Juventus are struggling. Performances on the pitch in recent weeks have fallen so steeply away from the charge the club were making in November and December, and the results are even worse. While the reasons for this collapse are not too difficult to understand many fans have been extremely vocal in their complaints about the coach, owners, players, management and direction of the club.
Yet the simple fact that the good performances ended almost simultaneously with Fabio Quagliarella crumpling into a heap on the Stadio Olimpico turf against Parma. The clubs top goal scorer, his importance to the team cannot be understated and his impact since arriving from Napoli was immense. Without the Italy international in the side, the Bianconeri have yet to find the rhythm that saw the goals and victories flow.
That he is so sorely missed will provide some comfort for the much maligned striker. Often derided as a “playstation player” due to he propensity for scoring spectacular goals, viewed as an inconsistent, infuriating and unreliable player, the cliched ‘scorer of great goals but not a great goal scorer’ line is often used to describe him. A search for his name on YouTube will confirm this, any compilation of his goals looks like the results for a Goal of the Season competition.
His career started slowly and throughout his ten years as a professional, started ironically at Torino, he has netted just 93 goals. However. since arriving at Udinese in 2006 he has scored 56 of those goals in the following four seasons and while he has never been the kind of player relied upon to be a leading scorer, his natural talent has never been questioned.
In much the same vein his start to life on the other side of Turin also began slowly. Cup-tied in Europe – due to an earlier appearance in the competition for home-town club Napoli – he had only been available in Serie A for Juventus. In his first few games he looked every bit the player described so far and despite netting against former clubs Sampdoria and Udinese he was struggling to fit into Gigi Delneri’s system.
Then the injury crisis took full hold but rather than collapse, Juventus seemingly grew, partly due to a desire to continue the early promise but also down to a slight alteration of the tactical framework. Claudio Marchisio was been pressed into a mezz’ala role, tucking in from the left to form a midfield three.Ahead of that the first choice pairing in attack, either forced by injury or the coach’s decision, had been Quagliarella and Alessandro Del Piero.
In the early part of the season the two seemed unsuited and not a typical strike duo. As the system has evolved however they became accustomed to one another and formed a highly effective partnership, however their deployment was somewhat surprising. Now 36, Del Piero has become a second striker, a far more lethal scorer than the trequartista he looked set to become early in his career.
Yet he no longer has the energy to play 90 minutes if he is asked to chase back, meaning these duties were left to the younger Quagliarella. This meant he was asked to cover the left flank when Juve lost possession while Del Piero saved his energy alone up front. and Marchisio moved in alongside Melo and Aquilani, preventing the team from being outnumbered in the central areas against three or five man midfields.
Juventus have missed this work-rate and tactical ability with Quagliarella out, as the excellent ZonalMarking.net showed ih the match review of the defeat to Palermo. The Rosanero found cutting through the Juve midfield far too simple in the early stages of the game as they opened up a 2-0 lead. It was no surprise Marotta targeted a similar player in Antonio Floro Flores to plug the gap left by Quagliarella.
While filling these duties brilliantly, the strikers attacking prowess remained uninhibited and Quagliarella thrived in this more withdrawn role. A combination of not being made to play as a prima punta and arriving late into the penalty area saw his scoring rate improve and up until the Parma match he had nine goals in sixteen games. The most surprising thing however is that of those nine, five are headers showing a side to his game not previously seen.
This new found clinical streak – which also includes a simple close range goal for Italy – is largely due to a great sense of positioning inside the box which is most definitely a new addition to his game. The main feature of his play until now has been an uncanny ability of knowing where the goal is without looking, a trait shared among history’s best strikers.
Putting all that together saw him just two goals behind in the race for the Capocannoniere crown at the time of his injury. If he recovers well and maintains this start to life in Turin there is no doubt he is worth the option of €10.5m over three years that was agreed with Napoli in August. Beppe Marotta will undoubtedly search for a discount on that figure and the arrival of Alessandro Matri and Luca Toni strengthen his position to do so.
Hopefully those two men can carry both the workload and the scoring responsibility because Fabio Quagliarella has proven to be far more than just the missing ‘bomber’ in Juve’s arsenal.