Can Juventus' €75m striker Vlahovic prove himself a worthy Champions League rival to Haaland and Mbappe?

Dusan Vlahovic Juventus Atalanta Serie A 2021-22Getty/GOAL

Like everyone else, Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon was taken aback by the news that Juventus had signed Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for €75 million (£63m/$85m).

"It’s huge and surprising," the Parma goalkeeper told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "Vlahovic is the best young player in the world with [Erling] Haaland and [Kylian] Mbappe."

A bold claim but a view shared by many others within the Italian game.

Another former Juve star, Christian Vieri, has been arguing for the past 18 months that Vlahovic is the best young striker in the world after Haaland.

"Andrea Agnelli has given Massimiliano Allegri and all of the Juve fans a great gift," the former Italy No.9 told the Corriere dello Sport.

Vlahovic has certainly wasted little time in winning over everyone at his new club, thanks in no small part to a goal just under 13 minutes into his debut, against Verona.

Allegri has been honest in his appraisals of the forward's performances to date, quick to point out the areas in which Vlahovic must still improve.

However, even the Bianconeri boss brought up Mbappe and Haaland in his first press conference after the transfer was confirmed.

Vlahovic, for his part, has stated that he doesn't particularly like comparisons, particularly with Haaland.

However, he's also admitted that he studies the Norwegian's movements and believes that he can reach the Borussia Dortmund star's level.

Dusan Vlahovic Erling Haaland Juventus Dortmund GFX
Getty/GOAL

Last year he told DAZN "Haaland is a goal machine, a robot," and conceded "he's certainly faster than me", but argued that there is not much to choose between them in other aspects of the game.

Vlahovic's numbers are undoubtedly impressive. Only Robert Lewandowski (43) scored more league goals than the Serbian (33) in 2021. 

However, as the sceptics have repeatedly – and rightly – pointed out: Vlahovic hasn't yet played, let alone scored in, the Champions League.

That will change on Tuesday night, when Juve travel to El Madrigal for the first leg of their last-16 tie with Villarreal.

All eyes will undoubtedly be on Vlahovic.

It may seem unfair to expect a debutant to immediately take the Champions League by storm but that is the high standard by which he will now be judged.

Remember, Mbappe, who showed against Real Madrid last week why many regard him as the best player in the world right now, reached 30 goals quicker than any player in Champions League history.

Haaland is presently on track to break that record, having already made history by scoring in his first five appearances in the competition as a teenager.

At 22 years of age, then, Vlahovic is already playing catch-up in the race to fill the void that will be left behind by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

If he wants to show that he is a generational talent like Mbappe and Haaland, he will have to hit the ground running, or at the very least show the rest of Europe that he belongs on the club game's grandest stage.

On the evidence of what we have seen so far from Vlahovic, the pressure shouldn't be too much of a problem.

He certainly doesn't lack confidence, at least. At 15 years of age, he told senior colleagues at Partizan Belgrade that he was the next Zlatan Ibrahimovic and was destined to play for Juve.

"During the matches, he left us speechless," Valeri Bojinov told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "Technically, he was always one step ahead of the others. He scored crazy goals."

His outstanding natural ability quickly attracted the attention of top European scouts and when Fiorentina snapped him he was still only 18, Vlahovic's mother told Viola sporting director Pantaleo Corvino, "List to me and trust me: you bringing the new [Gabriel] Batistuta to Florence."

At the end of his first season in Italy, Vlahovic scored three of Fiorentina's four goals in their Coppa Italia Primavera final win over Torino. 

The penalty he scored in the second leg in Turin was particularly noteworthy, as he later revealed that he pulled off 'a Panenka' to silence opponents who had complained about the way in which the first leg had been officiated. 

Vlahovic's incredible self-belief took a hit during his early struggles in Fiorentina's first team but that proved a blessing in disguise. 

Veteran winger Franck Ribery took him under his wing and impressed upon his young team-mate the importance of hard work.

In no time at all, Vlahovic began following the Frenchman's lead by turning up two hours early for training.

"If Ribery was doing that,” he told the Corriere dello Sport, “a guy that was nearly 38 and had won everything that a player could possibly win, how could I not, as a young guy that still had to prove himself?

"So, go and watch him, or stay in bed – it was a luxury I couldn't allow myself.

"And when I was down, he spoke to me and told me to never give up. That's how I understood what it means to be a champion on the pitch and in life." 

Now, Vlahovic sees himself as confident on the field, but humble off it.

Indeed, at Juve, he has impressed all and sundry with his humility, work ethic and eagerness to learn as much as possible from the champions he now finds himself surrounded by.

Dusan Vlahovic Paulo Dybala Juventus Serie A 2021-22 GFX
Getty/GOAL

He certainly has things to work on. 

He is presently overly reliant on his left foot, which accounts for 17 of the 21 goals he has scored this season, with the other four divided evenly between his right and his head.

Allegri has also identified minor but key improvements that can be made in his hold-up play, movement and mentality. 

In terms of the latter, the coach believes that Vlahovic is sometimes too quick to get agitated if things aren't going his way.

"He has to remain calm because when the right ball arrives," Allegri told reporters, "you have to score." 

The thing is, though, Vlahovic usually does.

Haaland is the most efficient finisher in the world right now. He is averaging a goal every 70.35 minutes this season, which is frankly ridiculous, while his 23 goals have come from just 84 shots – again, utterly outrageous.

However, it's worth noting that Vlahovic's big chance conversion rate (68.18 per cent) is better than any other player across Europe's Big Five leagues to have scored at least 10 goals this season – including Haaland (64.52), Mbappe (36.6) and Robert Lewandowski (53.33).

The big question, though, is whether Vlahovic will continue to score freely now that he is at Juventus.
The Bianconeri (fourth) may be above Fiorentina (seventh) in the Serie A standings but Viola coach Vincenzo Italiano plays a far more expansive and attacking brand of football than Allegri, whose conservative, counterattacking tactics were once again criticised after last Friday's desperately underwhelming 1-1 draw with Torino.

Vlahovic had impressed in his first three appearances for Juve, scoring one goal and creating another, but he was anonymous in the Derby della Mole.

Obviously, he has to take his share of the blame, given he struggled to trouble Brenner, the best defender in Serie A this season, but the support and service he received were almost non-existent.

Vlahovic wasn't presented with a single big chance, managed only one shot and, even worse, touched the ball only once in the Torino area.

There really won't be much point in Juve having a lethal finisher if they can't create openings for him, and their efforts in that regard have hardly been helped by yet another injury to Paulo Dybala.

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Vlahovic's potential is obvious. Physically and technically, he has everything required to become a world-class forward like Mbappe and Haaland. 

We know he can score goals in Serie A. He's already proven that at Fiorentina.

But can he do it in the Champions League in this Juventus side? We're about to find out...