There are selection decisions ahead for Massimiliano Allegri as Juventus prepare to face Milan. The right-back position is a cause for concern given Stephan Lichtsteiner’s suspension and an injury to Martin Caceres. Claudio Marchisio is back from a one-match stop, while Arturo Vidal and Patrice Evra are battling fitness concerns.
And there’s another selection worth considering - the identity of Carlos Tevez’s partner in attack. Italy’s three main sporting newspapers suggest Fernando Llorente is favoured to play from the opening whistle. TuttoJuve.com reported earlier in the week though that the tactician is undecided between Llorente and Alvaro Morata. The senior member of Juve’s Spanish force has been handed more starts this term, but it’s debatable whether his current form warrants inclusion.
El Rey Leon is goalless in 2015 and his performance last Sunday against Udinese highlighted recent concerns. It would rank as one of Llorente’s more listless showings in a Bianconero shirt. He not only failed to trouble Orestis Karnezis, but according to WhoScored.com had just 30 touches in 67 minutes and a team-low 62.5 per cent pass completion rate. It’s a trend which has persisted throughout the opening weeks of 2015.
The same website notes his four Serie A goals have come from 1195 minutes. It’s a regression for Llorente, who at this stage last term had registered nine League strikes. His numbers in other areas such as shots per game and pass success rate have also dropped. It’s clear that where last season Antonio Conte’s utilisation of Llorente and Tevez in close proximity yielded results for both, Allegri’s allowance of Tevez to play with greater freedom often leaves Llorente isolated. Tevez continues to excel, Llorente struggles to get involved.
“Conte played with a formation that he liked, with two strikers close to each other,” Tevez described this week. “I like the current formation best because I can do what I feel like doing in the pitch, I have greater freedom.”
Waiting in the wings is Morata. The 22-year-old has started just seven matches in all competitions and while like Llorente scoring four Serie A goals, he’s done so from nearly half the time – 602 minutes. Morata has been amongst the goals in recent Coppa Italia clashes versus Verona and Parma, while his Udine cameo emphasised the energy and directness he offers from the bench, adding a different dimension to the Bianconeri attack.
The ex-Real Madrid striker has the ability to either come deep and bring others into play or get behind defenders, something Llorente doesn’t. Where the 2010 World Cup winner is usually deployed with his back to goal, Morata is most dangerous when running at defenders. He draws more fouls than his compatriot, which can lead to set-piece opportunities.
What Morata hasn’t done is turn the energetic cameo into a complete 90-minute showing. “He needs to be a little less frenetic and also realise that he has to be in a game for over 90 minutes,” Allegri opined recently. Frustratingly for Morata when he does enough to earn a starting role he has not been able to keep the spot – consecutive starts against Verona and Chievo his only ones in Serie A. Morata is of the opinion both Spaniards can feature, but with Tevez sparkling Allegri is not about to bench him.
It would be tempting for the Coach to unleash the aerial prowess of Llorente against a Rossoneri defence which has struggled to defend high crosses and set-pieces. Yet he is off the pace and not producing what Juventus need from somebody leading the attack. And with Juve’s full-back concerns it’s an avenue which may be problematic on Saturday.
Morata has proven he can do a job as a substitute and now is the time to prove his effectiveness for 90 minutes. Just twice he has netted – against Empoli and Verona in the Coppa – as a starter, but Morata has the tools to torment a side without a clean sheet in seven matches since the winter break.
And with their European tie against Borussia Dortmund rapidly approaching, the Old Lady will want to take some of the scoring burden away from Tevez. As they look for the right combination in attack, it’s time for Morata to show what he can do.