Did Juventus choose the right Sassuolo striker with Simone Zaza signing?
Despite losing a midfield conductor, and integral piece of the puzzle, in Andrea Pirlo, with defender Angelo Ogbonna also reportedly close to an exit, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri just keeps on adding to his already impressive array of attacking talents.
It appears the Old Lady (odds-on at 8/11 with Coral to retain the Scudetto) are taking no risks in replacing their top scorer from last season, as Carlos Tevez returned to boyhood club Boca Juniors, with high-profile striking purchases of promising Paulo Dybala from Palermo plus experienced Croatian marksman Mario Mandzukic.
Now Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza, previously thought to be a top target for Tottenham, has been drafted in for a bargain fee of around £12.75m, to be paid in instalments.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) July 7, 2015
With talented Spain sharpshooter Alvaro Morata, who turned up for the Turin team when it counted last campaign, also on the books alongside compatriot and fellow forward Fernando Llorente, although the Basque is likely outbound, Juve are flush with firepower.
It seems likely 24-year-old Zaza will start as a squad player akin to Roberto Pereyra, another sensible, effective and versatile signing, firmly behind Dybala, Mandzukic and Morata in the pecking order, but afforded occasional opportunities to shine.
Tenacious, always eager to press and hassle opponents and willing to work the channels, strong and speedy Italy capped Zaza is ideal support for his new adaptable poaching peers. With such a fantastic four, or five including Llorente, at their disposal, it has hard to see past Juve retaining Serie A for a fourth successive season and thus rack up a fifth straight Scudetto.
However, Zaza arguably fits into the category of attacker that is not in the top bracket. The former Sampdoria sharpshooter can score sensational goals, and contribute excellently to link-up play, but is not exactly prolific.
A haul of 11 Serie A strikes and three assists last season can be considered a decent haul for midtable minnows the Neroverdi, but the Old Lady will expect more. Reliable squad players are key to any successful side, and there is no telling how spirited Zaza may thrive when surrounded by truly top class players. However, did Juve miss a trick and pick the wrong poacher?
Also toiling for Sassuolo last term was Italy Under-21 international Domenico Berardi, who would have appeared, for all intents and purposes, the better value buy. At just 20, the youngster hit 15 and assisted 11, despite often flanking Zaza from the right wing.
A Neroverdi academy graduate, Berardi appears to have been used as a bargaining chip in the deal for Zaza, as Juventus sold their half of the youngster’s rights back to Sassuolo, although they reportedly still have the option to take him to Turin permanently in 2016.
This apparent agreement almost directly echoes Zaza’s eventual path to the Piedmont club, as Juve also offloaded their portion of ownership rights to the older poacher, before buying him back for a pre-agreed price.
So there is still hope the promising partnership of Berardi and Zaza will reunite one day again in Turin, yet the feeling remains that the Old Lady perhaps took the safe option in opting only for the latter.
Brilliant Berardi certainly fits Juventus’ policy of snapping-up young and flexible forwards, as the Azzurrini attacker can play anywhere across the frontline, and also thrives when pulling the strings behind another hitman.
At this point the young predator appears to have a much higher ceiling than Zaza and is capable of real moments of brilliance. How much faith can the Old Lady (14/1 to win the Champions League) have in the young-gun, however, having hoovered up several striking starlets on long-term contracts already?
Perhaps Juve have done the right thing not to interrupt Berardi, tipped to be the next great Italian forward, and his impressive development. They can certainly keep a close eye on him at Sassuolo, but should they fail to reclaim the talent in 2016, or if Berardi receives offers from top clubs with more room for recruits, the Old Lady may yet rue this move.