WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) previews the first leg of the Champions League semi-final tie between Monaco and Juventus at the State Louis II, a battle between sides entrenched in contrasts of age and styles.
Monaco v Juventus | Wednesday 19:45 | BT Sport 1
Monaco play their first Champions League semi-final since 2004, a season in which they finished runners-up to FC Porto. Les Rouge et Blancs powered six past Dortmund over two legs in the quarter-final stage, twice overcoming Borussia’s favouritism to get here.
They have without doubt the most exciting young squad in Europe right now and Leonardo Jardim will be banking on his sides’ youthful exuberance to pull through again when facing their exact opposite; Juventus boasted the oldest squad in the competition at the group stage.
A clash between Monaco and Juventus is not only a contrast in ages but also in styles. Juventus are the ‘dinosaur’, good in the air and strong in the tackle. Whilst Monaco have, a whole host of fleet-footed and slight playmakers that thrive on acceleration and intensity.
This is a repeat of the 1997-98 semi-final, a tie which Juve won 6-4 on aggregate despite losing the first leg 3-2 in Monte Carlo and also a repeat of the 2015 quarter-final, which Juve won 1-0 on aggregate, drawing 0-0 away. In summary, Monaco have flirted with European success on and off in spates for decades.
In Kylian Mbappe and Paulo Dybala, each side has a young striker that could one day be the best in the world. The former has 18 goals in his last 18 appearances and scored three over the two legs against BVB. As for Dybala, it was he who paved their way to progression past Barcelona with a quick-fire double in the first leg of the last eight.
Monaco are a high-octane side and I don’t expect them to change that when facing a different type of opponent. Young players don’t tend to have the versatility to suit different game plans and, anyway, Juve have the best defence in the world so they’ll need to go hell for leather throughout the tie to stand any chance of progressing.
Hosting the first leg puts them at a disadvantage when looking at statistics for semi-finals in European cups; they really need to win the home leg. Juve have conceded just two goals in the competition this season, a ridiculously good defensive record, not even Barcelona could score against them across two legs.
I believe though that their underdog status will stand them in good stead here. Monaco are 9/4 to qualify (Bet365) and have drifted to 21/10 to win the first leg. It’s a bit of a slap in the face again for this exciting outfit.
When beating Dortmund 3-1 in their last UCL tie they became the first ever team to score three or more goals in four consecutive knockout Champions League games. That is how good they are.
As for Juve, I would not be surprised if Massimiliano Allegri goes to the Principality and plays for a draw.
The Bianconeri have won just two of their last seven away games in all competitions and the fact that star striker Gonzalo Higuaín has scored just two goals in 24 Champions League knockout matches doesn’t fill you with too much confidence that they’ll bag many on the road here.
Unless the Old Lady score three times I don’t see them winning; Monaco’s scoring power has seen them hit 2+ in 25 of their 29 home games in all competitions this season. Since 2000, Juve have scored two or more in only 30% of their Champions League away games.
For that reason I have to back Monaco’s attacking prowess to prevail in the first leg. I’m backing them at +0.0 on the Asian Handicap at 23/20 with Bet365 and also Juventus to score Under 1.5 Goals at 4/6 with Ladbrokes.
Monaco have won 71% of their home games in the Champions League, among clubs to have hosted 30 or more, only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have a higher win ratio. That is pretty astonishing and the fact that Juve have failed to win at the Stade Louis II twice before adds further reason to support Jardim’s men.