Fabio Quagliarella: The Solution to Juve's Front-Line Problem?
I have been writing for this site since early March, and for much of that time I have been a steadfast advocate for the qualities of Fabio Quagliarella.
Quagliarella had started making waves in the Serie A in 2007, when his play for Udinese got him called up to the Italian national team. A move to Napoli ensued, where he scored 11 goals in 34 matches before Aurelio De Laurentis' acquisition of Edinson Cavani made him surplus to requirements in Naples.
As he looked for outlets following his lone season at Napoli, Quagliarella had an opportunity to impress with the national team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Despite his good play and the Azzurri's difficulty scoring goals in the tournament, he was only on the field for the last 45 minutes of the group stage finale against Slovakia.
In those 45 minutes, Quagliarella had a rebound put in by Antonio Di Natale for a goal, had a goal that would have leveled the match at 2-2 controversially ruled out for offside, and scored one of the consensus goals of the tournament with an exquisite 25-yard chip that made the score 3-2 and gave the Italians life in stoppage time.
That performance perked up the ears of the Juventus brass, who snapped him up from Napoli on a loan with a permanent option at the end of the season. From there, he ran roughshod over Serie A defenses.
He scored 9 goals in Juve's first 17 games and was one of the league's top scorers going into the winter break. It seemed that he was the perfect pairing to club legend Alessandro Del Piero, especially with Vincenzo Iaquinta coming off a horrible season and stalwart striker Davide Trezeguet moving on to Spain's Hercules before the season was over.
But in the first game back from the winter break, it all fell apart. Quagliarella injured his right ACL in the first game back from the winter break against Parma and missed the rest of the season. It was the death knell for Juve in the 2010-11 season as well—the Parma match was the first in a string of seven losses in 11 games that took Juve from fourth place with a shot at the title to seventh, missing out on European competition entirely.
The road back for Quagliarella was slow. He didn't make a league start until December, and netted his first goal that month against Novara. He ended up scoring only four times in 23 games in all competitions, and despite signing a contract extension to keep him in Turin an extra year, it was speculated that he would once again become surplus to requirements when Juve signed a top striker to complete their front line.
The trouble was, that signing never materialized. Juve swung and missed on attempts to sign Robin van Persie, Edinson Cavani, Stevan Jovetic, and Fernando Llorente over the summer, settling instead for Arsenal want-away Nicklas Bendtner to complement the reacquisition of Sebastian Giovinco from Parma. It would be forward by committee again for Juve. The difference this time is that Quagliarella would be 100% healthy for the first time since his injury.
This past week, he's finally proven what I've been saying for months now—that a healthy, in-form Fabio Quagliarella is one of the most dangerous strikers in Italy, and can even be a force in Europe.
His goal against Chelsea was absolutely sublime. He made a superb diagonal run through the Chelsea defense, then played the one-on-one with Petr Cech—one of the world's best goalkeepers—to perfection, moving with the Czech international and firing between his legs to tie the game with 10 minutes left.
Five minutes later, he very nearly turned in an even more stunning goal, turning on a dime and unleashing a left-footed strike that hit the crossbar.
His performance Saturday against Chievo was even better.
Getting the start after his heroics midweek, Quagliarella was dangerous the entire time he was on the field. In the first half, he had several excellent shots stopped by a heroic Stefano Sorrentino, and helped create two other dangerous chances, including a goal by Mirko Vucinic that was (correctly) called back for offside.
Then, in the space of four minutes shortly after the hour, he delivered two masterful strikes. The first was on a bicycle kick volley off a corner from Emanuele Giaccherini that oozed class. Four minutes later, he easily slipped Kwadwo Asamoah's feed past the defender in front of him and beat Sorrentino for his third goal in two games.
Now, Juve has seen this before in the Conte era. Alessandro Matri had a brief hot spell to start last season (only three of his goals came in the ritorna portion of the season). Mirko Vucinic, by contrast, got hot late, scoring a boatload of goals when the season was winding down. Quagliarella's could be a momentary hot streak, but my gut tells me it isn't.
Quags has been showing flashes of quality like this for quite some time, but he hasn't been able to fully put it all together into one dominant season. In 2010-11 he seemed well on his way, but the injury put a stop to it. Now, he is completely healthy and his confidence is undoubtedly surging.
Juve are facing a pair of important matchups this week against Fiorentina and Roma.
To ask Quagliarella to start both is likely too much considering the team's matchload the past two weeks, but if he doesn't start at least one and get significant playing time (if needed) in the other, both Antonio Conte and Massimo Carrera are fools. They currently have one of the best strikers in the league at their fingertips.
Juve's brass should pay careful attention as well. With the market for top strikers currently out of control, should Quagliarella finally prove himself as the go-to front man Juve went into the season supposedly lacking, the team could potentially save 30 million Euros and use it to plug smaller holes come January.
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