Champions League: Juventus’ new star Dusan Vlahovic looks to make his mark against Villarreal in UCL debut

Juventus’s shiny new striker, Dusan Vlahović will play his first Champions League match Tuesday night against Villarreal in the first leg of the Round of 16 (you can catch all the Champions League action on Paramount+). Juventus signed the Serbian striker in January from Fiorentina, paying around €75 million to pry him from the Viola. It was a huge deal for both the club and the player, who desperately wanted to join the Bianconeri side after rejecting many clubs last summer and again this winter, including Atletico Madrid and Arsenal. Vlahović now finally has the opportunity to make his debut in Europe’s premier club competition. The questoin is, will he have an immediate impact. 

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Since his arrival in Turin, Vlahović has played four games: three Serie A matches and Coppa Italia’s match against Sassuolo. In the first two he scored two goals (vs. Hellas Verona and Sassuolo) but then failed to score in the last two matches against Atalanta and Torino. Especially after Friday’s derby against Ivan Juric’ team there was some criticism among the press, that blamed Vlahović for the performance (one shot, zero on target).

It was a rough match for the young star to be sure, but throughout his young career Vlahović has always mixed dominant performances with largely indifferent ones (as do most strikers). Friday was his fourth match of the season where he only managed a single shot, doing that three separate ties with Fiorentina. Additionally while his 0.03 xG was his second lowest total in a match this season, it was the fourth time he failed to clear 0.10 xG per match. This stuff can happen, and that’s before you take into account the pressures of moving to Juventus.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri defended is player during the Champions League pre-match press conference Monday: “Dusan will play on Tuesday, we can’t blame him for everything. It takes experience. He has extraordinary qualities, but he needs to be supported in a competition like the Champions League. I have to protect him, as I have done with all young players, as it has to be. When he has played 60, 70 matches in the Champions League it will be different.” Allegri said. “The question is not only technical, but also psychological, of pressure. After the match against Torino he found a full page in the newspaper about the fact he didn’t score. It was the first time this had happened to him. You can’t have everything immediately”. 

Featured Game | Villarreal vs. Juventus

During the current Serie A season Vlahović has scored eighteen goals between Fiorentina and Juventus and managed to provide two assists for his former teammates at Fiorentina. tactically, the way the two teams styles are incredibly different, so it’s difficult to directly compare his numbers at Juventus with the ones at Fiorentina. And, of course, the small sample size of four matches with his new club also makes comparisons hard. But here are some quick and dirty numbers to look at.  His aerial duels won numbers are pretty much the same (55.4% vs 52.6%), while his pass completion percentage decreased from 70.6% to 58.9% at Juventus. At Juventus he plays also with Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala close to him, while at Fiorentina he was the only striker with two wingers at his side. Paradoxically, this might explain why his passes completion number have dropped early on.  The job of striker at Juventus involves interacting more with his attacking teammates as they try to interchange and break down packed in defenses, rather than a striker receiving a pass and either going alone or laying it off. 

However, Since we’re only looking at four matches, it’s too early now to determine if these data points are just the reflection of the way the teams play and the result of bedding into a new system, or whether Vlahović  may have some growing pains as he’s asked to do things not required of him at Fiorentina. We’ll probably have a clearer understanding in the next month.

Regardless, the goal will be to make an impact in his Champions League debut on Tuesday night against Villarreal. That’s the best way to answer the first signs of criticism that have popped up over the last few days. 

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