The Champions League semis have arrived, and the opportunity for footballing immortality is within touching distance. On Wednesday (live, 2 p.m. ET on FS1) Juventus head to Monaco to kick off the first match of their two-legged engagement. Juventus come into this tie with vastly more experience, lead by 39-year-old captain Gianluigi Buffon, and they're inspired by fresh-faced 23-year-old Argentine starlet Paulo Dybala. Monaco are a squad full of exciting kids, none more intriguing than 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe. He wasn't even born when Buffon first played in the World Cup, and now they go head to head, both in search of their first ever Champions League trophies.
Here are 7 keys to the first leg of their semifinal tie.
Kamil Glik has to be a rock in the back
Monaco are known as a team that attacks. Juventus have built their reputation on a ridiculously solid defense, and they haven't been scored on in 531 minutes. That's including 180 minutes against Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and the rest of a Barcelona side that's absolutely torn teams apart throughout the season. The Monegasques don't average right around three goals a game by chance, but against Juve they'll need to keep it tight at the back too.
Kamil Glik is their leader in that regard, and the former Torino defender knows the Bianconeri well. He's one of Monaco's most experienced players, and they'll count on his leadership to keep Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and the rest of Juve's potent attack from capitalizing on any weaknesses.
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Can Miralem Pjanic run the show in midfield?
Miralem Pjanic was a maestro against Barcelona over two legs. He was like Andres Iniesta 2.0, and, alongside Sami Khedira, Juventus absolutely dominated Barcelona in midfield, the area they're traditionally strongest. Khedira is suspended for the first leg against Monaco, but Italy international and longtime Juventus stalwart Claudio Marchisio will slide into the lineup in his place. Marchisio offers different qualities than Khedira though, and without his physical presence in midfield, it's a different prospect for Juve. Can Pjanic still work his magic under those different conditions?
Monaco's midfield selection
Monaco have a trio of extremely talented central midfielders, and Leonardo Jardim has a tough decision on how he's going to deploy them in his traditional 4-4-2 formation. Portuguese metronome Joao Moutinho figures to start given his experience and unmatched passing ability, but Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko offer two very different options for Monaco. While Fabinho offers better range of passing and more danger in front of goal, Bakayoko's physicality, reading of the game, and the defensive cover he provides could make a vital difference.
Jardim could switch it up, and opt for a three-man midfield, but it's likely one of Monaco's talented trio will miss out, and it could make a big difference.
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Mario Mandzukic, newborn winger
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri changed his formation from the 3-5-2 they'd become known for to a flexible ultra-attacking 4-2-3-1 lineup. The biggest question mark of that change was target man center forward Mario Mandzukic's move to the left wing, but it's proven to be wildly successful. Mandzukic works seamlessly with left back Alex Sandro down the wing. He drifts inside to give the Brazilian space to work in the attacking third, drops back to hound wingers on the defensive side of the ball, and he provides a vital aerial outlet along with Gonzalo Higuain when teams press Juventus high. He helped shut down Leo Messi and co. against Barcelona, all the while providing a legitimate attacking threat down the wing. He's become one of Juventus' most important players, and since Marko Pjaca went down with an ACL tear, he's Juve's only "natural" option at left winger now.
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Monaco's Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker partnership
Monaco's two strikers couldn't be more different. 31-year-old Falcao's been through the desert and back. He was one of the world's hottest strikers when he signed for free-spending Monaco for €60 million from Atletico Madrid in 2013, but his knees deserted him (sorry, sorry, we're trying to remove it) and he spent the next two years out on loan, barely seeing the pitch for Manchester United and Chelsea. It was generally assumed his career was all but over when he went back to Monaco, but he found the shooting boots he left under his bed back in the principality, and started banging the goals in again. His resurgence has coincided with the explosion of young Kylian Mbappe, and the two's young prodigy-experienced mentor partnership have fired Monaco to the semis. They're up against their toughest opponents yet in Juventus, but Leonardo Jardim trusts the force (sorry again) of his in-form strikers.
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Can La Joya shine between the lines?
There's no denying that Paulo Dybala is Juventus' creative inspiration. He's the instigator of most of their attacking moves, and he's been given license to roam the pitch, instinctively seeking out the ball to create havoc. Monaco's fluid 4-4-2 formation allows for maxiumum attacking efficacy, but if they don't stay organized on the defensive side of the ball, Dybala's haphazard movement could create big trouble for them. With just two central midfielders, and Gonzalo Higuain constantly occupying the attentions of Monaco's two central defenders, Dybala's ability to drift in between the lines at just the right time is a real concern for Monaco.
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Where is else the magic going to come from for Monaco?
Kylian Mbappe's name has dominated the headlines, but Monaco have a goldmine full of young, talented players. All eyes will clearly be on Mbappe, but Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and a number of other Monaco players have the ability to be a star at any moment. This is new territory for a lot of these young players though, and they'll have to show exactly why they made it this far and not succumb to the pressure of the big stage. Monaco will need a big game from everyone involved.
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