Gónzalo Higuaín seemed tired, overloaded and clumsy. Didn’t come to the ball. Didn’t connect with the passes. He stumbled. Sweat dripped into his hair and face contracted by the nerves. He looked like a poor striker in those early minutes of the game in which, on the other side of the field, dazzled a serene Kylian Mbappé. Without perspiring. No blinking. Impassable between explosions of power and skill that baffled Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli, three of the most expert defenders in the world. The game revolved around the wonders of this 18-year-old boy, the latest object of spectacular media attention—and then the action flipped to the other goal. There Higuaín suddenly appeared energetic, put in the first goal and celebrated it like crazy in front of the Juve fans. Half an hour later the Argentinian made it 2-0 and put Juventus at an advantage to pass to the final, within a week, in Turin.
Extreme matches thrill because they often expose the truth. They separate what is authentic from what is not, what is excellent from what is not. Rivals like Juventus produce these kinds of matches. They’re an infallible reagent. The material destined to reveal the enigmas of soccer: mysteries like Monaco, a club that has astonished in the Champions League this season, were quickly clarified in the course of an hour. The exciting evening in the Stade Louis II stadium confirmed that Mbappé is the extraordinary talent most exalted predictions indicated. This check, unfortunately for the young French striker, was accompanied by other obligatory findings: that Monaco lacks an adequate defense and midfield that match their great attack; that Buffon is the magician par excellence of his job, that Dybala is a clairvoyant, and that Barcelona made an unforgivable mistake the day they let Dani Alves leave the team.
Juve were cornered by one man. After the initial push, a couple of tactics planned from the board by Allegri to intimidate a youthful opponent, Bonucci and the eleven players of his team were lined dutifully around the area. Monaco lacked precision and speed in the distribution to take advantage of the yielded ground. Their two midfielders, Fabinho and Bakayoko, failed to overcome the interceptions of Marchisio, astute as always in the selection of moments and places. Silva and Lemar also didn’t come into play with the necessary continuity. The situation would have been painful for any forward, but not for Mbappé, who in four interventions played two passes and two fierce shots.
Few times have so many veterans been cornered by such a young footballer. Two regular passes were enough for Mbappé to take a shot. The most serious threat was a pass by Dirar that he almost turned into dynamite with his left-foot. Bonucci could not hide his surprise. Buffon stopped the shot as he would, critically, three more times throughout the night, adopting a contagious calm with an unprecedented sobriety and distinction. The lack of gestures by Buffon is only possible for someone who knows what will happen before it happens. His duel with Mbappé was far from disturbing him.
Mbappé came with an unprecedented repertoire of dribbles. He never let himself be suppressed. With speed or without it. As they did not leave spaces, he grabbed the ball and faced guys who have been in this business ten years more than him. Standing, with a single impulse, he got rid of Alex Sandro and Barzagli. Mbappé was never below his very high standards. I can’t say the same thing about his teammates.
Juventus responded in its own way: by surprise. When the attention of its rival was distended Dybala emerged. The Argentinian is a source of footballing sorcery. But his companions join in his quest from time to time. When the ball hits Dybala – usually happens – beautiful things occur. So it was that after the first half an hour Dybala caught a clearance elegantly. He jumped and gave it to Alves who was behind him. The Brazilian wing-back partnered with Higuaín, gave him a return that was more cheeky than Sir Alex Ferguson’s cheeks, and the Argentine adjusted the shot to the base of the post (28’).
Cuadrado sat on the bench and Alves assumed his position on the right. He stepped in front of Barzagli, who played just behind him. He played the role perfectly. No one in Monaco seemed to find a formula to stop him when he ran throughout the field. Every time there was a chance for Juve, Alves was involved in the crushing operations. His complicity with Dybala inclined the duo to combine on more occasions. Dybala passed him every ball he received. That sequence allowed the first goal and so it did the second.
Dybala and Alves stole a ball from Bakayoko. One opened the band, the other played the pass and Gonzalo “Pipita” Higuaín put the last touch on the high flying cross from Alves. Neither tired, nor overweight, nor clumsy, nor a poor striker. On a night that seemed destined to display the brightness of a juvenile that had seized everyone’s attention, Juve’s record signing virtually leapt above the head of his rival.