Why Dusan Vlahovic is perfect for Juventus

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Toward the end of the January transfer window, Juventus swept in with a big money move for Dusan Vlahovic, finally securing themselves a Cristiano Ronaldo replacement. The big Serb has made a name for himself in Serie A with his stunning run of goal-scoring form, bagging 38 goals in 58 matches for Fiorentina across the past two seasons. But Vlahovic doesn’t just offer a team goals, and that is precisely why Juventus worked so hard to secure his signature at the end of January, for a hefty €82 million fee. Here is why Dusan Vlahovic is perfect for The Old Lady, and an adequate replacement for one of the game’s all time greats.

THE NEED FOR A RONALDO REPLACEMENT

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From Mandzukic + Dybala to Ronaldo + Morata, much of Juventus’ recent success over the years has come in a front two. Historically, one of the two has been the main source of goals, as the other supports through hold-up play, possession or movement in between the lines. But since Ronaldo’s departure, Juve have lacked a real goal-scoring presence, with Dybala stepping up to score a decent 7 goals in 20 matches, and Morata currently sitting on 5 in 24 matches. The Old Lady as a whole have scored just 41 goals in 27 matches this season, only the tenth best in the division.

While Ronaldo’s move to United was right at the tail-end of the Summer window, you have to question why it took so long for Juve to secure Vlahovic’s signature. The Fiorentina man was the obvious replacement, due to not only his physicality and stamina, but his goal-scoring heroics and movement inside of the penalty area. Being just 22 years-old, Vlahovic still has room to develop the necessary gaps in his game, while continuing to carry the weight on his shoulders for all of his supersonic strengths.

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Instantly upon Vlahovic’s arrival, Juventus look more proficient in possession, and in front of goal. Having Vlahovic gives Allegri’s team a focal point up front – someone they can constantly guide play toward. Further, as a team that haven’t had much in the way of possession this season (52.4%), Vlahovic is free to aid Juve in their more direct approach through the thirds, as they look to their big man immediately in transitional moments. As we’ll come to discuss, that kind of role is perfect for the 22-year-old.

DUSAN VLAHOVIC’S STYLE OF PLAY

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As much as Vlahovic played expertly well as a lone wolf for Fiorentina, he’ll work magnificently well in a front two, bouncing off a more possession-based partner, as he presents himself as the focal point. A faster, more energetic Olivier Giroud, Vlahovic is quick on the dribble, quick on the turn, and loves a 1v1 battle. He constantly eggs on his opposition defenders, pushing them around, bullying them into the abyss, and never letting a smile crack his face. He’s feisty, aggressive, and up for anything that is thrown his way. Even if he were to be kicked down the back-side, he’d immediately get up off the floor and size the other player up, rather than rolling around in typical…Ronaldo…fashion.

Good with his back to play as expected, he also takes down long passes into his path exceptionally well. Against Villarreal in the UEFA Champions League, he turned his chest into a pillow to take his touch away from the defender, before slotting it home.

As a consequence, not only is the Serbian forward an excellent target for holding up play and linking with others, he’s also an excellent target for creating something out of nothing and finding the back of the net. This can aid a team in the realms of crossing and long passing from deep, not to mention the ability for other players to receive in between the lines. As Vlahovic occupies the opposition defense and takes the defenders back a peg, a player like Morata or Dybala can drift deep to receive in space and then drive forward. This is something both Morata and Dybala love to do, which will suit Vlahovic’s style excellently well as he partners one of the two in attack. His hold-up-play also allows a player like Manuel Locatelli to arrive late and take shots from range – which is one of the Italian midfielder’s most underrated strengths.

Without saying anything groundbreaking, Vlahovic’s abilities as a target man also allow his team to win fouls, as he attracts the pressure of touch-tight defenders. Then when it comes to something more tactically groundbreaking, his presence will allow for other late arrivals to join the attack with greater fluidity. Morata or Dybala will likely play off the left, as Vlahovic very much plays down the middle and positions himself between the opposition’s centre-backs. This allows space down the right for someone like Weston McKennie (who’s unfortunately now fractured his foot), or perhaps Denis Zakaria to venture forward in ways a different striker wouldn’t allow. In fact, against Villarreal, McKennie’s average position reached higher heights than the man with the number 9 on his back – Alvaro Morata. Vlahovic helps to facilitate that kind of movement forward, through his central positioning in between defenders, and his excellent strength to hold up play for others, even in tight spaces.

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In terms of weaknesses, the Serbian forward needs to work on his timing of movement. Often so excited to break free, he will stride off-side within the blink of an eye, especially against a high-line. His positioning in between defenders is always solid, and this perhaps lulls the forward into the false pretense that he’s done the hard work already – and then he goes too soon.

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Meanwhile, Vlahovic could make for an intelligent presser, but his numbers at Fiorentina would suggest that he’s not quite ready to be a high-pressing centre-forward. He hardly ever goes to ground in making a tackle, and his pressing success with I Viola never reached above 30%. At Juventus, he won’t need to be a high pressing striker, as Allegri’s men rarely ever exhibit a high-press, let alone much urgency in winning back possession. Nevertheless, his numbers have been incredibly encouraging. His pressure success percentage is up to 46.7% in the small amount of matches he’s accumulated, and that could be something Juventus look to take greater advantage of in their front two.

