Eyebrows were raised across Europe last summer when Juventus spent €90million on a 28-year-old Gonzalo Higuain and gave a big contract to 33-year-old Dani Alves. But not on Wedesnday night in Monaco, when the two expensive veterans combined to put Juventus on the glistening brink of the Champions League final.
Two brilliant Alves assists and two expert Higuain finishes gave Juventus a 2-0 lead that they will surely defend when the two sides meet in Turin next Tuesday night. This was a triumph of experience over youth and an absolute vindication of Juventus’ decision to spend big on those two players last year.
This Juventus team, who lost the 2015 Champions League final to Barcelona, was not exactly green around the ears before those two showed up, to help them take the final step over the line. Now Max Allegri’s team has everything required to go one better and win it in Cardiff. Real Madrid will be dreading the prospect of facing them.
Here at the Stade Louis II Higuain and Alves epitomised the qualities that mark out this whole Juventus side. The nous, the control, the intelligence but above all the ruthlessness to hold off a side bursting with youthful energy and then hit them hard twice on the break.
Both Juventus goals came after a spell of Monaco pressure when it felt like the swarm of red and white shirts was just about to finally break through. But they never did. Yes, Juventus had to do plenty of defending, more than Monaco did. But they are pretty good at that now, after all these years. Gianluigi Buffon, more experienced and more important than anyone, had half a dozen saves to make. But he made them and Juventus emerged with a clean sheet too.
Would it be too unfair to call it Boys 0-2 Men? Yes, just. Monaco gave absolutely everything and never looked overwhelmed or out of place on the occasion. They have been the most watchable team in Europe this season and they played their expansive enterprising football all evening. Kylian Mbappe was as dangerous as ever and could have scored twice. Falcao, Fabinho and Bernardo Silva impressed too but ultimately there was a gulf of experience and nous here, and Monaco were on the wrong side of it.
It was impossible not to think, as Juventus stood up to Monaco, repelled their attacks and then picked them off, of the English sides who came here and lost this year. First Tottenham and then Manchester City, the second and fourth best teams in England, came here, wilted under the pressure and were eventually knocked out of Europe by Leonardo Jardim’s side. Spurs lost 2-1, City lost 3-1. Both sides were lucky they never had to play Juventus.
This was a serious grown-up performance by a serious grown-up team. Allegri knew they needed extra security so surprisingly played Alves at right-wing, rather than right-back. Never has any decision worked better. Alves helped out Andrea Barzagli behind him while also getting both assists.
Still, there were times, especially in the first 30 minutes, when it felt that the young men would win out. Mbappe’s near post movement was as good as ever and Buffon had to save twice from him. Then Buffon had to scramble to tip Radamel Falcao’s header wide before Kamil Glik should have done better with his.
Monaco could have been a few goals up, but they were not, and against Juventus that is a risk. They were punished by the staggeringly accomplished first goal on the half hour. Paulo Dybala, back on the half-way line, flicked the ball inside to Higuain. He slid a pass through to Alves, bounding down the right, inside Glik. Alves held off the challenge, held onto the ball, then backheeled it into space, just inside the box. He knew Higuain was running there, and the Argentinean swept the ball into the bottom corner of the net. It was quite possibly the greatest one-two ever played, given the stakes. And it showed, not for the last time, the power of that pair working together.
Of course Monaco tried to respond in the second half, in the only way they know how. They pushed Juventus back and started to pick their passes. It felt, for a minute or two, as if the game might be back in the balance. So Juventus killed it.
Again, it was Higuain and Alves, the two men bought to win the Champions League for Juventus, who did the damage. Alves raced away down the right, looked up, and swung in the perfect cross. The ball looped over Glik at the far post and Higuain slid in, knocking it past Subasic and in. Higuain was mocked for being overweight when he signed but here he showed €90m worth of killer instinct.
There was never much conviction to Monaco’s final siege. How could there be, 2-0 down at home against a team this good? Joao Moutinho came on and nearly set up Silva but he could not finish. Valere Germain, another sub, had a header tipped over by Buffon. But it was never enough, not against Juventus, this strong, this clever and this determined. It is their time now and these Monaco players will have to wait.
Monaco (4-4-2): Subasic; Dirar, Glik, Jemerson, Sidibe; Silva (Toure 81), Fabinho, Bakayoko (Moutinho 67), Lemar (Germain 67); Mbappe, Falcao.
Substitutes not used: De Sanctis, Jorge, Raggi, Cardona.
Juventus (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Sandro; Pjanic (Lemina 89), Marchisio (Rincon 81); Alves, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain (Cuadrado 77).
Substitutes not used: Neto, Benatia, Asamoah, Lichtsteiner.
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz