The widely regarded ‘winners’ of the January mercato took to the field for the first time since the window’s closure on Sunday night as they welcome Hellas Verona to the Allianz.
A tricky contest was in store for the Bianconeri as Massimiliano Allegri handed debuts to both Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria following their respective arrivals last month. The pair would enjoy dream openings to their Juventus careers as both found the back of the net in Juve’s 2-0 victory that thrust them into the top-four at Atalanta’s expense.
Whisper it, but Allegri’s rejuvenated Bianconeri may well have finally joined the Scudetto race. Keep it hush, hush, though. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone.
Assessing the performances of Dusan Vlahovic & Denis Zakaria on their Juventus debuts
Nevertheless, while the debut strikes will undoubtedly grab the headlines, both Zakaria and Vlahovic did a whole lot more on Sunday night to aid Juve in their pursuit of victory. Here’s an analysis of their respective performances.
Watching this guy wheel away in jubilation is a sight I think Juventini can get used to. It took just 12 minutes for Juve’s new marksman and lead protagonist to open his account in Turin, and what a delightful finish it was as well.
After initially contesting for Wojciech Szczesny’s long ball, Vlahovic burst in behind and latched onto Paulo Dybala’s nonchalant first-time pass. With Lorenzo Montipo bearing down on him, Vlahovic decided that a deft lob over the onrushing goalkeeper would suffice. The execution was perfect and the sight of seeing a determined Koray Gunter tied up in the back of the net along with the ball was one of overwhelming satisfaction for Juventini.
Vlahovic had arrived.
But, what was perhaps most impressive about the goal was the sequence that succeeded it. In celebration, the 22-year-old combined Federico Chiesa’s knee slide, with the outstretched arm and all which he trademarked at the Euros, with the Dybala mask. What can’t this kid do!
Anyway, back to the actual football stuff.
Vlahovic functioned as Allegri’s focal point throughout. Very rarely did he drop between the lines or venture out to the channels. The 22-year-old stayed central and on the last defender for the most part. He was the most targeted Juventus player on the night (67 attempted passes, including 15 progressive) but he was only able to successfully receive 36 of them at a mediocre rate of 53.7%. Vlahovic also lost four of six contested aerial duels.
There’s no doubting that this wasn’t a perfect target man display from the Serbian international, but it’d be unrealistic to expect such proficiency in a difficult role on debut. Overall, he performed his function admirably and there were some wonderful sequences of vintage centre-forward play where Vlahovic was able to channel his inner Zlatan Ibrahimovic and pluck balls out from the sky with his chest.
He’s a physical specimen, that’s for sure.
Impressively, Vlahovic quickly developed a harmonious relationship with both Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala as the trio combined to devastating effect at times. The Serbian international used his frame superbly to hold off defenders and bring his fellow forwards into play, with Morata particularly benefitting from Vlahovic’s capacity to function as a reliable target man.
The Spaniard should’ve had an assist in the first half when he teed up Vlahovic with a cross, but the Serb’s right-footed effort skewed wide. That was the only shot of Vlahovic’s five to miss the target as the 22-year-old accumulated a team-high 0.4 xG.
Much of the striker’s good work came in a vibrant first-half display from the Bianconeri. After the restart, Vlahovic wasn’t involved all too much as Juve succumbed to sustained pressure from the visitors. The Serb was limited to hopeful punts upfield aimed to his general vicinity.
Nevertheless, he was rather surprisingly able to complete 90 minutes following a hugely promising debut. Any lingering doubts that Allegri would fail to adapt to Vlahovic or vice-versa have surely been eased because it’s distinct that the Serb is exactly the sort of striker the manager adores.
Sunday night wasn’t Dusan Vlahovic anywhere close to his very best, yet his impact on this Juventus side was unequivocal.