x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Giovinco is struggling to get game time for Juventus, but his Italian counterpart Cerci is thriving at Torino, writes Ian Hawkey

Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus. Frederic J Brown / AFP
Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus. Frederic J Brown / AFP

Antonio Conte, the Juventus coach, has been confronted with questions over the past few days about the size of his squad.

They are distinct queries from the ones he had been conditioned to in the course of his two previous, title-winning campaigns. Then, he sometimes felt he had insufficient depth to his squad. These days, the talk is of overabundance.

The low visibility of Fernando Llorente, the Spain international striker signed from Athletic Bilbao in the summer, had become a live-wire issue, at least within the Italian media, until a week ago. A single 89th-minute appearance as a substitute from Juve’s first five matches of the campaign was hardly the red-carpet welcome Llorente, or Juve supporters, would have anticipated.

When Llorente registered a goal in his first start last weekend, in the 2-1 win against Verona, the theme quietened, only to be replaced by a new swirl over Sebastian Giovinco, a striker about as different from Llorente – the Italian is miniature in stature, at 1.64m, while the Spaniard stands 1.95m – as could be imagined, but they have been experiencing similar loneliness. Giovinco’s three substitute appearances have yielded less than half an hour’s playing time for the so-called Atomic Ant.

“I like him very much as a player, even if some people don’t, and even if he is not getting so much playing time at the moment,” Conte said ahead of tomorrow’s city derby at Torino.

And then Conte merely pointed to the fixture list: busy enough, he added, that everyone will have a chance to play. After their local scrap, the next three and half weeks bring Juve major domestic confrontations with AC Milan and Fiorentina, and heavyweight Champions League collisions with Galatasaray and at Real Madrid.

In international break also is squeezed into that period, and Giovinco must doubt his chances of involvement in that, unless he makes a big impact for his club tomorrow, or next week in Europe. At Juve, the form of Carlos Tevez, the admiration Conte has for the intelligent running of Mirko Vucinic and the fact that Llorente and Fabio Quagliarella have registered goals from limited playing time seems to put Giovinco at the back of the Juve strikers queue.

He will also be reminded today that, in the Italy set-up, other players are leapfrogging the diminutive forward, among them Alessio Cerci, the Torino man who is currently Serie A’s top scorer, with five goals in as many matches.

Cerci and Giovinco, both 26, go back a while. They were colleagues in the Italy Under 21 side, and Cerci, then a winger, and Giovinco, already being called a potential heir to Alessandro Del Piero, operated well together. They would have teamed up at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, too, but for an injury to Cerci. The following summer they were in the same Italy squad who won bronze at the European U21 championship.

For Cerci, that had seemed the ceiling on his international career. The club he had grown up with, Roma, loaned him out more than they used him. He moved to Fiorentina, where was never especially popular with fans, and not prolific: 12 goals in two seasons from his 47 matches.

Torino, though, seems a better fit, not least now that Giampiero Ventura, the coach who also worked with the younger Cerci during a loan spell at Pisa, has encouraged Cerci to play as a second, central forward rather than confine himself to the flank.

Italy’s coach, Cesare Prandelli, brought him into the senior squad for his first cap in May, and took him, along with Giovinco, to the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Cerci will almost certainly be in the party named for next month’s World Cup qualifiers, because Prandelli appreciates that Torino are comfortably in the top half of the table largely thanks to Cerci’s goals, and his developing partnership in attack with 23-year-old Ciro Immobile.

Immobile, incidentally, is co-owned by Torino and Juve, and realises that for the moment he is at the more productive place in terms of his development.

He would be hard pressed to get many minutes at Juve.

sports@thenational.ae

Fixtures

Today

Genoa v Napoli 8pm

Milan v Sampdoria 10.45pm

Tomorrow

Torino v Juventus 2.30pm

Catania v Chievo 5pm

Cagliari v Inter 5pm

Sassuolo v Lazio 5pm

H Verona v Livorno 5pm

Atalanta v Udinese 5pm

Roma v Bologna 10.45pm

Monday

Fiorentina v Parma 10.45pm