Alvaro Morata’s Display Against Verona Proved He’s Better As Robin Than Batman

All eyes were on new signing Dusan Vlahovic as Juventus welcomed Hellas Verona to a foggy Sunday night at the Allianz Stadium.

The Serb striker was handed a debut from the off by Max Allegri, with his team in dire need of goals. Moreover, given that Juve had handed over some €80m ($90m) for Vlahovic to prise him from Fiorentina mid-season, there was little chance of him coming off the bench.

Vlahovic was joined in the starting XI by fellow January arrive Denis Zakaria. And the pair’s presence seemed to give Juve a level of buoyancy that had been absent in their game all season.

Vlahovic, naturally, didn’t take long to score his first goal in Bianconero colours. 13 minutes was all it took for the new No.7 to run on to Paulo Dybala’s lofted pass and angle his shot over the onrushing Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo and into the net.

Zakaria also got his name on the scoresheet in the second half and in the process becoming the first couple of debutants to score for The Old Lady since Stephan Lichtsteiner and Arturo Vidal in September 2011.

But the key player in the build up to Zakaria’s strike was Alvaro Morata, the player who, had things gone differently, wouldn’t have been at the club, never mind on the field.

Morata was linked with a move to Barcelona throughout the January window. By all accounts Juve were ready to let him leave once Vlahovic had been secured, and the player himself wanted a return home. But Barca couldn’t find an agreement with his parent club Atletico Madrid, and so he stayed put in Turin.

And yet against Verona, Morata produced his standout performance of the season. Furthermore, it was one of his best games since his return to Juve in the summer of 2020.

He was everywhere, and showing the grit and determination that for long periods has been missing from his game. Zakaria’s goal owes everything to Morata who, more than once in the game, gained possession of the ball, shielded it, spun and sprayed it across the pitch.

Zakaria was in oceans of space after Morata had done the hard graft, and all was left for the Swiss midfielder to do was pick his spot.

La Gazzetta dello Sport handed Morata a 7.5/10 the following day, noting the Spaniard demonstrated that he ‘prefers to be Robin, to Vlahovic’s Batman’. It is perhaps no surprise that his best performance this season has come after Vlahovic’s arrival, with the pressure of leading the line for Italy’s biggest club now transferred to the Serb’s six-feet-two-inch frame.

And pressure is something that has affected Morata in the past. In an interview with The Guardian’s Sid Lowe in 2017, Morata recalled Gianluigi Buffon speaking to him after Morata had went over 100 days without scoring a goal for Juve in the second season of his first stint at the club:

“I’d just finished training one day. It had been a terrible, terrible session – one of the worst in my life. I couldn’t even control the ball,” said Morata. “The physio asked what was wrong and I told him I was sad. I was crying. I was there on the treatment table and Gigi Buffon was next to me. Afterwards he took me aside, alone, and said that if I wanted to cry, do it at home. He said the people who wished me ill would be happy to see that and the people who wished me well would be saddened by it.”

Buffon, himself no stranger to struggling with mental health issues, believed that Morata could be one of the best in the world ‘if only he could get over his mental hang-ups’. But it’s never quite worked out for him, there’s always been a sense that he’s never quite belonged to one club: a loan here, a comeback there, always on the move.

Since joining Juve the first time in the summer of 2014, he’s never stayed at one club for more than two seasons.

On the pitch, his best work has come when paired with another striker to carry the burden. Whether it be Carlos Tevez and Mario Mandzukic at Juve, Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid (and then at Juve), or Joao Felix and Diego Costa at Atleti.

He was always Robin and never Batman. And one suspects that’s how he liked it.

Ronaldo’s abrupt departure from Juve at the end of the summer transfer window promoted him to the club’s leading striker by default, with the club having no less than three days to find a replacement.

Morata inadvertently became Batman, whether he wanted the role or not.

The results weren’t good: he went nine games in Serie A without scoring, and as of writing has only scored five times in the league, with a further three coming in cup competitions. Juve struggled to score goals in the opening half of the season, and even now, only Torino have scored less from sides in the top half of the table.

But with the signing of Vlahovic and the responsibility – not to mention the attention – now firmly on his shoulders, we could see a different Morata in the final months of the season. A less burdened, more liberated version. In essence, Morata reverting back to his preferred role: best supporting actor.