They say it takes a striker several games to return to optimal scoring form after the fatigues of the seasonal break and lingering pains from the previous campaign. This was not the case for Fabio Quagliarella. Before his exceptional substitute display for Juventus in his first ever Champions League outing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, the 29-year-old had only played 15 minutes of first team football.
The Italian international netted the vital equaliser in a 2-2 draw and constantly probed the European Champions’ defence for the Bianconeri, in their biggest match of the last three years. But before replacing Sebastian Giovinco with a quarter of an hour left to play, the Neapolitan had only figured in the closing stages of the Old Lady’s 4-1 victory over Udinese over a fortnight ago. And, in all honesty, a collective sigh of “why him?” from some sections of Juve fans was notable when the change was made.
The Turin-based giants chased Robin Van Persie, Stevan Jovetic and later Fernando Llorente throughout the summer in search of a European pedigree striker. Danish international Nicklas Bendtner was ultimately the man the Bianconeri faithful had to settle with, as he was brought in on loan from Arsenal. The controversial 24-year-old is arguably no better than the club already had on their books, so the question begged – who will be the main man this season?
Montenegrin Mirko Vucinic has to date stepped up to the plate up top for Antonio Conte’s side, having netted on four occasions this term, three for club and one for country. The second striker role in the preferred 3-5-2 formation is therefore disputed amongst other players, and Quagliarella has to date proved to be the most consistent with fewer opportunities.
Since purchasing Giovinco outright from Parma in the summer the Atomic Ant has played a predominant role in every match for the Turin-based giants but only scored twice, both of which came against Udinese. His severe lack of muscle against Chelsea was evidently clear, as not once did he get the better of John Terry and David Luiz.
Top-scorer last season with 10 successful strikes, Alessandro Matri has also featured in every game to date, but is yet to find the back of the net. His presence upfront has been made clear, but squandering chances such as that against Genoa last weekend could prove costly in future.
Bendtner arrived in Piedmont overweight and evidently fatigued from the European Championships, and has yet to make his debut. Denmark did not get out of their group, but a spirited side with the Arsenal man as a spearhead troubled the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany.
On the basis of form Quagliarella deserves his chance as Juventus host Chievo on Saturday evening. Last season was clearly not the former Torino man’s best, but it was his first full campaign back after knee ligament damage. But having signed a contract extension that will take him up to 2015 in northern Italy, it is time he finally cements a place in Conte’s starting XI.
“I always sit there hoping to a) start or b) to come off the bench. Maybe earlier than the last 10 minutes!” admitted the scorer of spectacular goals in midweek. His motivation to contribute could also bring back a small bit of that hunger from last season that has been missing at times.
The fact of the matter is the more time the former Sampdoria man spends on the sidelines the more his match fitness levels will go down. Subsequently, his incredible talent to find the top corner from any feasible angle will go to waste and Juventus, with their striking options, simply can’t afford that.