up the pitch. The Swiss wanted to help his side pinch possession in a dangerous position, but having noticed this, Martial, Monaco’s centre-forward, sauntered into the now-vacant space down Juventus’ right-hand side. Layvin Kurzawa soon clipped a long-ball towards that part of the pitch, and as Martial brought it under his control, it became clear that he was now up against the comparatively sluggish Leonardo Bonucci.

19 years of age and full of running, Martial elegantly turned Bonucci and sprinted down the touchline. He then waited, letting the ball run alongside him in the process, and then, as a slew of Juventus defenders started to converge upon his position, he squeezed a side-footed pass out from the left. It was perfectly weighted for the fleet-footed Ferreira-Carrasco, but while that made it easy to control for the Belgian, he couldn’t apply the finishing touches to what was essentially a gilt-edged opportunity.

Not to be disheartened, Ferreira-Carrasco, Lichtsteiner’s direct opponent and Monaco’s left-winger, soon created a chance of his own to drive in behind the Swiss defender. And this, naturally enough, was the result of Lichtsteiner’s desire to get forward.

Given that Juventus played with a narrow structure in both midfield and attack, there was a heavy burden on the fullback to provide width in advanced areas and, as the 10th minute reached its conclusion, he aimed to do just that. Yet while this enabled him to deliver a decent cross into the box, it also meant that, when it was cleared by Monaco, Ferreira-Carrasco was gifted the opportunity to charge at Bonucci. The youngster surged down the wing with the same speed Martial had shown just minutes before, but rather than search out a teammate, he opted to cut inside and shoot himself.

The effort was deflected by Bonucci, who did a good job to recover in a positional sense, and subsequently palmed to safety by Gianluigi Buffon. Ferreira-Carrasco again broke in behind the advanced Lichtsteiner moments later, and although the match had only seen its first quarter-of-an-hour at this point, it was obvious that Monaco were looking to exploit Lichtsteiner’s aggression.

Then came one of the game’s most contentious moments, and not only that, but also one of its most representative. Again, Lichtsteiner was forward and delivering a cross. Ferreira-Carrasco tracked back nicely and quelled the danger, before subsequently raising his head to search for an option. Sure enough, Martial was in a left-sided location, breaking in behind Juventus’ two centre-backs. Ferreira-Carrasco then looped an accurate long ball into his path, taking Bonucci out of the equation in the process.

Martial ran onto it. He was faced with the imposing figure of Giorgio Chiellini, but if he beat him, there would be a clear chance on goal. He tried to knock the ball to the outside of the Italian international, hoping that his pace would carry him beyond the defender. What followed was a coming together inside the area, and although Martial went down, the referee waved play on.

He probably made the right decision, but on a night when Juventus were later awarded a fairly dubious penalty, after half time, it’s worth noting that the call could have gone either way. Fortunately for the home side, however, they got the decision they wanted, and from that point on, they settled.

In fact, they were clearly the better side for the second 45 minutes, only once being caught on the counter during that period, and after moving to a back-three, they were rarely troubled defensively. Juventus will take confidence from that, but for Allegri, there will still be some concern over Monaco’s counter-attacking threat going into the second leg.

“We were hurt by some of their breaks in the first half,” he said. “It was precarious at times and we’ve got to improve some defensive aspects and do better with the chances we create.” Having the lead will obviously help, but with the jet-heeled duo of Ferreira-Carrasco and Martial leading the line for Monaco, it’s likely that they’ll pose a threat throughout the course of the return leg.

For both Allegri and his players, the task will be to stop them.