“I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher.” Those were the words of Gigi Buffon back in August, the Juventus skipper – despite having won almost everything there is to win – recognising that the Brazilian could still teach him a thing or too about what it takes to achieve Champions League glory.
The veteran goalkeeper would add that, thanks to his time at Barcelona, Alves “is accustomed to certain targets and victories,” going on to say that “his experience can really help us.” Now when Buffon speaks like that about a player, perhaps supporters would do well to listen. But, as the 2016/17 campaign got underway, it seemed as though Juve’s excellent track record with ageing free agent signings had finally run out.
Unlike Andrea Pirlo, Fernando Llorente and even Sami Khedira, Alves did not immediately impress. His first few games in the famous black and white stripes were largely abysmal, lacking the energy and awareness that were always hallmarks of his game as the Turin giants lost clashes with AC Milan and Genoa.
He would then spend a couple of months sidelined with a fractured bone in his leg, and it seems the time away from the pitch did him the power of good. Perhaps able to take a step back and see where he could help the team enabled the 34-year-old to maximise his impact when he returned.
Without him, Max Allegri had shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it was when he became part of that new system that it truly began to hum. Comfortable wins were racked up at home and in Europe, with Alves buzzing around the pitch and constantly being involved in Juve’s most promising attacking moves.
There had been some glimpses of what he could do, and it was no surprise that they largely came in the Champions League. Now, having already helped the Old Lady defeat his beloved Barca – a victory Alves admitted “felt a bit strange” – he almost single handedly demolished semi-final opponents AS Monaco.
Dani Alves in the Champions League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
30 chances created
22 successful crosses
21 tackles won
Master of all. pic.twitter.com/5kauWQvk0n
The first leg saw him lay on two goals for Gonzalo Higuain, the first (above) as part of a beautiful team move that saw the Bianconeri sweep forward with the kind of devastating counterattack that has been a hallmark of the Ligue 1 side’s own play all season.
He then swung in a perfect cross for the Argentinian’s second goal, repeating the feat in the return leg to set up Mario Mandžukić for the opener at Juventus Stadium. Not content with merely providing for others, Alves would deliver the coup de grâce after Paulo Dybala forced a corner just before half time.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić punched clear following the set piece, the ball looping up in the air as Juve’s No.23 stood waiting outside the box. As it dropped to him, Alves unleashed an unstoppable volley, the shot thumping into the bottom corner and guaranteeing that the Brazilian defender would be playing in the twelfth European final of his career.
He did more than just score of course, ensuring Monaco found little joy down the Juventus right as he protected Andrea Barzagli superbly against the pace of Kylian Mbappé. Winning six tackles, making one interception and completing 41 of the 45 passes he attempted (91.1%), it was yet another complete performance, and one the man himself was more than happy with.
“This was an opportunity that life gave me, to my teammates and to this squad,” Alves told Mediaset Premium shortly after the final whistle. “It’s a good moment for us, we worked so hard to get here, but we haven’t achieved anything yet. If we can win the Final, then we’ll all be happy.”
That last part became something of a mantra for the whole group on Wednesday night, Buffon and Allegri both telling reporters that simply reaching the final is “not enough anymore.” It never has been for the Brazilian, who has won the Champions League three times and never finished as a runner up.
Now, with the chance to help the Old Lady end a 21-year wait to lift European football’s greatest prize and to make good on Buffon’s pre-season request, just one more game stands between Dani Alves and a place forever in the long and storied history of Juventus.
With Juventus holding a 2-0 lead going into their home leg of the Champions League semi-final, the feeling was that Monaco would need a miraculous comeback to overturn the deficit. When Juventus scored twice in the first half, the miracle began to look impossible.
Ultimately, although Kylian Mbappe got a goal back for the away side, the result was as expected as the Old Lady progressed through to their sixth Champions League final.
But, we’ve picked out three things you may have missed from the Champions League semi-final second leg.
