Should the story of AS Monaco’s season end with a fairy-tale finish, perhaps the chapter on their Champions League semi-final clash with Juventus could be titled Beauty and the Beast.
In fact, given that the men from the principality are locked is a struggle with the might of PSG for the Ligue 1 title, the sharp-end of Monaco’s season 2016/17 could be called Beauty and the Beasts.
Leonardo Jardim’s charges – probably the most exciting side, and certainly one of the most prolific, in the European game at the moment – face a massive test of their ingenuity and their character against the Italian giants.
In fact, Juventus look a team almost tailor-made to exploit the relative inexperience and attacking verve of the French league leaders.
Monaco’s goal-scoring powers have seen an extraordinary growth this term. To date, they have scored 95 league goals in 34 fixtures – dwarfing last season’s total of 57. And they’ve bagged another 21 goals across their ten Champions League fixtures.
The terrible beauty of their attacking play has been the proverbial breath of fresh air – with the burgeoning young talents of Kylian Mbappe, Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva superbly aided by old heads Radamel Falcao, Kamil Glik and Joao Moutinho.
The rise to prominence of 18-year-old Mbappe (who scored his 14th league goal in 25 appearances in Saturday’s victory over Toulouse) has been one of the stories of the season.
But in a way, it’s eclipsed by the return to form of the great Falcao, whose 24 league and European goals represent a Lazarus-like revival for a player who looked dead and buried in his Chelsea and Manchester United loan spells.
How this side has been built is also a story worth telling. Monaco may be up against two beasts of the game in their glory quest, but it’s not that long ago that they harboured hopes of joining the game’s financial monsters themselves.
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought them as they languished in Ligue 2 in December 2011 dreaming of funding a club that could match PSG and compete at the top table in the European game.
Promotion was quickly won, and then in 2013, the club became one of the biggest spenders in the game, splashing out over €140 million on the likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez and Moutinho.
But UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and the owner’s own personal financial problems forced a change in strategy. Out went the plans to shop at the luxury level PSG have become accustomed to.
Instead, coach Leonardo Jardim has had to work with and develop predominantly young talent – Lemar, Fabinho, Jemerson, Bakayoko, Silva, Mendy, and Sidibe among them – bought in the €4 million to €15 million price range.
But it’s the aforementioned Mbappe who captures best the club’s successful change in tack, coming as he did through the club’s academy and costing them nothing.
On Wednesday night, Jardim’s dashing side face arguably the most rounded football team in Europe. Juve’s prowess in defence and attack and their ability to manage football matches make them the perfect knockout-stage animal.
The Bianconeri have scored 17 goals in the tournament this season and conceded a paltry two. Critically, in their four knockout games against Porto and Barca, they have not conceded at all.
In a competition where away goals are so often vital, Allegri’s side’s meanness must be a concern for Monaco fans, as indeed must be their own propensity to concede at this level.
The Red and Whites shipped seven goals in their six group games. More worryingly, however, they conceded another nine in their last 16 and last eight ties with Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.
Monaco brilliantly exposed the openness of Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel’s sides – but are likely to find the Allegri’s men a much less generous prospect.
Defend as they have done in the last two rounds – indeed as they did in conceding against a poor Toulouse side on Saturday, and Jardim’s side will only have Ligue 1 and PSG to worry about. But box clever and attack as they can attack and a fairy-tale end is not inconceivable.