Monaco’s Champions’ League love story finally came to an end at the hands of the Old Lady in Turin on Tuesday night. Juventus’ experience shone through as a well-organised defence and incisive attack saw the Serie A champions cruise to victory over an overawed Monaco side who were unrecognisable in all aspects of their game. After a tidy performance at the Stade Louis II in the first leg, Juventus had full control over the second leg in the infamous Juventus Stadium, where they were in search of their seventh consecutive clean sheet in a row in the competition.
Despite an important clash with Serie A title contenders Roma looming on the horizon, Allegri chose not to rest his starters having done so over their weekend game against local rivals Turin. With the domestic league title all but decided, he has turned his team’s focus to European football’s most coveted prize. A familiar 3-4-2-1 formation saw Higuain lead the line with Mandzukić and Dybala sat in behind him; Dybala played a more central role while Mandzukić looked to attack from the left. Dani Alves was once again given licence to command the right wing and dominate his opponents from wide areas, while Sandro played a more controlled and defensive role on the left. Pjanic and Marchisio (Khedira subbed off after an early injury) played something more similar to a box-to-box role as opposed to dictating the game, which was largely left for Chiellini and Bonucci from the centre of defence. Barzagli completed the back three and focused primarily on playing a sweeper role on the right side of the defence, covering the space behind Dani Alves and silencing the elusive Kylian Mbappé.
Monaco need just one win out of their next three Ligue 1 games to secure the title, and may well have already been looking towards next season’s Champions’ League campaign given the monumental task which stood before them. The Ligue 1 leaders needed to be fast and clinical on the night, unleashing their unstoppable attack who have scored three or more goals on twenty-seven occasions this season. An injury just before kick-off to Nabil Dirar however, meant that Jardim was forced to play an unfit Benjamin Mendy on the left against an in-form Dani Alves, who singlehandedly pinned Mendy back for large portions of the game.
The rejuvenated Radamel Falcao started up front alongside wonderkid Kylian Mbappé who’s movement opened up the left for Monaco to focus their attacks. Bernardo Silva was the more advanced of a central midfield trio which included João Moutinho and Tiemoué Bakayoko, while Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe took place on either wing; Mendy opting to stay wide in his approach and Sidibe looking to cut inside and attack the half space. Ex-Bologna centre-back Andrea Raggi lined up with Kamil Glik and Jemerson in an uncomfortable defensive trio, with the Brazilian looking to carry the ball out of defence early on and utilise the space allowed to him by Juventus’ front line.
Juventus’ defensive organisation
Juventus’ defensive structure focused on retaining their shape as opposed to retaining possession of the ball; if the ball was lost in midfield (as it often was due to Monaco’s pressing), Allegri’s men rebuilt their lines and invited pressure as opposed to pressing Monaco in their transition. The versatility of their squad ensured that every inch of their defensive zone was covered by at least one player at any time. Due to the zonal marking scheme preferred by the Old Lady, Monaco were forced to play slow, sustained possession football rather than the quick counter-attacking style we’re so used to seeing out of Leonardo Jardim’s side. When Monaco pushed wide, similar movements occurred, particularly on Juventus’ right wing. Barzagli would shepherd Mbappé or Mendy to the touchline, while Dani Alves would drop inside and cut out the short pass into the half-space. Pjanic would cut the pass to the edge of the area and Monaco were forced backwards to try their luck on the opposite wing.
A telling attribute of Juventus’ defence was their reluctance to dive in. They remained calm under pressure and simply stood and prevented Monaco from making anything happen in the centre of the field. While this prolonged Monaco’s pressure, it caused them to over commit, allowing Juventus to hit them on the break with any one of 144 passes aimed at their opponents’ final third. The movement of Dybala and Higuain allowed Juventus to defend successfully in this manner, with the former drifting out onto the open wing during their defensive phase, pulling an opponent with him and creating one-on-one matchups on the counter attack.
Once committed to an attacking phase, Juventus kept their structure at the back to quickly kill any Monaco counter attacks which would put them at risk of losing the tie. Chiellini and Bonucci were allowed to carry the ball out of defence to start Juventus’ attacking moves, and were often the first line of defence in the half-space when Monaco tried to hit them on the counter. Behind them, Barzagli and a respective other took positions along the halfway line, while Marchisio remained in the centre to recycle possession and mop up any loose balls.
