Karim Benzema’s brilliance booked Real Madrid a place back in the UEFA Champions League final after the holders survived an early scare to see off city rivals Atletico 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.
Early goals from Saul and Antoine Griezmann gave Diego Simeone’s men realistic hope of hauling back a 3-0 first-leg deficit before a goal from Isco late in the first half effectively ended the contest.
And it was Frenchman Benzema who shone brightest as Real ultimately cruised to a 4-2 aggregate win, setting up Isco’s effort and having a major impact on a much more consistent second-half showing from his side.
Here we take an in-depth look at two of the key protagonists.
Goals – 0
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 19
Key passes – 1
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 1
Aerials won – 1
Goals – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 56
Key passes – 2
Dribbles – 7
Dispossessed – 3
Aerials won – 1
Starting Torres raised a few eyebrows but to begin it looked like a brilliant decision from Diego Simeone.
The striker is much better pressing and defending from the front than Kevin Gameiro and in the opening stages, Real were penned back as a result of Atleti’s high press.
He was an outlet for Antoine Griezmann when the broke forward, too, and then of course, there was the penalty.
The 33-year-old used all of his experience to get his back to Raphael Varane, swivel to find a yard before the inevitable challenge came in.
But much like the hosts after Isco’s soul-sucking goal before half-time he faded into irrelevance.
The Frenchman has his doubters – plenty of them – but then he has the ability to produce performances like he did tonight.
It wasn’t just his outrageous close control tight to the touchline in the build-up to Isco’s goal that impressed tonight, although it was sublime, it was overall contribution.
The confidence has been sapped from his this season but it seeped back in against Atletico and he looked like a man on a mission.
It’s a vicious cycle with the Real striker. Just when he seems to be at his nadir, he illustrates his quality and his effectiveness as one of the most complete forwards on the planet, then disappears for a few games before the process repeats.
Tonight, though, he was sharp, skillful and his overall effort immense.
15th min: Yannick Carrasco slipped the ball down the inside right and Torres got the ball out of his feet and as he shaped up to shoot is rashly brought down by Raphael Varane with the referee pointing to the spot. Antoine Griezmann stepped and despite a poor penalty puts it away as Atletico go two up on the night.
45th min: Tempers flared between Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo just minutes after Isco sucked the life out of the Vicente Calderon with his goal. Torres is enraged but the advantageous scoreline meant Ronaldo simply smiled and shrugged.
42nd min: Bamboozling Benzema. Surrounded by Stefan Savic, Diego Godin and Jose Giminez he slalomed out of an impossibly tight corner, slipped the ball along the byline and then composed himself to pull the back for the charging Toni Kroos who saw his low shot blocked by Jan Oblak with Isco pouncing to finish on the rebound.
73rd min: An in two moments, why Benzema is so frustrating. Marcelo from deep, whips in a beauty of a cross to the far post and Benzema finds a yard but his diving header whips the side netting when it should have been nestled in the back of the goal.
Bar winning the penalty a quiet night for the Spaniard. Lacked any real thrust and just couldn’t get into the game.
He was taken off in the 56th minute which just goes to show what Diego Simeone thought of his performance.
His mesmerising feet in the build-up to Isco’s goal will go down in Champions League history. Genuinely, it was absurd that he managed to get out of such a tight spot.
It doesn’t alter the fact the Frenchman is having a poor season but it’s on night’s like this where you can really come to appreciate what he can offer.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
“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.