Juventus‘ 1-1 draw at Sporting Lisbon marked the end of a memorable day for the Bianconeri, coming just a few hours after their 15-point deduction in Serie A was overturned by the FIGC Federal Court of Appeal, pending a new trial.
In a blink of an eye, the Old Lady were projected into third spot in Serie A and had secured a place in the Europa League semi-finals, giving everyone a reason to smile in a troubled season. Everyone, except Dusan Vlahovic.
Vlahovic’s 71 minutes in Lisbon were nothing more than a repetition of what is sadly becoming a trademark performance in his second season at Juventus – 20 touches, eight attempted passes and yet another mistake in front of goal, as he clumsily headed over the bar a Juan Cuadrado cross that he would once have scored with his eyes closed.
For the Serbian striker, that game was just the continuation of a tragic scoring drought that was stretched to seven matches across all competitions, the last goal having been netted from the penalty spot against Freiburg in the Europa League round of 16 on March 16. As a consequence, Vlahovic was dropped in favour of Arkadiusz Milik for the following match against Napoli, whilst a sprained ankle stopped him from helping his side in the Coppa Italia semi-final second-leg at Inter.
But how one of the brightest Serie A prospects, signed for €70 million from Fiorentina, was turned into a disheartened player in the space of a few months is still hard to understand. Finding an answer requires looking at various aspects of his game, from his lack of mental strength to the tactical setup he has been asked to fit into at Juventus.
Vlahovic’s arrival at Juventus
At least two reasons pushed Juventus to splash out €70m plus bonuses on Dusan Vlahovic in January 2022.
First and foremost, Cristiano Ronaldo‘s departure in the previous summer had left Massimiliano Allegri only relying on the injury-prone Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata as main attacking options. Further reinforcements were needed.
The Bianconeri’s struggles went on in the 2021-22 season, with five league defeats from their opening 18 games, and the winter transfer window was subsequently seen as the occasion when they needed to strengthen their squad.
In a trademark move for a club who had based a decennial domestic supremacy on signing the best players from other Serie A sides, Juventus set their eyes on Fiorentina’s Vlahovic, who had built excellently on his 21-goal tally in the previous season, going on to score 17 goals from 22 games with an exciting Viola side before leaving the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
It was a huge investment for the Old Lady, one that was said to be related to their decision not to renew Dybala’s contract, and it was fair to say their choice initially seemed to pay off, as Vlahovic’s impact was hard to ignore. With nine goals from 21 appearances in all competitions in his first experience at a big club, the feeling was that things could only improve from there and that Juve had found their No.9 for years to come.
Is Allegri’s style hindering Vlahovic’s game?
Much has been said and written about Vlahovic’s scoring drought but, with his last goal from open play dating back to February, everything suggests that his difficulties go much beyond the sheer inability to be clinical in front of the net.
His attitude and body language on the pitch is even more striking than his depressing stats – his gaze looks discouraged after every useless run and he repeatedly waves his arm as soon as he is dispossessed, all of which is just an inevitable prelude to his poor first touch and missed opportunities.
However, when one thinks of the lethal goal machine that had taken Serie A by storm at Fiorentina, it’s impossible not to wonder to what extent his lengthy dip in form may be tied to Massimiliano Allegri‘s tactical choices.
Juventus‘ conservative playing style clearly hinders his involvement in the game, forcing him to have just a few touches in the opponent’s box every game and often play with his back to the goal. As a result, Vlahovic can hardly exploit his scoring instinct and shooting skills as he regularly did under Vincenzo Italiano, when he acted as the perfect player to capitalise on the huge volume of chances created by a proactive side.
The striker’s suffering has grown to the point that he even deleted his Instagram account to stop reading the thousands of insults that he would receive every day, which are likely to have further added to his mental fragility.
However, such a scenario leaves both Vlahovic and Juventus at a crossroads, prompting them to ask themselves whether going on together is actually the best solution.
With his contract expiring in 2026, the Serbian could still have time to revamp his stint in Turin, but can he do it while playing under Allegri? Rumours of a potential departure could see many big European clubs interested in the 23-year-old, and Vlahovic himself could be tempted by the prospect of finding a club that better fits his needs and qualities, which could also be the Bianconeri’s last chance to recoup at least a significant part of their initial investment.