Even at 35 and playing his first game in seven weeks, Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo made the difference in their 1-0 win over Monaco on Tuesday.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri took a calculated risk by thrusting the bearded midfielder into the Champions League quarter-final first leg tie for his comeback after recovering from a calf muscle strain.
Even though he looked somewhat rusty after his layoff, Pirlo, whose calm, thoughtful style is becoming a rarity among the high tempo and relentless pressing of the modern game, repaid Allegri’s trust with interest.
With his very first touch, he lofted the ball over the Monaco defence to send Alvaro Morata clear on goal, but the Spaniard was fractionally offside.
He was the calming influence in a midfield where an anxious Juventus gave away possession too often in the first half and it was his long, floated pass over the Monaco rearguard which led to a Juventus penalty and only goal just before the hour.
Pirlo caught the Monaco defence off-guard with a perfectly weighted ball for Morata, who got clear of the Monaco defence and was judged to have been fouled by Ricardo Carvalho as he charged towards goal. Arturo Vidal converted the penalty.
“Pirlo had a good 70 minutes which is excellent considering that he hadn’t played for 50 days,” said Allegri.
“Set pieces can be decisive in these games and I needed a touch of quality on the passes in midfield to break through those tiny spaces. In fact his pass was decisive for the penalty.”
Allegri said that the scoreline, without an away goal for Monaco, gave Juventus a “slight advantage” as they tried to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2002-03.
“It’s to be expected that in a quarter-final, you don’t beat Monaco three or four nil, they have the best defence in the French league. They’re difficult to stop on the counterattack and we had problems in the first 15 minutes,” he said.
Juventus, who are on course for a fourth successive Serie A title and have reached the Coppa Italia final, could also become the first Italian team since Inter Milan in 2009/10 to reach the last four.
“It’s still an open tie and we must respect Monaco, who are a decent side,” said defender Patrice Evra, in his first season at the club.
“We didn’t make the mistake Arsenal made in underestimating them, even though 1-0 isn’t an amazing result. In spite of that, it gives you a platform to get through to the next round. There’s still a lot of work to be done in Monte Carlo.”
“We’re a good team and, by getting through to the next round, we’d become a great team,” he added.
“We must keep moving forward: this shirt brings enormous responsibility, especially when thinking back to the great players who have made history.”
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