Masterful rebuild sees Juventus on the cusp of greatness

Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci, front, celebrates after the Champions League semi final second leg soccer match between Juventus and Monaco in Turin, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Juventus defeated Monaco by 2-1. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

• UEFA Champions League – Juventus 2 (Mandzukic 33, Alves 45’), AS Monaco 1 (Mbappé 69)

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

Sitting on a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Juventus returned home and finished off Monaco with a thoroughly professional performance to advance to the Champions League final for the second time in three years.

THE MAIN STORY

Andrea Pirlo. Paul Pogba. Arturo Vidal. Carlos Tevez. Alvaro Morata. Patrice Evra.

Six players of considerable quality, skill and reputation who started the 2015 Champions League final for Juventus against FC Barcelona. All six ended up leaving Turin after that fateful night in Berlin. That kind of exodus would have crippled most clubs, even an outfit with the resources and wealth of Juventus. But, incredibly, the Bianconeri have reinvented themselves in short order, with this side being even better than the one from two years ago that pushed Barcelona to the limit. Now, Juventus have a chance to go one better by winning the Champions League on June 3 in Cardiff.

The collective exit of players the calibre and influence of Pirlo, Pogba and Tevez was massive for Juventus. But if nothing else, the Italian’s unbeaten run to this year’s final, and their dominant performance against Monaco in the semifinals especially, has demonstrated how masterfully they’ve rebuilt. Off-season addition Gonzalo Higuain’s two goals in the opening leg gave the Italians a comfortable advantage going into the return match. Mario Mandzukic, who joined Juve in 2015, stuck the dagger into Monaco on Tuesday, scoring the opening goal that killed off the tie.

Dani Alves, who came to Turin on a free transfer from Barcelona, was magnificent over both legs, scoring once and assisting on the other three Juve goals, as well as helping out the team’s stalwart back line. Other newcomers since that loss to Barcelona have played major roles – Paulo Dybala has genuinely emerged as a word-class talent since his move from Palermo, German Sami Khedira has been an unsung hero in central midfield, Alex Sandro has become one of the best left fullbacks in the world, while Miralem Pjanic has added a touch of playmaking class since his move from AS Roma last summer.

Yes, Juventus have spent big in the transfer market, but that doesn’t always guarantee success. Sporting director Giuseppe "Beppe" Marotta did an astute job of scouting and identifying players that could help Juventus, and then went out and signed them. Manager Massimiliano Allegri has brought a diverse group of stars together, getting them to buy into his system and style of play. Both Marotta and Allegri saw value in the aging Alves when Barcelona foolishly decided not to re-sign him – the Brazilian has been a standout for the Italians. Mandzukic was converted from a traditional striker to a midfielder where he’s been tasked to do a lot of defending – the transition has been remarkable, and the Croatian has been one of Juventus’ most important contributors.

It’s been a remarkable campaign for Juventus, who find themselves on the cusp of claiming a historic treble and winning a third European crown. A date with Real Madrid looms, and while the Spaniards have Cristiano Ronaldo, the Italians have the resolve and confidence of a club that has to be considered the best in the world at the moment.

KEY MOMENT

33’ GOAL! Juventus 1-0 AS Monaco: After soaking up a bit of pressure from the visitors, Juventus hit out on a swift counterattack, moving the ball quickly up the field. Dani Alves played a cross to the back post for Mario Mandzukic, who fired high into the roof of the net from in close after his first shot was stopped by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Monaco’s spirit was broken, the life completely drained from them. Dani Alves scored a highlight-reel goal just before half to put the game beyond the visitors’ reach and kill off this semifinal series.

TALKING POINT

How great of a pickup has Dani Alves been for Juventus? He’s been huge. Absolutely huge. The Brazilian veteran has been a key figure in Juve’s domestic campaign – they are closing in on a sixth consecutive Serie A title, and will also play in the Coppa Italia final – and he further underlined his worth in this series against Monaco. You can make a very strong argument that there was no better player on the field over the course of the two legs than Alves, who set up both goals in Juventus’ 2-0 win in Monaco, and assisted and scored another in Turin on Tuesday. Overall, he’s been involved in more Champions League goals this season than any other Juventus player, with three goals and four assists. Washed up? Hardly. What was Barcelona thinking?

QUICK TAKE

Full credit must go to Monaco. They were magnificent in this season’s Champions League, topping a difficult opening group that included Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen, and then dispatched Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the first two rounds of the knockout stage.

They were a worthy final-four team, and they look poised to do what many believed was impossible this season by winning the Ligue 1 title ahead of Paris Saint-Germain – no small feat considering the resources of the Paris club. Buoyed by the talents of youngsters such as Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar, and Tiemoué Bakayoko – all of whom have enjoyed breakout seasons to become household names – Monaco is going to be a very good team for a long time. This wasn’t a one off. They’ll be back.

STANDOUT STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus: Mario Mandzukic and Dani Alves scored the goals and they will grab the headlines on this night. But Chiellini was simply immense for the Italians, making a number of timely tackles, interceptions and key blocks in thwarting Monaco’s dynamic attack. His goal-line clearance on Radamel Falcao in the first half was world-class, opening up his foot as the ball came across the six-yard box and deflecting it out for a corner before it could reach the Colombian. Nine out 10 defenders would have out put it into their own net. But the Italian skillfully knocked it out of danger. Sublime. Honourable mention to Dani Alves, who scored one goal (off a fantastic volley), set up another, and put in another fantastic effort for the Bianconeri.

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