Much-vaunted at­tack fails against solid de­fence

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MONACO: Monaco’s much-vaunted at­tack fi­nally met its match against a supremely ef­fi­cient Ju­ven­tus team in the first leg of their Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal on Wed­nes­day.

The Ital­ian cham­pi­ons showed there is a con­sid­er­able gulf in class be­tween the two sides, win­ning 2-0 to strike a sig­nif­i­cant blow head­ing into Tues­day’s re­turn leg in Turin.

Monaco have scored an in­cred­i­ble 146 goals in an in­spi­ra­tional sea­son that has made the rest of Europe take no­tice, but were found want­ing both in terms of com­po­sure and tac­ti­cal knowl­edge.

At other times, cru­elly ex­posed by the su­pe­rior pass­ing and clearly un­set­tled by the higher en­ergy of the two-time Euro­pean Cup win­ners.

While 2015 run­ners-up Ju­ven­tus are odds-on to reach another fi­nal, Monaco look un­likely to reach only their sec­ond fi­nal af­ter los­ing to Porto in 2004.

It was clear to see that Monaco’s play­ers were not used to the sce­nario un­fold­ing in front of them, be­cause they have not been pres­sured in this way by such an as­tute side.

Even when Monaco en­joyed some good spells of flow­ing foot­ball, Ju­ven­tus never pan­icked.

“Tac­ti­cally they were much bet­ter than us,” Monaco mid­fielder Fabinho said.

Monaco’s play­ers have been used to play­ing on the front foot, scor­ing 12 goals in four games against Manch­ester City and Borus­sia Dort­mund in the two pre­vi­ous knock­out rounds.

But af­ter miss­ing early chances against Ju­ven­tus, find­ing a Plan ‘B’ be­came far harder against a Ju­ven­tus cen­tre-half pair­ing of Gior­gio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, with their years of club and Italy ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether, and 39-year-old goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon still at the top of his game.

“Most im­por­tantly of all, we weren’t clin­i­cal enough in front of goal,” said Monaco’s 18-yearold striker Kylian Mbappe, who had a header and a shot saved early on.

“They had two clear chances and scored two goals. It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for us, as it will al­low us to progress.”

Ju­ven­tus knew when to close down, when to back off and — if needed — when to make things more phys­i­cal.

When Bonucci and Chiellini — Ju­ven­tus team­mates since 2010 — roughed things up, this clearly intimidated a young Monaco side un­equal in terms of phys­i­cal pres­ence.

Monaco’s frus­tra­tion was com­pounded when coach Leonardo Jardim with­drew at­tack­ing mid­fielder Bernardo Silva with eight min­utes left.

Sym­bol­i­cally, it was like a boxer’s cor­ner throw­ing in the towel.

The Por­tu­gal in­ter­na­tional has been bril­liant for most of the sea­son, tor­ment­ing teams with his quick feet, prob­ing passes and dart­ing runs.

But Ju­ven­tus sim­ply shut Silva down and he was largely in­ef­fec­tive.

This had a knock-on ef­fect of de­flat­ing his team­mates be­cause, with their chief cre­ator sti­fled, the be­lief started to slip away. AP

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