HIGUAIN AND FALCAO’S REUNION
11 years ago Higuain and Falcao played together at River Plate.— Oddschecker (@Oddschecker) May 9, 2017
Tonight they face to reach the Champions League final! pic.twitter.com/ASJjlApCds
Somehow, the fact that Radamel Falcao and Gonzalo Higuain were once teammates at Argentinian side River Plate escaped the attention of the Internet ahead of last week’s first leg.
However, this image of the two as youngsters began doing the rounds before kick-off on Tuesday, with the duo scarcely recognisable compared to the grizzled veterans they’ve become.
DR. BUFFON EXPLAINS GOALKEEPING
Normally, when a footballer is compared to a surgeon, it’s usually an attacking player being lauded for precision passing that cuts defences open.
Gianluigi Buffon is no normal footballer, of course.
The legendary Juventus goalkeeper explained why his job is much like a surgeon’s, and the Champions League Twitter handle decided to put out a clip of this in the build-up to Tuesday’s game.
JUVENTUS – COCKY OR CONFIDENT?
Juventus’ display at the stadium showed off a simple, obvious message: “Time for Cardiff”.
They did come into this home leg with a two-goal lead, so they could be forgiven for thinking that their spot in the Champions League final was more or less booked.
Whether it was simply a reminder that it was time for the time to get back into the final, or a cheeky show of confidence, Juventus backed it up with an imperious display on the pitch.
In the end, it was a lapse in concentration as 679 minutes of Champions League football without conceding finished.
A most basic of errors for which, when the celebrations die down Massimiliano Allegri will no doubt pore over in video analysis. Joao Moutinho’s quick corner allowed the Portuguese to amble down the byline and drill a simple cross for Kylian Mbappe to score.
It was as un-Juventus a goal to concede as we could have witnessed; the established trio of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci supplemented over the course of competition by Mehdi Bentia, Daniele Rugani and, against Monaco, the timeless quality of Andrea Barzagli.
Before Mbappe’s intervention, Juve had successfully kept a pair of clean sheets against the highest-scoring teams in Portugual (Porto) and Spain (Barcelona) and for 159 minutes the same was true for France, and Europe’s, most potent.
It forms the bedrock for everything they do, as with such velocity on the flanks in Alex Sandro and Dani Alves and speed of thought in the minds and feet of Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybal, it allows them to be clinical in transition.
A Buffon save, Chiellini block or Bonucci interception and three passes later a chance has fallen to Gonzalo Higuain or Mario Mandzukic in the opposing area.
Assuming it is Real Madrid they face in Cardiff, it is a system that should suit against a side who tend to play on the front foot and don’t always leave the back door locked.
However, for all their defensive excellence in terms of numbers – fewest goals conceded, most clean sheets, joint second-fewest shots conceded – there were moments in the 180 minutes against Monaco, outside of Moutinho catching them cold, that should present a degree of concern before June 3.
Mbappe troubled them, not just with his physical attributes but his relentless desire to try and take defenders on the outside, even though all of his previous attempts had resulted in failure.
The saying when analysing two of the Italian greats of the past, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, was they never had to make a tackle; their reading of the game ensuring anyone taking them on would invariably lose possession.
But Mbappe compelled Juve to tackle, and in doing so drew them out of position opening up space. More often than not there was a team-mate to cover, it’s part of the reason why they are so good but the gaps were there, on occasion.
Small details change games and while dominant, Juve were also a Buffon save and wondrous far-post Chiellini clearance away from
allowing Monaco into this tie.
Madrid don’t possess the same kind of out-and-out raw pace and power in an attacking player to take any of Juve’s defensive titans on man-to-man. Cristiano Ronaldo was once that but is now a penalty box predator who’s surging dribbling days are behind him, while Gareth Bale has always had the capacity but fitness is a concern.
They do, however, have their own Alves on the left-hand side in Marcelo, who’s been one of the best footballers on the planet of late, plus finishers who tend to take their chance in the biggest games.
Juve will have counter-measures ready, but Monaco have helped shine a flicker of light on a small chink in their awesome armour.