Old Lady's leading man Matri building a big reputation
From the moment David Trezeguet departed for Alicante, fans and journalists bemoaned the lack of a true goal scorer in the Juventus attack.
When Fabio Quagliarella arrived, the club's fans were understandably disappointed. The physical embodiment of the oft-used 'scorer of great goals but not a great goal scorer' clichÃÂ©, the Italian international was viewed more as a member of an eventual supporting cast rather than a leading man in his own right.
However, once settled, he quickly established himself in the second striker role, showing attributes rarely seen at his former clubs. Of course his penchant for the spectacular remained, but the 'PlayStation player' became something of a predator too. Headers - never previously a strong feature of his game - and even a few scrappy strikes (relatively speaking, of course) saw the ex-Fiorentina man reach nine goals before the winter break at an impressive 145.67 minutes per goal.
Then came the injury, ruptured knee ligaments ruling him out initially until April, eventually seeing him miss the entire remainder of the season.
The rumour mill once again sparked into life, this time bereft of the Edin DÃ Â¾eko story it created a 'shortlist' that was seemingly endless. Luis Fabiano, Giuseppe Rossi, Diego Forlan, Karim Benzema and Emmanuel Adebayor appeared to be on a rota system at Turin-based sports daily Tuttosport's front page. One name featured ever more increasingly, that of Sampdoria's Giampaolo Pazzini who became an obsession, particularly among the more realistic of the clubs fans who could see past the fanta-Calcio of the other candidates and find logical, intelligent reasons as to why he was a far more viable target.
When the then Sampdoria striker did indeed move, a Ã¢ÂÂ¬13 million deal saw him leave the Ligurian club for something of a bargain fee, but sadly for Juve (at the time, at least) it was not to Turin, but instead to rivals Inter. Juve did eventually make a move in the market, but the man they acquired was initially viewed as thoroughly underwhelming.
'Juventus Shock' was the Gazzetta dello Sport headline that greeted the arrival of Cagliari's Alessandro Matri on completing a move to the Bianconeri.
A product of Milan's youth system, Matri joined the Rossoneri in 1996 at the tender age of 12. Finally progressing to the first team in 2003, Matri eventually made his only appearance for the San Siro side in May of that year.
He then bounced around on loan in the lower leagues at Prato, Lumezzane and Rimini before joining Cagliari in co-ownership where then-coach Massimiliano Allegri made him the focal point of his attack. During a spell in 2009 he notched in seven consecutive games - a feat only bettered at Stadio Sant'Elia by the great Gigi Riva - and he ended the 2009/10 season with a total of 13 goals. He started 2010/11 in much the same vein, with eleven goals already prior to his winter move to Turin.
The fact Matri was playing so regularly - he featured in all thirty-eight games during 2009/10 - was also a good sign for this Juventus, who at that time had a reputation as being a club with serious injury issues.
Despite standing just 1.83m Matri is a classic 'number 9', strong enough to hold off defenders and surprisingly quick, as many of his Cagliari goals prove. He is excellent in the air, a trait he uses not only in building attacks and scoring goals but also to help his team defensively at set-pieces.
During his time in Sardinia he showed his suitability playing as both first and second striker in a two-man attack and as the target man in a 4-3-3 formation. This sees him able to form effective partnerships with each of the other forwards on Juve's books despite their vastly different characteristics. His first appearance saw him misfire on a number of occasions, but he brought a positive attitude to the side, something the man he replaced was clearly not doing. Getting into the right positions, making intelligent runs and linking with those around him were all good signs despite the an eventual 2-1 win for Palermo.
After that torrid debut he quickly became a vital component in the team and one of few bright spots in the end of season slump. Scoring five goals in just seven games since that encounter in Sicily quickly endeared him to the clubs fans, and by season's end he would reach the traditional striker's benchmark of 20. This impressive tally had him in fourth place in the Capocannoniere chart, ahead of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alberto Gilardino and, most pertinently, Pazzini.
What is also notable is that his strike-rate improved at a Juve side perceived to be struggling, down to a goal every 139 minutes compared to his 153-minute average at Cagliari. Not only was that better than Quagliarella, but it also beat new teammates Alessandro Del Piero (227.75) and Luca Toni (263.5). Yet the summer of 2011 was filled with rumours of another big name striker arriving, as the club were linked once again with a lengthy list of names touted to become the next headline act in Turin.
Mirko VuÃÂiniÃÂ did arrive, followed this January by fellow former Roma front-man Marco Borriello, but still Matri remains in the lead role. Currently eleventh highest scorer in Serie A with nine goals, criticism has never been too far away, with knocks on his strike-rate a constant, particularly after any of the club's ten draws. But once again, the numbers are on his side. His goals have come from just 54 shots, far fewer than the big name strikers ahead of him such as Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani and nowhere near the wastefulness around him, as VuÃÂiniÃÂÃ¢ÂÂs three goals from the same number of attempts prove.
While flaws to his game remain - he is still learning what it takes to play for a club battling for titles rather than survival - it is often not to those peers he is being analysed against. Instead fans of the Old Lady look to their recent history and once again the name Trezeguet is never too far away who three times in his Juve career - remember he is the clubs all-time leading foreign goal scorer - broke the magic twenty goal barrier. In 2001-02 he was named joint top scorer in Serie A with 24, in 2005-06 he netted 23 and in 2007-08 exactly 20.
In doing so he took 112, 108 and 104 shots, a rate far worse than that of Matri, who required just 79 attempts to reach his tally of 20 last season. While longevity and consistency must be added to that lethal touch in order to ever favourably compare with the man known as TrezeGol, the figures prove that the sniping at Matri's finishing is misplaced.
His form in Turin has seen him become an increasingly regular fixture in recent Italy squads and Cesare Prandelli's team, playing a style closely resembling that of Conte's Juve, is ideally set-up to take advantage of the 27 year olds skill-set. With Juventus atop the Serie A table and Euro 2012 looming large, perhaps Alessandro Matri will soon have the reputation and recognition his talent deserves.