Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic had the chance to impress his potential future employers on Saturday evening as his side visited Juventus in Serie A.
Although Fiorentina are supposedly unwilling to negotiate with the Bianconeri for Vlahovic’s signature, the Serbian’s preferred destination is Turin. Premier League outfit Arsenal are reportedly happy to match La Viola’s monstrous €80m valuation in January but aren’t close to agreeing terms with the player. Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur also hold an interest in the 21-year-old.
Nevertheless, as Fiorentina travelled to the Allianz Stadium on Matchday 12 of the 2021/22 Serie A campaign, the stage was set for Vlahovic to justify his hefty price tag.
Did he take his chance? Let’s analyse the Serbian’s performance against Juventus.
Dusan Vlahovic matched-up against Matthijs de Ligt
After it was announced in the build-up to kick-off that Giorgio Chiellini had sustained an injury in the warm-up and would be replaced by Daniele Rugani, panic among Juventini was universal.
A Vlahovic field day against Juve’s fourth-string centre-half making his first start of the season was inevitable, right?
*Enter, Matthijs de Ligt*
In a match-up billed as one of the key battles of the contest, De Ligt dominated. The Dutchman never allowed the towering Serbian to leave his sight as the pair duelled throughout the contest. There was not one occasion where Vlahovic was left one-v-one against Rugani.
How did the match-up play out?
Vlahovic functioned as Fiorentina’s focal point on Saturday evening. In Vincenzo Italiano’s 4-3-3, the striker often withdrew from his forward position in a bid to hold the ball up and combine with onrushing midfielders.
Very rarely did the Serb run the channels or operate anywhere else apart from the central zone. This made life easy for De Ligt, who never left his comfort zone.
While Fiorentina enjoyed periods of sustained possession on Saturday, with their coherent and dynamic possession structure clear to see, Vlahovic’s service was pretty poor for the most part. The 21-year-old was subject to plenty of hopeful punts in the air and limited to receiving with his back to goal with De Ligt up his backside.
The stats from FBRef show that Vlahovic was pretty successful in the air against De Ligt, winning five of ten aerial duels, but rarely did his success in the air lead to a retainment of possession or the creation of a chance. The Serb’s 0.2 xG (expected goals) total came from two headed efforts after out-duelling De Ligt, but neither tested reserve goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
In open play, Vlahovic’s influence was minimal and this is a testament to De Ligt’s excellent man-marking. The 21-year-old striker was limited to 31 touches (joint-second fewest among Fiorentina’s starters) and three touches inside the Juventus box. He also completed just ten passes (fewest among Fiorentina’s starters) and failed to attempt a dribble nor register a single shot-creating action. There was not a single situation where Vlahovic was able to turn and run at the Juventus defence.
De Ligt’s brilliance is best displayed by Vlahovic receiving just 25 of his 37 intended targets. This passes received percentage of 67.6% was comfortably the lowest of all Fiorentina players. The Serb also had eight combined miscontrols and dispossessions, a game-high.
Vlahovic made life easy for De Ligt
As he proved in Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Zenit last month, De Ligt thrives against immobile target men, and that’s exactly what Vlahovic was on Saturday.
"“Stopping Vlahovic? I like playing against strikers as strong as him, who score a lot. It’s a great challenge. You need the team’s help, though, to do well,” De Ligt speaking to DAZN Italy post-match (via @JuveFC)."
The Serb’s movement was too predictable and he struggled to retain pressure with the Dutchman hassling and harrying from behind. With Fiorentina offering little to no in behind threat, De Ligt had the luxury of following Vlahovic as high up the field as he could, although Vlahovic rarely dropped into midfield.
Overall, this was a contest won comprehensively by the Juventus defender, with Vlahovic missing a huge opportunity to impress the on watching Juventus hierarchy at the Allianz Stadium.