Vlahović spearheading Juventus renaissance after finding his goalscoring form

MILAN (AP) — A few months ago, Juventus was looking for a buyer to offload Dušan Vlahović. Now the Italian club is hoping to tie the forward to a long-term contract.

Vlahović scored twice and set up the late winner as Juventus beat Frosinone 3-2 in Serie A last weekend.

That took his tally to 15 this season and 10 in his past nine Serie A matches — no other forward in Europe’s top leagues has started 2024 in better fashion. The Turin-based club is reportedly keen to extend his contract that expires in 2026.

Juventus was looking to sell Vlahović in the summer to ease its wage bill and pave the way for an audacious bid for Romelu Lukaku after the Chelsea forward made it clear he would not be making his loan move to Inter Milan permanent.

Vlahović failed to live up to expectations after joining from Fiorentina in January 2022 — the day of his 22nd birthday — for a fee of around 80 million euros ($87 million). The Serbian international underperformed last season as he struggled with injuries and loss of form in a difficult year for Juventus.

Lukaku joined Roma and Vlahović remained in Turin and is spearheading Juve’s renaissance.

“He’s growing as an individual,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “Before, when he was playing, he was always nervous, he played with the anxiety of scoring a goal.

“Now in contrast, he is more balanced, he keeps his tempo up well and never goes out of the match and that’s very important.”

The Frosinone victory snapped a run of four matches without a win that has seen Juventus fall 12 points behind runaway Serie A leader Inter.

Nevertheless, Juventus remain second, 11 points ahead of fifth-placed Atalanta and beyond where it expected to be after its most difficult year in recent history.

Juventus was once again mired in scandal last season after inquiries into false accounting and irregular reporting of salary payments. That led to the entire board resigning and Juventus being docked 10 points. It was also removed by UEFA from European competition for this campaign.

The problems continued with Paul Pogba testing positive for testosterone at the beginning of this campaign. The World Cup winner was banned for four years on Thursday, while fellow midfielder Nicolò Fagioli was banned for seven months in October for betting violations.

“We have the goal of getting back to winning ways, and for this the club has started a path and a project that is going forward, also aiming to grow our own players,” Allegri said.

“For this, qualifying for the Champions League is fundamental, as it is a competition that we have not missed since 2011, which is also something that cannot be taken for granted.”

Allegri will be without the injured Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot for Sunday’s trip to defending champion Napoli, which also has one of Europe’s in-form forwards in Victor Osimhen.

Osimhen netted a hat trick in Wednesday’s 6-1 rout of Sassuolo to take his tally to five goals over three matches in seven days since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, where he helped Nigeria reach the final.

Moreover, troubled Napoli finally put together a performance reminiscent of last season, when it ran away with the Serie A title.

Napoli is on its third coach of the season. Francesco Calzona, who was hired last week to replace the fired Walter Mazzarri, had so far produced draws with Barcelona in the Champions League and Cagliari in Serie A.

Napoli remained in ninth place but moved level on points with eighth-placed Lazio and back into the discussion for the Europe spots.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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