Juventus need more from Higuain to keep pace in Serie A, succeed in UCL
Juventus host Genoa on Monday evening in their first game after the winter break. With Napoli defeating Atalanta to record another three points, Massimiliano Allegri is keen to ensure that his side perform to expectations to keep up the pace with the league leaders ahead of them.
It won't be easy, and Allegri has made that very clear. Juventus have a habit of excelling when building momentum but tend to falter after a break. In fact, Juve have lost both matches after coming back from International break this season to prove that very point.
Considering that Genoa is excellent defensively, boasting the fifth-best defensive record in Serie A, the Bianconeri will need to be at their best going forward to find their goals. That's no easy feat when we consider Paulo Dybala's injury, Juan Cuadrado's absence and Gonzalo Higuain's goal-scoring drought.
The Argentine striker has not scored for the Bianconeri in Serie A since finding the winner in the important match against Napoli in the beginning of December. That is 527 minutes played and no goals scored. While he has always worked hard for the team, he needs to be more ambitious and lethal in front of goal, especially as Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still integrating within the side and Mario Mandzukic is more of a defender than a striker these days.
The nature of Juve's style of play can make life difficult for the forwards within the side, especially as Allegri favours players who are willing to sacrifice in both phases of the game rather than play to their strengths at all times. However, when you combine Higuain's inefficiency to Dybala's inconsistent form this season and the number of chances Mandzukic has missed, it begins to provoke concern.
Juventus have enough goals in them to keep winning in Serie A, as they have done, outscoring the opponent and their rivals this season, but what happens when they face better sides, ones that aren't intimidated, such as European giants in the Champions League?
Genoa should help to provide Allegri with clearer answers. Since Davide Ballardini has taken over, Genoa have conceded only three goals in eight games in the league. Against Juventus, Ballardini has spoken of how compact and hard-working his side will need to be in order to get anything out of the game on Monday night.
Ballardini also noted why player absences tend to harm Juve less than others. Unlike Napoli or any other side within Serie A, Juve are a team that depend neither on their stars nor on a certain style of play. They adapt to every situation while simultaneously maintaining a certain standard of play, thanks to Allegri's flexibility and methods.
Set to play a 4-3-3 formation in their stadium, it's likely that both Higuain and Mandzukic will play upfront with either Costa or Bernardeschi alongside them. League matches aren't decisive when it comes to determining the Scudetto winner just yet, especially at this stage of the season. Even if Juventus lose, they are still favourites to lift yet another title due to their squad depth and their experience.
What Allegri and Management are thinking about is what needs to be done to strengthen this side further in order to ensure European success. The match against Tottenham Hotspur is fast approaching, and Juventus will need to build momentum in order to arrive at the match in their optimum condition.
With Allegri hoping to start another winning run, Fabio Paratici and Beppe Marotta are looking at potential purchases that could strengthen the overall squad. While the Italian giants have been linked to both Arsenal's Mesut Ozil and Tottenham's Christian Eriksen, it's unlikely that either will arrive. Instead, Juventus seem more interested in building for their future by investing in talents they believe will grow into superstars, namely Kwang-Song Han and Pietro Pellegri.
The former is a North Korean owned by Cagliari, but plying his trade for Perugia. A player who positions himself well, the forward's pace and acceleration ensure he stands out, overwhelming opponents and exploiting his chances with remarkable efficiency. At only 19, Juventus are keen to add him to their ranks, but considering the political situation with his home country and worries as to where any wages paid to the player will end up, this will not be a deal that can be executed with minimal fuss.
As for Pellegri, he is an awesome talent. At only 16, he has demonstrated his mental strength, winning attitude and incredible talent at every opportunity, scoring against the likes of Roma and Lazio. An out and out striker, his turn of pace, finishing and physique make him one for the future. He has been followed by some of the biggest clubs in the world, so it remains to be seen whether the Turin giants can beat the competition for his future services.
As management continues to operate, the squad need concern themselves with only the match against Genoa. Another win will greatly help the chances in their fight for another title.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.