With the Uefa Champions League semi-final first legs starting May 2, with Real Madrid taking on city rivals Atletico and Italian giants Juventus up against Monaco, our writers each pick a team who they think will go on to lift the trophy in Cardiff on June 3. Here, Jon Turner tells you why Juventus will win.
1. Argentine double act
Much has been made of the Monaco forward pair of Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao, we all know the danger posed by Real Madrid’s “BBC”, and in Antoine Griezmann Atletico Madrid possess one of the finest strikers in world football. But Juventus are no slouches in the attacking department, with Argentine duo Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain capable of ripping any defence to shreds. Dybala may not be as prolific as the aforementioned names but his pace and movement provide the perfect foil for the ultra-clinical Higuian, who has 26 goals so far this season.
Having said that, Dybala knows a thing or two about scoring on the biggest stages. It was his double that effectively ended Barcelona’s Uefa Champions League campaign in the quarter-finals. Can Monaco’s leaky defence, which has kept one Champions League clean sheet – against CSKA Moscow in the group stage – hold firm against the Argentine threat? Very doubtful.
2. The famed defence
While Monaco can’t stop conceding, there are no such problems for Juventus, who without question have the strongest defence left in the competition or indeed anywhere in world football. Lining up more often with a back four in Europe, with Gianluigi Buffon in goal, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in central defence and Dani Alves and Alex Sandro at full-back, the Italian champions have conceded just twice all competition, and have not been breached in the knockout stages. That they shut out Porto is hardly surprising, but to claim a goalless draw against Barcelona inside the Camp Nou deserves great credit.
Monaco are the highest scoring team in Europe but they do not possess the same firepower of Barca’s Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. The latter stages of the Champions League are often decided by the slimmest of margins and Juve’s ability not to concede will make all the difference.
3. Full focus
With a nine-point lead at the top of the Serie A table, Juventus are able to make wholesale changes to their team to keep key players physically and mentally fresh for the Champions League. Indeed, the entire back four were rested before the trip to Barcelona. The result? Another clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Pescara.
Compare their domestic comfort to Monaco and Real Madrid, both of whom are involved in fierce battles for domestic league honours, and Atletico who are still not assured of third place in Spain, it would be safe to assume all remaining teams would rather be in Juve’s position.
4. Massimiliano Allegri
When discussing elite-level managers, Allegri is fast building a reputation to match that of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone, and his Juventus predecessor Antonio Conte. Credited with tactical intelligence, Allegri sets up his team in a way perfectly suited to knockout football. Initially continuing with Conte’s 3-5-2 formation, Allegri has switched to a four-man defence and instructs his side to play a more patient and possession-based game. Allegri wants his central midfield pair of Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic to get on the ball, his full-backs high up the pitch to support the wingers to stretch play, and his front two playing in proximity to each other.
Juve’s two-legged victory over Barca was as much a credit to Allegri’s abilities as a manager as the personnel at his disposal. If there is a manager left in the tournament who can outthink his opponents, it is Allegri.
5. It’s Juve’s time
The most intangible of the five reasons but one that still holds merit. Defeated in the 2015 final to Barcelona, winning the Champions League has become the primary focus for the two-time European Cup winners.
Spending €90 million (Dh360m) on 28-year-old striker Higuain is testament to their desire for immediate success in Europe. While Juve have lost the likes of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez in the two years since that final, this team is just as strong and difficult to beat. And with several key players in their mid-30s, it could be now or never for this Juve side.
They are the most balanced team left in the tournament, have the most tactically astute manager, the best defence in the world, and two formidable strikers. The timing could not be better for Juve to win their first European Cup since 1996.
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