Influential Dani Alves helps worthy Juventus punch Champions League final ticket

Tuesday May 9th, 2017

Juventus confirmed its place in the Champions League final with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Monaco to complete a 4-1 aggregate triumph and book one of the two tickets to Cardiff.

Already leading 2-0 from two Gonzalo Higuain goals in the first leg, Juventus gained some insurance as Mario Mandzukic converted Dani Alves’s 33rd-minute cross at the second attempt and effectively wrapped the game up as the Brazilian fullback, a huge influence over the two legs, volleyed in a sensational second. Kylian Mbappe pulled one back in the second half, but by then the result was long gone.

It will be Juventus’s ninth final, but it has won the trophy only twice, on penalties against Ajax in 1996 and 1-0 against Liverpool at Heysel in 1985. It has lost on each of its last three appearances in the final, meaning that veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who played in both the 2003 and 2105 finals, has never won the competition.

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Assuming Real Madrid beats Atletico Madrid on Wednesday–it is 3-0 up from the home leg–the final will be a repeat of 1998, when Predrag Mijatovic’s winner gave Real Madrid its seventh European title, ending a wait of 32 years.

Here are three thoughts on Juventus's progression to Europe's biggest stage:

Monaco matches the back three, but has no match for Dani Alves

Having been undone by Juventus’s switch to a back three in the first leg, Monaco matched the Italians' shape for shape in the second leg, bringing in Andrea Raggi to replace Fabinho and lining up with three central defenders. Benjamin Mendy, injured in the first leg, returned as a left wingback with Djibril Sidibe, who had played on the left, returning to his more natural right flank but as a wingback rather than a fullback. Thomas Lemar was also omitted, with Joao Moutinho coming in.

It was one of the Juve wingbacks, though, who made the decisive intervention after 33 minutes. From a Monaco corner, Alex Sandro led a break down the left and worked the ball infield, through Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic to Dani Alves. It was the Brazilian, who turned 34 last weekend, who provided both assists last week and provided another helper here. Although Mario Mandzukic’s initial header was saved by Danijel Subasic, he slammed the rebound over his Croatia international teammate to give the home side the lead.

Having set up two, he then scored himself, lashing in a volley from 25 yards just before halftime after Subasic had fisted clear a left-wing corner. It was his 10th Champions League goal, a strike of great technical purity that once again raised the question of why on earth Barcelona let him go.

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Juventus defense breached at last

It took 689 minutes (seven minutes more than the total length of the three Lord of the Rings films in the extended–i.e. not the theatrical–versions) but, at last, this Juventus defense was breached. By the time Mbappe, with his sixth goal of the knockout stage, turned in a Moutinho cross after a free kick had been taken short on the left side of the box, the intensity of the game had dropped to the extent that Mandzukic was prepared to tell the referee not to give a corner because a cross had glanced off his shoulder on its way out of play rather than being headed behind by Kamil Glik. Mbappe wasn’t even born when Buffon, the goalkeeper he beat, made his Champions League debut.

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Still, a record of three goals conceded in 12 Champions League games is remarkable, all the more so when it’s considered that the last four of those games have been against Barcelona (108 goals in 36 league games this season) and Monaco (98 goals in 35 league games). Set plays aside, Monaco’s only real threat was a couple of crosses from Mendy, one of which almost caused Giorgio Chiellini to slice into his own net just before halftime.

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Monaco ultimately overwhelmed

So total was the Juventus domination that if it hadn’t been for Subasic, the margin of victory could have been even greater. Again and again he was left exposed by a defense that never seemed confident in its new shape (Glik and Raggi also made vital blocks in the first half). The Croatian made saves in one-on-one situations from Mandzukic after 25 minutes and from Dybala just before halftime, and was unfortunate with the two opening goals. His save from Mandzukic’s initial header, dropping sharply down to his left, was excellent and, even with the second, his punch was decent, clearing the box and getting the ball away from a central area.

For a long time, both sides seemed to have accepted the result but, once Monaco had scored, the tenor of the game changed bewilderingly. The second half had seemed to be drifting to full time in almost an exhibition-like style, but then Glik stamped on Higuain's knee–whether it was deliberate or not only he will know, but the Argentine forward appeared to have no doubt–and Mandzukic caught Fabinho with an elbow to the head. Again, it’s very hard to know how deliberate it was, but it didn’t look good.

Fortunately for Juventus, no players were sent off, and the club heads to the final in Cardiff with plenty of momentum and belief.

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