ROME (AP) — Four goals in three Champions League games. Six in seven matches overall.
Not bad for a player who was Juventus’ fourth option in the transfer market.
Signed on loan from Atletico Madrid for 10 million euros ($12 million), Álvaro Morata is turning into a bargain buy. The Bianconeri turned to him in September only after failing to sign Luis Suárez, Edin Džeko and Arkadiusz Milik.
And when Paulo Dybala lacked condition and Cristiano Ronaldo caught the coronavirus, Juventus thrust Morata into action.
After scoring the opening two goals in Juventus’ 4-1 win at Ferencvaros on Wednesday, Morata said, “I’ve got the motivation that every player needs. I feel wanted and desired and I’ve got everything I need here.”
But Juventus initially desired Suárez, who went so far as to take an Italian language and citizenship exam, and Džeko, who was so sure in September that he was heading to Juventus that he stopped training with Roma.
Morata, however, was an appealing backup plan because he won two Serie A titles with Juventus in 2015 and 2016 and played with new coach Andrea Pirlo for part of that stint.
Perhaps that’s why Pirlo seemed to know that Morata could prosper in a traditional center forward role supported by Ronaldo — as evidenced when Ronaldo set up Morata’s second goal against Ferencvaros.
”(Ronaldo) can play behind the two strikers, next to Morata like in this match, a bit behind him,” Pirlo said. “He moved well, and they liaised well when they needed to.”
Morata also had already teamed with Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
Unlike what could have been the case with Suárez and Džeko, Morata seems more willing to adapt his game to Juventus’ other forwards and accept a reserve role when Ronaldo and Dybala regain their top fitness. He's used to it. He was often not a first-choice striker at Real Madrid and Chelsea.
“I know they have their characteristics and I must make the most of their qualities to be in the right place for a goal or a pass,” Morata said. “I’m at the disposal of the team and don’t mind adapting to their characteristics with my movement.”
At 28, Morata also offers more prime years than the 33-year-old Suárez and the 34-year-old Džeko.
One more thing that Suárez, Džeko and even Milik couldn’t have had is a familiarity with Juventus. Morata’s wife is from northern Italy and he is clearly comfortable in Turin.
“I said when I came back here that I felt like a more complete player, and I matured as a person by going through the good and bad in my career,” Morata said.
The loan deal gives Juventus the option to purchase Morata's full rights by the end of the season for an additional 45 million euros ($53 million); or extend the loan for another season for another 10 million euros, after which Juventus can purchase his full rights for 35 million euros ($41 million).
In the meantime, Morata and Juventus could be tested on Sunday in a visit to Lazio, a team they lost to twice last season, including in the Italian Super Cup.
Lazio, however, could be shorthanded after European Golden Shoe winner Ciro Immobile, goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and midfielder Lucas Leiva failed to pass UEFA’s coronavirus protocols and had to sit out a 1-1 draw at Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League.
Like with Morata, though, Lazio has been able to come up with another scoring solution in Felipe Caicedo. The Ecuadorean striker scored a late equalizer against Zenit after having also scored a late winner off the bench in a wild 4-3 victory at Torino last weekend.
Also on Sunday, Atalanta hosts Inter Milan as all four of Italy’s Champions League squads go head-to-head. Serie A leader AC Milan hosts in-form Hellas Verona.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf