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Juventus are the most rounded side in Europe – ESPN FC (blog)

Sports 04 May 2017
Juventus are the most rounded side in Europe – ESPN FC (blog)


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Juventus are the most rounded side in Europe

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The Match Iain Macintosh Read By Nick Ames Share Tweet Higuain, Buffon at their peak make Juventus most rounded side in Europe

Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves teamed up twice for spectacular goals as Monaco are left in a big hole heading in to leg 2.
Gonzalo Higuain put Juventus in prime position to advance to the Champions League final with two away goals against Monaco.
Gianluigi Buffon shows why he's still one of the world's best at 39, with a dominant display in net against AS Monaco.
Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves teamed up twice for spectacular goals as Monaco are left in a big hole heading in to leg 2.
Given Gonzalo Higuian's shape and Dani Alves' age, how are these players able to remain stars for Juventus?
BT Sport highlight: Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves teamed up twice for spectacular goals as Monaco are left in a big hole heading into leg two.
Relive the top moments from Wednesday's Champions League semi-final between AS Monaco and Juventus.

MONACO — Watch the goal again and again: It is unlikely to get boring. Perhaps the waist-high flick from Paulo Dybala that first turned Monaco around is your highlight. Maybe you prefer to savour the Dani Alves back-heel that, with a level of vision that beggars belief even after countless replays, improbably located Gonzalo Higuain. Or possibly the ice-cold look in Higuain's eyes as he side-footed crisply past Danijel Subasic — a failure to score never looking remotely likely — lingers longest in mind.

If you had subscribed to the prematch narrative ahead of Juventus' 2-0 first-leg win at Monaco in the Champions League semifinals, something might have seemed awry. Juve's opener at Stade Louis II was the goal Monaco were supposed score — the kind of exhilarating, rat-a-tat counterattack of devastating speed and execution that has characterised their Champions League campaign and brought an athletic young team to the brink of something special. But Juventus produced such a goal, and here is where the story goes off script.

If this tie presented us with a tantalising battle between a prolific, free-flowing attack and a grimly watertight back line, what does it say when it turns out Juventus have both?

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Their quarterfinal win over Barcelona, and the completeness of the manner in which it was achieved, told that Juventus are currently the most rounded side in Europe, and the feeling is even stronger now. Six consecutive clean sheets in this competition speak loudly enough to the toughness and order that set apart keeper Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and the rest of the Juventus defence, but sometimes the focus on their excellence does other components of the side a disservice. Juventus operate with an incisiveness and clarity of thought that is sometimes more strongly associated with some of their rivals; the beautiful ruthlessness of their first goal here, along with much of what followed, proved the point amply. It is hard to find any flaws.

That is not to say that their performance at Stade Louis II was perfect. "Gigi [Buffon] is the best player in the world — the big players come out on these evenings," said Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri afterward, and he had a point when singling out his 39-year-old goalkeeper. Buffon saved brilliantly from Kylian Mbappe early on, thwarted Radamel Falcao twice at crucial times, and denied Monaco a late slither of hope when he diverted Valere Germain's header over.

You would have to go back a long way to find a European match when Juventus gave up this many chances, but that is where a keeper of Buffon's class makes his reputation: No matter how rarely his side are on the rack, when it happens, he holds firm and provides the platform for his outfield players to build upon.

The ultimate beneficiary was Higuain — and it was, in fact, a Buffon restart that began the move for that bewitching 29th-minute strike. Higuain scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season here and perhaps made a point of his own: He has been an outstanding striker for many years, but those less disposed to being charitable have sometimes termed him a flat-track bully. Before this semifinal he had scored only twice in his previous 24 Champions League knockout appearances, and not at all in his past seven. An early slip on the edge of the area when Dybala appeared to have laid on a presentable chance did not bode well here, but Higuain's night turned around quickly enough.

If anybody queried the €90 million fee Juventus paid Napoli last summer for a player who turned 29 in December, they have met an emphatic response: Higuain is operating at the peak of his powers and, along with Buffon, is the difference-maker at one end of a purring machine.

Known for their grimly watertight back line, Juventus proved against Monaco that they're a purring machine.

"I fight so hard for these moments," said Higuain. It was a warrior-like performance to match the resilience of those behind him.

It amounted to a lesson for Monaco, who never quite played with the conviction of earlier rounds — their rawness eventually showed. "What made the difference tonight was efficiency," said Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim in his postmatch news conference after his team failed to score for the first time since November 2015. "This lack of efficiency also owes a lot to Buffon."

Buffon made sure to swap shirts with Mbappe after the game, during which the keeper had sportingly patted his 18-year-old opponent on the back after narrowly beating him to a through ball. Buffon had been generous in his praise for Mbappe in the buildup to the match and will have seen little to change his mind about the striker's potential; Buffon has been around long enough to recognise quality, but in his 100th Champions League game for Juventus, the quality of his own team shone through.

Now the question is how far they can go. "We are close to our objective, and it would be naive not to work as hard as possible now," Buffon said. That work ethic is integral to everything Juventus do — witness the way in which Dybala and Alves seized upon Tiemoue Bakayoko's error to create the second goal for Higuain. But Juve showed in Monaco that they have the guile and flair to go with the resolve and diligence they are renowned for; together, it makes for a balance that gives them their best shot at winning this competition since their last continental title in 1996.

It would be a profound moment for Buffon if they do, capping a peerless career, and perhaps one that alters any negative perceptions of Higuain for good. But a Juventus this sleek merit credit beyond being typecast merely as a cadre of opportunistic assassins. "This could become an extraordinary season for us," Allegri said — and the overwhelming evidence already suggests that Juventus are an extraordinary team.

Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.


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  • Blog – The Match
  • UEFA Champions League
  • AS Monaco
  • Juventus
  • Gonzalo Higuaín
  • Gianluigi Buffon

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