By Carlo Garganese
Ever since club legends Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet began to age at the end of the noughties, Juventus have been crying out for a top-class centre forward.
Despite dominating Italian football over the past two seasons under Antonio Conte – winning successive Scudetti and re-establishing themselves as a European heavyweight – the Bianconeri have possessed an undoubted Achilles heel in attack. Alessandro Matri top-scored with just 10 goals in 2011-12, while Mirko Vucinic did so with 13 last term.
Juventus' attack has been carried by a mean defence and arguably the best centre midfield in Europe, something CEO Giuseppe Marotta looked to rectify this summer by signing Fernando Llorente on a Bosman and Carlos Tevez from Manchester City.
Tevez was immediately branded the “top-player” who Juventus had been missing and it has taken the 29-year-old no time at all to justify this billing – scoring in each of his three official games.
Llorente was intended to be Tevez's partner in attack in Conte's 3-5-2 formation – the Spaniard as the penalty box striker and the Argentine as the second striker. But Llorente struggled in pre-season, meaning that Vucinic has retained his starting role alongside Tevez.
The pairing didn't seem an obvious fit, with both frontmen eager to occupy the same space in between the midfield and attack, but the results thus far have been spectacular. The link-up and understanding between the duo has bordered on the telepathic at times. In the 4-1 league win over Lazio in Turin the pair successfully executed three dummy-one-twos – where a player steps over the ball and then turns to receive a through pass from his team-mate – made famous by Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini at Sampdoria, and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole at Manchester United. One of these moves led to Tevez's goal.
Whether or not a Tevez-Vucinic partnership will be sufficient to pierce the best Champions League back lines of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid remains to be seen. The lack of a disciplined penalty box striker was evident in the first half against Sampdoria, when Juventus created little – and Tevez would certainly shine even more alongside a striker such as Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, who can engage in Vucinic-like combinations as well as offer a regular goal-threat. But the early signs in Serie A at least have been hugely promising.
Tevez alone is certainly a guarantee – regardless of team-mates or tactics. The Argentine is one of the most adaptable players in world football. He boasts all the technical and creative qualities to excel when the tempo is slow – as it is in Italy – and all the physical attributes to star in faster and more furious surroundings like the Premier League. This makes him the dream forward for any coach. When Juventus are dominating possession and territory - as they often are with Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba - Tevez has the guile and skill to unlock the door. When they are playing a waiting game, as they often will away from home in the Champions League, Tevez has the pace and dynamism to devastate the opposition on the counter attack.
Having twice conquered Serie A, the next step for Juventus is the Champions League. There has been much debate in Italy over whether Conte can lead his side to European glory with a 3-5-2 system that was dismantled so emphatically in last season’s quarter final by the double-layered width of Bayern’s 4-2-3-1. A switch to a 4-3-3 when the knockout stages arrive is a consideration, and this is a formation that Tevez will have no problem acclimatising to – either on the right, left or in the centre - having encountered it with both Manchester City and Argentina. This flexibility is a big weapon for Conte.
The happy-again Tevez also contains all the fighting qualities – the grinta – that is so traditionally associated with Juventus teams. He has an incredible work-rate – always on the move to find space in offensive phases, and constantly pressing and harrying defenders to win the ball back. Against Lazio in Turin, Tevez even sprinted back to his own penalty area to make a tackle. “The way he sacrifices himself for the team - he works like a mule,” remarked Giorgio Chiellini of his “world-class” colleague.
Tevez and Juventus are a match made in heaven. Physically, mentally, technically and tactically – Tevez is the complete player. Reaching at least the 20 goal mark in 2013-14 is a virtual certainty, and the only question is how long he can maintain his current levels of brilliance. Turning 30 in February, the Argentine must begin to decline physically sooner rather than later. But this season at least, Juventus fans can sit back and enjoy the ride because Tevez is going to make them very happy.Follow Carlo Garganese on