The Montenegrin's display against Fiorentina gave onlooking Glaswegians cause for concern ahead of Tuesday's crucial first leg
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
The weekly debates over Juventus’ forward line take place on many a message board across the world and in countless bars and restaurants in Turin and beyond, but very few appear to end with the conclusion that Mirko Vucinic shouldn't be considered a virtual guaranteed starter amongst the current group.
While Sebastian Giovinco continues to frustrate more often than he delights, Fabio Quagliarella finds it difficult to earn more than one start on the trot, and Alessandro Matri wastes far too many good positions to command a regular place, Vucinic is the one man who seems to get the nod more often than not. And there is a good reason for that.
He showcased during his Roma days exactly what he could do. From the left of a 4-2-3-1, he would provide a threat from wide, regularly cutting in and running at space, scaring the back-pedalling opposition half to death. Or, when chosen up top, he would show an ability to play with his back to goal, bringing in the three behind him to good effect. Never did he purport himself to be a 20-goal-a-season striker, but he did display a knack for frightening opponents at frequent intervals.
|MATCH FACTS | Juve 2-0 Fiorentina
And 18 months on from arriving in Turin, the Montenegrin has largely delivered on what he was brought in to do. He is still not a deadly marksman, but he never was. What he has done, though, is play his chameleon-like role in the forward line which has defenders longing for the night to be over. He was at it again on Saturday as Juve saw off Fiorentina with a commanding performance which set them up perfectly for Tuesday’s Champions League trip to Scotland to face Celtic.
The 29-year-old seemed to be on a one-man mission to finish the game off early against the Viola. First he lashed a shot wide from 20 yards as he got his eye in against a visiting defence which was slow to close him down, then his excellent touch with two men on his back helped make room for Claudio Marchisio to shoot just wide of Emiliano Viviano’s left-hand post. On 20 minutes he finally grabbed the goal he deserved, taking a touch from Facundo Roncaglia’s weak clearance and firing a superb volley to the right of Viviano.
Thereafter, he continued to cause Vincenzo Montella’s side headaches. One minute he was dropping off and dragging a marker into midfield, leaving space for Juve runners to advance into the vacated space. The next he was making runs on the shoulder of the last defender, pulling two men towards him and giving the Fiorentina back line a more stretched appearance elsewhere.
He should have had a second goal when he picked the pocket of Gonzalo Rodriguez and went through one-on-one against Viviano, but somehow shot straight at the keeper. Matri would close the game out soon afterwards in any case. After the break, he kept causing havoc, and Stephan Lichtsteiner could have done better after Vucinic had slipped him into a good crossing position having found space on the right with another ghosting run off the ball. The Gigliati just didn’t have a clue how to stop the elusive forward finding space.
Juventini will now be hoping that Vucinic recovers from the knee injury which saw his evening end on the hour-mark. Because while others around him are undoubtedly failing to live up to their billing, the former Lecce man is the closest thing Antonio Conte has to a constant in his forward line. Thankfully, the early signs suggest he’ll be available.
Come Tuesday, Juventus will be much more likely to get the job done if he is in the starting XI, not just because there would be the Old Lady’s only real all-rounder in the forward line, but also because he plays a role which Celtic will have seen rarely this season.
Above all else, the Bhoys will be looking to avoid conceding a vital away goal in this week’s first leg, but if Vucinic plays, they will have to remain vigilant for the full 90 minutes to achieve it. Andrea Pirlo may be Juventus’ magician, but in so many ways the Montenegrin is his cunning apprentice.