Monaco ultimately looked uncomfortable in possession on the night. Juventus forced them to play a style they’re not familiar with and they lacked any cutting edge in the final third; remarkable for a team who have averaged 2.8 goals per game over the course of their domestic season. That being said, they recycled possession well in attack and maintained pressure in Juventus’ half for long periods of the game. Their inexperience shone through as they were reluctant to drive at Juventus for fear of losing the ball, taking out a part of their game which keeps their attack dynamic and forces opponents to make a tackle – which would have worked brilliantly against Juventus’ zonal marking. The introduction of Thomas Lemar reiterated this point, who immediately ran at Juventus’ back line and found himself in dangerous areas in and around the box, causing confusion in the Italians’ defence.
With Juventus sitting back and inviting pressure, Monaco could afford to push Benjamin Mendy up the field and carry the ball out with left centre-back Jemerson through the midfield third. Moutinho and Bakayoko worked well to create passing triangles with their centre-backs, disrupting their opponents’ structure which allowed time for such space to grow. His presence in the half-space allowed Bernardo Silva to drift into the centre, while Kylian Mbappé took turns in driving forward in between Juventus’ defence or hugging the touchline to offer width to the attack. With the Italian’s numerical advantage in the centre, Monaco often looked to the wide areas with Mendy causing problems for the industrious Dani Alves. While Mendy’s final ball was often excellent, Monaco lacked any presence in the box and Juventus defended the crosses with relative ease.
Monaco’s press undone by Juventus’ quick passing
Les Monégasques were typically aggressive in defence, pushing forward as a unit and pressurising Juventus’ back line into playing a forward pass. Bernardo Silva assisted the front two in cutting passing lanes to each centre-back, while Moutinho and Bakayoko stepped up in an attempt to intercept any loose balls in the centre of the field. This intelligent system looked to work Juventus into a midfield trap, who then pressed the ball in numbers hoping to win it back in a favourable position. This was the case more often than not and has been the key to Monaco’s success all season. The whole idea behind the system is to draw your opponents out of their defensive shape to win the ball back in key areas. However, Juventus had different ideas.
Jardim’s pressing scheme worked well in winning the ball back in dangerous areas but offered little in his teams’ attacking phase with the Italian’s primary focus being to regain their defensive structure after losing the ball. Monaco were unable to exploit the space because there simply wasn’t any. Following a direct vertical ball up to Mandzukić, Higuain or on occasion, Dybala, Juventus played a short pass back to an onrushing player, who was then supported by his teammates in the centre of the field. As Monaco pressed, Juventus compacted and created simple passing triangles which allowed them to keep the ball between three players. This passing manoeuvre drew Monaco towards the ball, leaving space for Juventus to play a long ball towards the wing, or in some cases, in the centre.
Juventus enjoyed great success from vertical passes throughout the game which Monaco struggled to defend due to their high midfield and attacking lines. Both Higuain and Mandzukić looked to come deep for the ball, drawing an opponent out of position while the other executed a clever diagonal run across the line into the space left behind. With the support of Dybala just behind them, the two forwards were able to wreak havoc across Monaco’s back line, who often found themselves out of position with little support.
Juventus adapt their game
With Monaco’s press in the centre of the field forcing them to play man-oriented marking scheme. Juventus’ success through long balls caused their attacking line to drop deeper, which gave Chiellini and Bonucci the freedom to bring the ball out of defence and into a midfield position. Much like Monaco’s Jemerson, the two Italian centre-backs carried the ball into the half-space and looked to distribute it into central areas, continuing their forward runs into the area. While neither were the target of Juventus’ attacks in the final third, their presence acted as a decoy and opened up Monaco’s defensive line who were forced to track their runs into the area.
This adaptation of Juventus’ game worked in their favour with the introduction of Monaco’s Thomas Lemar. As Lemar drove at their back line, Allegri used Chiellini in an attacking sense to pin back the Frenchman, who was now forced to track the centre-back as he carried the ball into Monaco territory. With that, Lemar was often stuck in two minds whether to press the ball or mark Alex Sandro on the left wing, who subsequently enjoyed much more attacking freedom because of the change. If Lemar marked Sandro, Chiellini was free to attack the half-space; if he pressed Chiellini, Sandro was free on the left wing.
Once again, Juventus looked unbeatable in the Champions’ League, doing everything they needed to do against Monaco to see themselves through the tie. Despite a lapse in concentration which lead to Mbappé’s goal, the Old Lady were brilliant in their defensive setup and seemed to know exactly what Monaco were going to do before it happened. The experience of the club’s seasoned veterans proved too much for Monaco who were outclassed across the pitch and Juventus fully deserve to be in the Final on the 3rd June.
Monaco failed to adapt their game to exploit Juventus’ weaknesses and paid the price over the two legs. Despite dominating the ball in the centre of the field, they failed to create anything in the final third when met with an organised defence. Juventus took away a key part of their game plan by not allowing them any space to exploit and les Monégasques lacked the ability to break down Juventus’ fearless back line.