Having been held to disappointing draws by both Bologna and Bayern Munich, Juventus were looking to return to winning ways as Inter Milan visited Turin on Sunday evening. They would do just that, emerging triumphant thanks to a 2-0 scoreline that extended their lead at the top of the Serie A standings to four points.
While their closest rivals Napoli take on Fiorentina on Monday, the Bianconeri will gain much confidence from this latest victory over Roberto Mancini’s side. It marked a remarkable eighth consecutive clean sheet for the Turin giants, with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon making a number of key saves as the full-time whistle approached.
However, perhaps no player will take a more positive feeling away from this game than Alvaro Morata, the Spanish striker getting his name on the score sheet with an 84th-minute penalty that secured three points for Juventus.
Morata scores his 4th goal in Serie A this season. pic.twitter.com/aLE3XTVt6v— Khaled Al Nouss (@KhaledAlNouss) February 28, 2016
It was his first goal in six appearances, his last coming back in a January encounter with Chievo and ending a barren run of over 300 minutes of action, with boss Massimiliano Allegri clearly pleased with his impact.
“We’re making a very good habit of seeing our substitutes come off the bench and swing matches in our favour and tonight was no different,” the coach told reporters at the post-match press conference, with Morata having also notched a key assist in the Champions League draw with Bayern Munich.
The Madrid native will have enjoyed his brief cameo, with the Nerazzurri emerging as one of his favourite targets—his spot-kick here adding to a brace against the same opponents in the Coppa Italia last month.
Morata also won Sunday’s penalty, turning inside Joao Miranda and leaving the Brazilian defender with little choice but to haul him down in the box. Comfortably beating Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic from 12 yards, Juventus will hope that the goal finally sees their striker back to the devastating form of last season.
Indeed, arguably no player had the impact the 23-year-old managed on the Old Lady’s 2014/15 campaign, a season which saw him net goals in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Looking forward, it will be key for Allegri to have Morata thriving before the return leg of the European heavyweight clash Bayern, with his pace and direct approach an essential ingredient in Juve’s counter-attack.
It is something the club’s other forward’s perhaps lack; both Mario Mandzukic and Simone Zaza offer a more traditional target man, while Paulo Dybla remains a wonderful conduit between midfield and attack.
With Pep Guardiola’s German champions holding the away-goal advantage, they may look to negate the space they afford the Bianconeri, a factor Morata could well prove to be the perfect antidote for should he now push on to his best form.
“I realise a striker gets sad when he doesn’t score goals, I understand that, but it’s not as if Morata lost all his talent in a couple of months,” Allegri told RAI Sport (h/t Football Italia) last month, but another goal should see a much happier striker in the coming weeks.
That confidence—as well as his incisiveness—has regularly proved to be key in the past, and all concerned will hope that will be the case once again for a player who believes the mental toll he endures is part of life at one of the continent’s biggest clubs.
“Am I feeling the pressure when I don’t score?” Morata pondered in a recent interview with Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia). “No, anyone who feels the pressure should not be at Juventus.”
Overcoming that is likely to be essential to Juve’s on-going success, and for that, the team needs Morata taking on defenders and scoring goals, just as he did against Inter.