Held on WED, 03 MAY 2017 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – SEMI-FINALS – 1ST LEG
19:45, Venue: Stade Louis II
Juventus closed in on a second Champions League final in three seasons as Gonzalo Higuain struck twice to beat Monaco in the semi-final first leg.
The French hosts started brightly, with Kylian Mbappe heading at Gianluigi Buffon before forcing another low save.
But Higuain ruthlessly finished two fine Dani Alves assists, sweeping the Brazilian’s back heel in on 29 minutes.
Radamel Falcao went close for Monaco after the break before Alves’ measured cross saw Higuain put Juve in control.
Relive Juventus’ confident win
After Real Madrid’s comprehensive first-leg win over city rivals Atletico on Tuesday, it now looks almost certain the two teams in Cardiff on 3 June will form a repeat of the 1998 final, in which the Spanish side beat Juve 1-0.
It will prove fitting, as the two sides sport the only unbeaten records in this season’s competition.
Monaco, free scoring and dangerous with their youthful side all season, showed moments of threat which could unnerve Juve in the second leg on 9 May.
But at Stade Louis II, Massimiliano Allegri’s side showed just how efficient they can be and Monaco’s task looks huge as Juve have not lost a home fixture by two goals since April 2013.
This was another victory built on organised defensive work, with Buffon making a couple of key saves to help usher in a ninth Juve clean sheet in 11 Champions League matches this season.
The classy double act
Juve could win Serie A this weekend as they chase a treble, having already booked their place in the Italian Cup final.
They look machine-like in their winning approach. Stalwarts Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci look driven to ensure the Italian side go one better than their 2015 final defeat to Barcelona, while Higuain, signed for £78m in 2016, offers a killer instinct.
Alves played on the right of midfield rather than in his customary role at right-back and despite now being 33, he showed clear energy to gallop forward and provide an opportunistic back heel to lay on the opener.
His delivery for the second was inch perfect and in creating both goals he now has six assists in the competition, bettering his best tally of five when at Barcelona in 2007-08 and 2010-11.
Feeding off such quality was Higuain, who refused to be overshadowed by the much-hyped Mbappe in the battle of the goalscorers.
The 29-year-old finished without breaking stride for the opener and peeled to the back post expertly to prod a 31st goal of the season in all competitions – one which looks set to send Juventus to the final in Cardiff.
Man of the match – Dani Alves
Kylian Mbappe’s performance assessed
Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe is the hottest property in world football right now but did he live up to the hype in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final against Juventus? Nick Wright examines his performance…
Manchester United and Manchester City want him. So too do Real Madrid and Barcelona. Kylian Mbappe’s stunning breakthrough has attracted the attention of just about every top club in Europe this season, and the 18-year-old was back in the spotlight on Wednesday night.
Could Monaco’s boy wonder find a way past Juve’s formidable defence? Mbappe came into the game having scored 24 goals in 24 starts, including four in four Champions League knockout games against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, but this was his toughest test yet. The visitors had not conceded a goal in 531 minutes of Champions League action.
In the end, Juventus added another 90 minutes to their remarkable unbeaten run and Gonzalo Higuain’s goals all but ended Monaco’s hopes of reaching the Champions League final. For Mbappe, who had fewer touches and completed fewer passes than any other player on the pitch, it was not quite the night he might have envisaged.
But while this game will not feature too prominently in highlights reels of Mbappe’s breakout season at Monaco, there were still flashes of what has made him the most coveted young player in the world.
Alongside strike partner Radamel Falcao, Mbappe was an energetic presence from the start. Thierry Henry recently praised the teenager’s movement, and that intelligence was plain to see as he dragged Juve’s centre-backs one way and the other with darting runs to the flanks whenever Monaco’s midfielders were in possession.
There was a smart backheel to release Thomas Lemar in the 12th minute, and shortly afterwards Mbappe had his first chance. The striker was unmarked as he rose to meet Nabil Dirar’s cross, but he couldn’t get enough power or direction on the header, with Gianluigi Buffon making an easy save.
A few minutes later, however, the veteran goalkeeper had to be at his best after Mbappe accelerated between Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini to meet another Dirar cross with a deft first-time flick towards goal. Buffon saved smartly at his near post, but Mbappe continued to cause problems.
He was alert to everything in and around the Juventus box, and in the 19th minute he demonstrated his electrifying ability in one-on-ones. Confronted by Alex Sandro on Monaco’s right, Mbappe slowed to a standstill before dropping his shoulder and bursting to the byline. Juventus were grateful to hack his cut-back away from danger.
Higuain’s opening goal tipped the momentum in Juve’s favour, but Mbappe was straight on the attack after the break. Collecting the ball on the left-hand side this time, the teenager charged past Bonucci, sped away from Miralem Pjanic and Andrea Barzagli and dug out a dangerous cross. Once again, however, Juve were equal to it.
That was about as good as it got for Mbappe during a frustrating second half in which he cut an isolated figure out on the left. Buffon smiled and patted him on the head after rushing out to deny a rare one-on-one opportunity. It was a moment to sum up Mbappe’s frustration, and the visitors saw the game out without any problems.
Mbappe left the pitch with his head bowed. This was not how he wanted a thrilling debut season in the Champions League to end, but his future looks brighter than ever, and he will get another crack at Juventus in next week’s second leg. When that is done, it might not be long until his suitors begin making moves themselves.