Juventus and Monaco will sense a major opportunity to get back to Europe’s elite when they meet for the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie in Turin on Tuesday.
For Monaco it has been 11 years since they troubled the competition’s final four, while for Juventus have gone 12 months longer. Both clubs went onto lose in the final in those seasons, and have since endured meager returns in the competition, while suffering turmoil on and off the pitch.
Since last making a splash in the competition, Juventus have gone through the Calciopoli scandal, which saw them relegated to Italy’s second tier for the first time in their history in 2006. The fallout from the affair left them needing to rebuild into once again becoming a force domestically, before thoughts could even turn toward the continent. But that initial objective has now been emphatically achieved. Holding a 12 point advantage with eight matches remaining, Juventus are on course for their fourth successive Serie A title. The prize craved now in Turin is European success.
But that would be no mean feat considering Juventus and Serie A’s financial disadvantage compared to the top clubs in the Premier League, La Liga and now Bundesliga. Despite reaching the quarterfinals in 2013, Champions League progress stalled under the man who brought them back to the top in Italy, Antonio Conte. Last season Juventus couldn’t even make it out of the group stage. And shortly before the start of this campaign, Conte left, seemingly in the belief that he had taken the club as far as he could, having often rued his club’s inability to compete financially.
It would be some irony then were Juventus to go all the way to June’s final in Berlin. Optimism was not exactly in plentiful supply when Massimiliano Allegri was immediately appointed as Conte’s successor. Having been a largely unpopular figure at AC Milan, where he was sacked at the start of last year, his appointment was seen as a further lack of ambition by the club. Yet heading into the middle of April, Juventus are still in the running for their first ever treble.
Already through to the Copa Italia final, Juventus have only lost twice in Serie A and ousted 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. And, while they went down to a shock loss against Parma on Saturday, few will care if a positive result is forthcoming against Monaco on Tuesday.
Juventus will start as favorites to progress, having been granted the kindest tie they could have hoped for in the last eight. Yet they do not have to look far for warnings of the danger of taking Monaco lightly. In the last round, Arsenal were overwhelmingly favored to overcome the Ligue 1 side, but were stunned by a 3-1 home loss in the first leg en route to a disastrous exit.
Like Juventus, Monaco endured a summer that threw their plans for the coming season into disarray. With the brash project of billionaire owner Dimitry Rybolovlev dramatically scaled back, star men James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao were allowed to depart. And, after taking just four points from his first five league matches in charge, the reign of former Sporting Lisbon manager Leonardo Jardim looked unlikely to be a long one. Yet, the Portuguese coach has since done wonders in transforming Monaco from a team of luxury stars into one built around phenomenal defensive solidity.
The side from the principality conceded just a single goal in the Champions League group stage and have seen their rearguard breached just four times in their last 17 Ligue 1 matches. Since the turnaround last November, only Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal, in an ultimately fruitless second-leg fight back, have scored twice against them. And they should arrive at the Juventus Stadium full of confidence, too, having beaten Caen 3-0 on Friday to leapfrog Marseille into the third and final Champions League place in Ligue 1.
D: Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra
M: Pereyra, Pirlo, Marchisio
F: Morata, Tevez
D: Fabinho, Wallace, Abdennour, Kurzawa
M: Kondogbia, Toulalan
Ferreira-Carrasco, Moutinho, Martial
Prediction: There is unlikely to be any surprise in Monaco’s approach, with Jardim’s men sure to try and frustrate Juventus before hitting them on the break through the passing of Joao Moutinho and pace of Yannick Ferreira Carrasco. But Monaco won’t find Juventus as tactically and mentally feeble as Arsenal were in London. Juventus also have a fine recent defensive record, and, with Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata in good form up front and despite missing Paul Pogba, they should have enough to get a first-leg advantage.
Predicted score: Juventus over Monaco, 1-0