Dušan Vlahović has not scored from open play with his preferred foot, yet the Serbian has tallied four goals in as many games. The seismic tremors the rest of Serie A might be feeling are not just caused by the fact that Vlahović is scoring — but how.
DV9 is here. Not the Fiorentina version, not the potential version, but the man himself, the leader, the scorer, the striker.
If we perilously assume that the Lazio game is a sign of things to come, and therefore that Juventus will reach a more consistently cogent form under Max Allegri as the season moves on, then we might be seeing just the very beginnings of what Dušan Vlahović can do.
That’s bad news for the rest of Italy.
Four goals for Vlahović: one penalty, three from open play, two from his right foot and one from his head. What a way to enter the Capocannoniere race.
Not a single one of these three goals from open play has been anywhere near easy. The first, though simple in form, was complex in execution: a pinpoint-perfect from Samuel Iling-Junior required an expertly guided header to find the corner. Mission accomplished.
Goals two and three against Lazio both came on the ostensibly weak foot. I’m not typically one for obscure stats, but I can’t imagine that too many braces have been scored in Juventus history where both goals were scored with the weaker foot. The first was a deft, lightning-quick, brilliant touch that simply glanced the ball into the back of the net; the second was a Herculean effort among a swarm of Lazio defenders to receive the long ball from Weston McKennnie, control it, and one-skip launch it with his right foot to add the finishing touches to Lazio.
One would hope that, at some point this season, Vlahović will have a tap-in or two to pad the total. But at the moment, it’s bangers only. The Serbian is showing us what he’s capable of right now, at the tender age of 23, not just some shred of possibility in the future.
I was guardedly optimistic about Weston McKennie’s potential as a right wingback in my piece after the first game of the season, but I certainly did not imagine the American would be rocket-launching precision-perfect passes across the field to set up our attackers, nor dancing the sideline chalk to be advancing the ball, all while still maintaining the lungs and speed to track back and perform requisite defensive duties. Yet here we are.
We can’t expect to see McKennie play like he did against Lazio every single week, but I think the exciting prospect right now is that Allegri seems to have a cadre of wingbacks whose skill sets are all completely different in McKennie, Iling-Junior, Andrea Cambiaso, Filip Kostić, and Timothy Weah. The 3-5-2 seems like it’s here to stay all season long, and despite some questions defensively that’s a solid and deep group of wingbacks.
It’s not just the flanks: it’s Freddy Church. Allegri’s insistence that Federico Chiesa has been met with some (justifiable) skepticism, but the electric Italian is more than making it work this year. Chiesa not only has three goals himself, but he looks infinitely more natural, infinitely less desperate, than a year ago. I’m sure the offseason helped, as well as not being injured. But no matter the cause, the fruit is here before our eyes: the Chiesa-Vlahović pairing up top not only works, it’s fun; it not only scores goals, it downs opponents like a lion wrapping its sinewy arms around prey before finishing the job.
That’s the kind of Juventus I’ve wanted to see for years.
Before the bangers, before the goals, before what felt like the most resounding victory over a top Italian side in the last two to three seasons, Vlahović was leading in a different way: his disposition on and off the field. As Cristiano Giuntoli took over the director helm and was forced to begin to tackle the financial disaster that currently is the Old Lady, Vlahović’s name, naturally and as a matter of absolute course, crept into the transfers rumors on a weekly basis. In fact the Vlahović-Lukaku-Juventus-Chelsea saga had more twists and turns than Frodo finding his way to Mordor, although nothing ever coalesced. Good thing for the Bianconeri.
Throughout all of this, both on social media and on the pitch during the preseason games and first games of the season that took place before the window closed, Vlahović didn’t mope, didn’t throw his hands up in the air finally tired of the whole thing and trying to force himself out. He worked. He didn’t take the easy way out, and now it’s paying dividends for both the club and the player. Against Bologna, when DV9’s first goal was called offside, I distinctly remember the encouragement, the attitude of the player. Instead of throwing a toddler tantrum about the decision or openly maligning the referee, he clapped his team back into action. That’s a leader.
There is a lot of football left on the slate, a lot of room for the team to under- or over-perform, a lot of troughs and crests yet to face. Right now, though, the club’s star striker is passing every test thrown his way with flying colors.