Football

Published on August 17th, 2017 | by Peter Coates

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Juventus and Gonzalo Higuain still out of shape ahead of Serie A start

Although there were renewed accusations that Gonzalo Higuain had returned from the summer break looking ‘sluggish’, the same could be said for his team

For a team that has won six consecutive Serie A titles, there is a distinct sense of vulnerability about Juventus and if high-profile players leaving, a frustrating transfer window and a Supercoppa defeat to Lazio weren’t enough, a $100 million centre-forward, whose physical shape has drawn comparisons to an ‘aircraft carrier’, will certainly do the trick.

It certainly isn’t the first time that Gonzalo Higuain’s fitness has been called into question and the prolific Serie A striker often appears to come back from his summer vacation with the shirt looking a little tighter around the midsection. This summer of course, the 29-year-old hasn’t been on duty with Argentina and so since Juve’s Champions League final defeat and an international friendly just after, Higuain has been free to indulge himself.

It isn’t uncommon for a player to return in preseason a little overweight and in defeat, Higuain is something of an easy target, after all, the Argentinian received the same treatment last summer and still scored 24 league goals over the course of the season as Juve picked up another title.

However, with the Supercoppa being held before the start of the Serie A season, rather than in December as it was last year, Higuain was unable to help provide Juve with what would have been a timely boost and perhaps because of his fitness in August has also lost his place in the Argentina squad.

Now, Higuain was certainly not alone in underperforming against Lazio – Sami Khedira’s woeful display only highlighted the current issues in midfield – that might be rectified by the signing of Blaise Matuidi – and Leonardo Bonucci’s exit illustrated the fact that the reshuffled defence needs time but when sections of the Italian press single out Higuain, saying: “He is an aircraft carrier. He doesn’t move. It is humiliating.” There is some cause for concern.

Compatriot Paulo Dybala was in the minority to come away with any credit after his two goals almost salvaged things for Juve but even the new number ten admitted it wasn’t good enough: “It’s a game we deserved to lose and Lazio comfortably deserved to win. We have to turn over a new leaf, think of the next match and be aware that we must become more mature, because what we saw tonight was a small-team mentality.”

Last summer, Higuain’s transfer fee and portly appearance in preseason were being widely ridiculed but the Argentinian helped fire Juve to a league and cup double and the Champions League final so while Massimiliano Allegri’s champions might start slowly expect momentum to gather.

Higuain took to his Instagram account to apologize to supporters for the Lazio defeat and while the proof will be on the pitch, there are few things less certain than Pipita scoring in Serie A. With Paulo Dybala handed the number ten, pulling the strings and Mario Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernadeschi all contributing to the attack, there is plenty of life still in the Old Lady.

What is true is that Allegri needs to find what is now his best side and that might take a little bit of time and tinkering to work out.

Dani Alves would be a loss for any side and Leonardo Bonucci’s departure to Milan came as a surprise but Juve still have an outstanding squad, certainly in Serie A even if going one better in the Champions League will be tough.

Without Alves and Bonucci, Max Allegri may move away from the three-man defence of last season but that isn’t a death knell and any panic looks a tad premature.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supercoppa, Higuain is probably not the best person to say it but when the forward told reporters, “Every year they talk about other teams, but in the end we always win,” it’s tough to disagree. The truth is the 29-year-old is as good a bet as any to be named Capocannoniere again and there is much to prove for the likes of Napoli, Roma or Milan.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site ‘Golazo Argentino’, he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored’s expert on the Primera División.



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