Back in late November and exactly five months after he had swapped Catalonia for Turin, Dani Alves found himself lying on the turf, clutching an ankle and fearing the worst. Juventus were 3-0 down to Genoa and desperate to get his side back into the contest, Alves charged into Lucas Ocampos with the aim of winning possession, but as he did so the Brazilian full-back’s left leg was kicked from behind by the Argentinian winger. It was an accidental collision but a serious one for Alves, so much so that he had to be taken off on a stretcher.
Pain was etched across his face and following Juventus’s announcement shortly after the final whistle had blown at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris that he had suffered a broken leg – a fracture in the left fibula, to be precise – a reasonable assumption doing the rounds was that the 33-year-old would never play again. A stellar career in new surroundings had been brought to an unfortunate halt.
But the injury was not as grave as first suspected and Alves was able to return to action inside three months. And three months on from that, he arguably delivered his best performance for the Bianconeri on Wednesday and one that as part of a collective effort showed that, sometimes, there really is no substitute for experience.
Monaco versus Juventus was billed as a clash between a great attack built on youthful vigour and a great defence carved out of grizzled knowhow. To some extent this semi-final first-leg played out that way as the visitors snuffed out the danger of those in red and white, most notably Kylian Mbappé, the 18-year-old striker who has taken Europe by storm and before kick-off was the reported subject of a £72m bid by Manchester United.
It was possible to see the appeal on a spring evening on the Côte d’Azur as the player tested Juventus with his intoxicating mix of power, pace, movement and composure but ultimately he could not breach the continent’s most stingy rearguard, marshalled supremely as ever by their 39-year-old captain and inspiration, Gianluigi Buffon.
It was textbook stuff and provided the platform for what Juventus did at the other end of the pitch as Gonzalo Higuaín scored his first and second goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League and Alves created both in a manner that proved he is far from finished.
His first assist came as part of a wonderful back-to-front team move. Juventus’s No23 was involved twice, playing a pass to Higuaín by the halfway line before charging forward and, having regained possession, backheeling the ball into the striker’s path to leave him with the simplest of finishes.
The touch was the sumptuous end to a sumptuous passage of play and there was more to come from Alves on 59 minutes after Paulo Dybala stole possession from Tiemoué Bakayoko and set him free down the right touchline. After a glance and a touch, Alves delivered a perfectly weighted chipped cross towards the back post and into the path of Higuaín, who duly sent a first-time shot through the legs of Danijel Subasic.
Alves now has four assists in this season’s Champions League, bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo (five), Ousmane Dembélé (six) and Neymar (eight), and in general, Wednesday’s showing was very much the Alves of old, the man who provided Barcelona with a consistently potent attacking threat during their most golden years. It was fair to wonder if the powers-that-be at the Camp Nou now regret allowing him to leave on a free transfer last summer.
Alves had 72 touches of the ball against Monaco, utterly dominating their left-back Djibril Sidibé – who, in fairness, was playing only because of an injury to Benjamin Mendy – and showing a level of defensive awareness that arguably has come about through being part of a side that believe the concession of a goal is an insult to their professional pride.
In that regard this was another occasion when Juventus’s entire rearguard shone, while ahead of them Dybala, Miralem Pjanić, Claudio Marchisio and Higuaín also caught the eye. The visitors fully deserved their 2-0 victory, a staggering sixth consecutive Champions League clean sheet, and, before next week’s return in Turin, look on course to reach a second final in three years.
For Alves an appearance at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on 3 June would provide him with a chance to collect a fourth winners’ medal following his triumphs with Barcelona in 2009, 2011 and 2015. It would be some achievement and some ending to a season marked by a serious setback but which has ultimately shown that Alves has staying power to go with all that talent.