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Then when it comes to his passing and possession game, Vlahovic has never been one to be very active. He often draws comparisons to the great Erling Haaland, but in truth, he’s much more similar to a Jamie Vardy. He’s an instant outlet, a frequent target, and someone who can chase down anything loose in the wide channels. His hold up play is certainly more akin to a Patrik Schick than Vardy, but the sheer amount he gets involved in build-up play and phases of possession is incredibly low like the Leicester man. His off-the-ball work in occupying defenders and stretching the defense back is still important, but it’s an important discretion in all of the debate. It’s one more reason why he’ll work to accommodate Morata and Dybala in their pursuits to get on the ball, rather than fighting for those spaces as could happen to a greater extent when the two play together.

Overall, Dusan Vlahovic would be best categorized as a target man or a direct goal-threat, rather than someone who is particularly creative, progressive, or defensively-inclined. He could however develop all of these traits at Juve – again with his best days certainly still ahead of him.

PLAYER COMPARISON

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Being the man to replace the legendary figure that is Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s only fitting that we compare Vlahovic’s 2021-22 season to that of the Portuguese forward’s final season in Serie A (2020-21). In order to enhance the sample size and accurately predict why he might be ‘perfect’ for Juventus, we’ve taken into account his stats for Fiorentina in 2021-22 before his January move, including his first six fixtures with Allegri’s team. Before going into the data, we must also remember that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and was still close to his very best even last season at Juve. With that, here is how Vlahovic compares on the most statistically relevant categories.

GOAL, SHOT AND CHANCE CREATION

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Ronaldo is one of the greatest goal-scorers the game has ever seen, but by the same token, Vlahovic has made a name for himself in Serie A for his deadly scoring as well.

Unsurprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo comes out on top as the better scorer, chance creator, and shot creator. However, there are a few suggestions that Vlahovic could theoretically be more proficient in front of goal – with a slightly better goals per shot ratio, and shot on target percentage. This is encouraging for The Old Lady, as they currently sit a woeful 10th in the Serie A table for goals scored – 41 in 27 matches (1.51 per game). The Serbian’s goals per 90 ratio could boost that tally by nearly 60% if things carry on the way they’ve been going.

POSSESSION + pASSING

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Given that Dusan Vlahovic is not the best with the ball at his feet, we wanted to identify how closely the Serbian striker compares to the Portuguese legend – if at all.

Again, Cristiano Ronaldo comes out on top in nearly every category, smashing Vlahovic when it comes to progressive passes and carries. However, he compares well when it comes to being a focal point that the team can target, and on receiving progressive passes into his path. Remarkably, if you only take his numbers at Juventus into account, he blows Ronaldo out of the water in that regard. He’s been the target of 56.3 passes per 90 so far at Juve, receiving 14.2 progressive passes per 90, even despite Juve’s lack of possession (only 52.3% this season). As we talked about in Analyzing Europe’s best ‘Progressive Pass Receivers’, being able to receive these types of passes is particularly important for a team’s attacking intent, particularly when that team can guide play into a man of Vlahovic’s insane quality.

DEFENSIVE NUMBERS

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Since Juventus are not a team that ask an awful lot of their centre-forwards defensively, (particularly their star man), we’ve examined only three of the most important percentage points. It’s important to note that aerial duel % takes into account both defensive and attacking aerial duels, even though we’ve categorized it with other defensive statistics.

In this particular category, Dusan Vlahovic comes out on top. While his numbers aren’t elite, he does clearly have more defensive quality in many regards than the great Cristiano Ronaldo – and could be a better player to have from a pressing and counter-pressing perspective. Slightly surprisingly given his height and strength, he loses out massively on aerial duel percentage, 44.4% to 58%. Nevertheless, Vlahovic’s defensive numbers are encouraging, particularly since his arrival, and could help to inspire a more active press if Allegri chooses to go down that route.

OVERALL COMPARISON

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In terms of weighted scores, you can see the similarities between Vlahovic and Ronaldo, and how they’re not too many miles away. Again, we’re talking about one of the greatest forwards of all time here, and Vlahovic deserves credit for even winning a single category.

Instead of just one, he’s come out the victor on five: progressive passes received (9.51 to 9.14); tackle percentage (25.0 to 19.0); pressure percentage (29.7 to 27.1); and perhaps most impressively – shot on target percentage (43.0 to 37.5); and goals per shot (0.18 to 0.14). It’s only progressive carries, progressive passes and key passes where their scores are vastly different in favour of CR7, and that in itself is incredibly encouraging for Juventus in their quest to replace an irreplaceable icon.

CONCLUSION

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Dusan Vlahovic, even at €82 million, should prove to be an essential player for Juventus moving forward, and an incredibly adept Cristiano Ronaldo replacement. The Serbian striker is incredibly proficient in front of goal, leads the line exceptionally well, and should help to bring out the best in other players, rather than detracting from their strengths as he takes the attention. His numbers so far at Juventus are promising for his ability to transform their attack and inspire a better second half of the season – as they remain in the hunt for a top four finish.


So there it is! Why Dusan Vlahovic is perfect for Juventus, and about as adequate of a Cristiano Ronaldo replacement as the Italian giants could have achieved. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, Data Analyses, and Scouting & Recruitment articles. Also be sure to follow on social media @desmondrhys & @mastermindsite, to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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