Why Juve can be kings of Europe again
Juventus show why they are ready to end 21-year drought in the Champions League
Not for the first time this season, Juventus ripped up the prepared script. They tore Monaco apart 2-0 away in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Having watched the most efficient victory in the Champions League knockout stages, here is why the Italian giants will progress to the final and end their 21-year drought in Europe's elite club competition.
1 THE "FAT MAN" AND THE FLAWLESS ONE
Juventus are peaking at both ends of the pitch in a way that wasn't expected. Or at least, half of it wasn't.
At one end, Gianluigi Buffon, the man blessed with a model's looks and a panther's reflexes, denies strikers who weren't even born when the 39-year-old goalkeeper made his debut.
Buffon beat away the early effort of 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe.
He then stopped Radamel Falcao twice and tipped over Valere Germain's header.
It's a myth to suggest that Juve's fabled back three are not occasionally culpable. They make mistakes. The difference is Buffon, who is literally on hand to bail them out, a human wall with designer stubble.
At the other end, Gonzalo Higuain has been accused of looking like a human wall.
The portly forward no longer boasts the svelte figure that once ruled at Napoli.
His attitude, fitness and diet have all been questioned.
After yesterday morning's striking masterclass, no one is questioning his eye for goal.
Two intelligent runs, two unerring strikes, Higuain found himself in the right position at the right moment, twice.
The waistline has expanded, but the Argentinian can carry that weight to the Champions League final.
2 BARCA'S LOSS IS JUVE'S GAIN
Juventus already had a 33-year-old right back and Champions League finalist in Stephan Lichtsteiner.
So cynical Juve fans were forgiven for struggling to contain their indifference when another turned up in pre-season.
Dani Alves' best days had to be behind him, surely, otherwise why would Barcelona let him leave on a free transfer?
But he's savouring a renaissance in a country for old men.
For the first time in his career, Alves earned himself two assists in one Champions League game. The second was a sumptuous, arched cross for Higuain to side-foot home, but the first will be the talk of Turin for weeks.
The no-look, first-time backheel that slid across the penalty box couldn't have been more precise if Alves had used a geometry set.
But his defending was no less stellar either, playing higher up the pitch to negate the threat of Mbappe and Thomas Lemar. The ageless enthusiasm of Juve's giddy pensioners is clearly catching. Alves is at the peak of his powers.
3 DOING A MONACO ON MONACO
Remember those pre-match predictions?
Mbappe, the teenage wunderkind, was ready to kill off all-comers. With Lemar, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva, Monaco's kids would be all right on the night.
With 95 goals in 34 Ligue 1 games and unbeaten in France since December, their counter-attacking joie de vivre would dominate on home soil.
The first leg was indeed blessed with a couple of stunning counter-attacking goals, a dizzying spectacle of one-twos and reverse passes.
But the badge said "Juventus". The image appeared disconcerting. Only it wasn't.
Paulo Dybala's flick to begin the first goal, Alves' backheel and Higuain's decisive finish were exhilarating ingredients of Massimiliano Allegri's improved recipe.
With that back three and Claudio Marchisio holding the fort, Alves, Alex Sandro and the wonderful Dybala were free to indulge their creative instincts.
The short-sighted emphasis on Juve's obdurate defending does a disservice to their free-wheeling, counter-attacking.
Monaco faced a near mirror image of themselves, but the other side were faster and sexier.
4 OH, THAT DEFENCE
In the second half, a frustrated Falcao chased Giorgio Chiellini and shoved him over the advertising hoardings.
Chiellini hauled himself up and grinned at Falcao, with the menace of a serial killer ready to dispatch another victim.
In the same half, Chiellini's elbow met Falcao's face. In the commentary box, Rio Ferdinand called the 32-year-old a master of the dark arts. They all are.
Juventus' back three are B-movie villains straight out of central casting, savouring every boo and hiss.
Monaco's free-scoring young bucks were expected to expose the collective lack of pace among Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.
But the Old Lady, or grumpy old men if you like, sent the kids to school. Six consecutive clean sheets in the tournament are a testament to their ability to cauterise opponents with minimal fuss.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo realistically stands between them and a Champions League medal now.
The Real Madrid colossus may continue to cheat his body clock, but so do Juve's back three.
He's outnumbered. Real Madrid may learn the hard way that one into three doesn't go.