The Champions League is a competition that is much beloved for bringing teams of various styles and systems together from across the continent. For its semi-finals, the tournament has once again come up trumps.
That’s because Monaco, the hungry young lions with an appetite for goals, take on Juventus; the wily old campaigners whose game is built upon pragmatism and defensive solidarity.
Which style will win out? The first leg, played in France, will offer plenty of clues. Monaco will enjoy plenty of possession and will look to break down the Italians with their quick and incisive attacking play.
Juventus, on the other hand, will be happy to take things slow, building moves from the back and not throwing too many men forward. They will look to net that all-important away goal from a set piece or breakaway move.
With both teams in pole position to win their domestic league titles, they can throw all of their resources at reaching the final of this historic competition. So will youth or experience prevail?
There is something incredibly exciting about this young Monaco side, and it is refreshing that they can play with an all-out attacking style – with little disregard for defending it has to be said – and still be in a position to win a historic league and European double.
Their progress through the group stage was fairly prosaic by their standards, although they did do the double over Spurs and that deserves plenty of respect. But it was in the knockout phase where they have come to life, beating Manchester City on away goals after their two-legged tie ended 6-6 (Monaco winning their home leg 3-1 after netting three times in Manchester) before besting Borussia Dortmund 6-3 on aggregate with another 3-1 home win.
The French side need to take such vitality into this first leg on Wednesday night as Juventus will do their level best to shut the game down and minimise any chances their hosts may have of opening them up. Kylian Mbappe, the outstanding 18-year-old, will have a crucial role in breaking between the Italians’ lines.
That’s the worry for Monaco fans: Juve’s central defensive pairing Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have been around the block a few times, and as such will be well placed to keep Mbappe and co at bay.
But then if they go to Italy on level terms, they will surely fancy their chances of netting an away goal or two to really enhance their case, as they did against Man City and Dortmund. One thing is for sure, this fascinating tie is beautifully poised without even a ball being kicked.
Most of this Juventus side has been there, done it and got the t-shirt from a club and international football perspective, and such experience will stand them in good stead against this youthful Monaco side. Will such youth manifest itself as fearlessness or naivety?
Central to Monaco’s style of play is putting the ball in the back of the net, and yet Juve have kept an incredible 13 clean sheets in their last 20 matches in all competitions; they will be confident of nullifying the French side’s threat. Indeed, they have shipped just two goals in ten Champions League games this season (including two against Barcelona), and that exemplifies the task facing Monaco this week.
Because if Juve score, it could be curtains for their hopes.
The weight of evidence points very squarely at goals in this game; the law of averages suggests that Monaco, who have scored in 29/30 home games, will find the net even taking into account Juve’s excellent defence.
But the French outfit cannot defend for toffee, and the Old Lady have enough going forward to take advantage. On the face of it, the 9/10 price available on Over 2.5 Goals is more than fair.
For any punters looking for odds-against value, how about a wager on Gonzalo Higuain to score anytime at 11/10? The Argentine has notched six goals in as many games and 23 in all competitions this term.