x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Share and share alike at Serie A's champions elect Juventus

Vidal and co may spread the workload but goal-happy AC Milan will push champions-elect harder next season, writes Ian Hawkey.

Juventus's Arturo Vidal, right, is on the radar of Carlo Ancelotti at Paris St Germain in the French Ligue 1.
Juventus's Arturo Vidal, right, is on the radar of Carlo Ancelotti at Paris St Germain in the French Ligue 1.

Carlo Ancelotti, once a head coach of Juventus, and later a long-serving and successful head of AC Milan, looks at Serie A with an acquisitive eye in his current position in charge of Paris St Germain.

The cash-rich French club have spent more heavily in Italy during their lavish recruitment drive than anywhere else. So when Ancelotti utters an opinion about an individual, he knows it will read as potentially predatory.

In an interview with Tuttosport, Ancelotti was asked about Arturo Vidal, the dynamo from Santiago, the galvanizer of Juventus's midfield.

He answered with compliments about the Chilean's "strength and quality", but felt a valuation of €40 million (Dh192.2m) - which clubs enquiring about Vidal have been privately told is a figure Juve might consider - "is too much for a midfielder".

Barely had the assessment been published than did Vidal remind Ancelotti and his many other admirers that his own rounded definition of midfielder includes scoring goals. There had not been any to his name since November until Monday's victory over Lazio. Vidal scored both in a 2-0 win that restored Juve's lead in the table to 11 points, taking his tally to seven for the Serie A season.

That makes Vidal the third-highest contributor of goals to what will be, barring an extraordinary sequence of setbacks, another league championship for Juve.

Once again, their capture of the title will be partly characterised by the wide distribution of goals across the squad. Last season, Juve became champions without a single player featuring among the leading 15 Serie A marksmen.

Nobody has reached double figures, in the league, for Juve this season. Mirko Vucinic is one short of that milestone, Alex Matri on eight.

How far this is a cause for concern has lately been debated within the club since Juve's ousting from the Uefa Champions League, 4-0 on aggregate, by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.

Should the next step in the evolution of coach Antonio Conte's driven Juventus be to sign an established target man, a 20-goals-a-season guarantor?

Or, put another way, should they perhaps become a little more like AC Milan, who Juve face tomorrow in Turin.

Milan out-averaged Juventus on goals-per-game last season while still finishing runners-up to them. They should again register more names on the upper rungs of the leading scorers ladder than Juve will in 2012/13.

Stephan El Shaarawy has 16 to his name despite a recent dip, Giampaolo Pazzini has 13, while Mario Balotelli, who is suspended for the match, has a remarkable seven from eight matches since arriving in January.

Although Milan's realistic ambitions are now pegged to a top-three finish - and Champions League qualification - their form since the new year is warning enough to Juve that Milan look like serious contenders for 2013/14. After the Bayern defeat, Conte complained about the budgetary constraints felt by all Italian clubs compared with the funds available to the likes of Bayern, PSG, the Big Two of the Spanish league and the leading three or four clubs in England.

Were Juventus to splash out the €30m-plus required for a tried-and-tested, hot-shot centre-forward, might Vidal be the man to sell to offset the expenditure?

Conte would resist that fiercely, acknowledging the 25 year old is probably Juve's most highly-valued player in market terms precisely because he has emerged as the heartbeat of the side.

Vidal has that quality of omnipresence that distinguishes many of the most effective modern midfielders, the stamina and energy to pop up in threatening positions in one penalty area, to instantly then be shielding and snuffing out menace in the other end.

As foils to Andrea Pirlo, Juventus's finest passer, he and the busy but less technically clever Claudio Marchisio have been essential to the dynasty Conte has begun to build.

After Monday's victory in Rome, Vidal reiterated how happy he was at Juventus, a regular obligation for him given the stream of reported interest from the likes of PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. He has learnt of covetous glances from the richer clubs of England, too.

Ancelotti tried to sign him for Chelsea four years ago, when Vidal was at Bayer Leverkusen. Juve then beat Bayern to his signature in 2011, paying over €10m.

His first season in Italy ended with a scudetto. So will his second.




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