By Oliver Platt:goal.com
The forward produced another big moment to win the Coppa Italia in extra time and demonstrate why the Bianconeri should make every effort to finance his buy-back clause.
Cup finals can be low-scoring, closely matched affairs and still provide plenty of intrigue and suspense. This was not one of those cup finals.
Juventus’ 1-0 victory over AC Milan to win the Coppa Italia in extra time on Saturday night was a stinker, with the Italian champions well below par in the absence of a number of important players. Their opponents were spirited and well prepared but, ultimately, limited and failed to capitalise in a more even contest than anyone expected.
With Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Leonardo Bonucci among those unavailable, Massimiliano Allegri was frustratingly defensive in his outlook. The Bianconeri can be dangerous in a 3-5-2 formation but not when Bonucci’s passing from the back is missing, Mario Lemina and Hernanes play with Paul Pogba in midfield and Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro are only used from the bench as wing-backs.
Most puzzling of all of Allegri’s decisions on the night, however, was the non-involvement of Alvaro Morata through 108 minutes of play.
Milan really should have been there for the taking. This is the seventh-placed side that had completed a remarkable late-season treble of failing to beat all three of the division’s relegated teams in consecutive matches, drawing with Carpi and Frosinone and losing to Hellas Verona.
Instead, through 30 minutes Milan had taken the match’s first five shots and had 60 per cent of the ball. They were struggling to penetrate Juve’s three-man defence to truly test goalkeeper Neto but the way the unit of Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini retreated gave them an opportunity to grow into the game and gain confidence.
Juve offered little even on the counter-attack and at half-time, Riccardo Montolivo gestured to the Milan fans as if to say: “We’re in this.”
They were, and the second half was only marginally better from Allegri’s point of view. Both Alex Sandro and Cuadrado were introduced to patrol the flanks and inject more attacking impetus. A couple of speculative efforts from distance aside, Pogba had a frustrating evening as a result of some close marking. Paulo Dybala was far and away Juve’s most dangerous player, sending the Milan defence into a panicked retreat every time he had the space to turn and dash towards the opposition goal.
Mario Mandzukic had toiled alongside Dybala and finally, in the second period of extra time, Morata was introduced to partner him in place of Hernanes.
The effect was almost immediate. Cuadrado broke into space down the right, Mandzukic’s decoy run took Cristian Zapata away from the ball and waiting behind them was the Spaniard, who swept home a first-time finish on his right foot.
Things have not always gone Morata’s way this season. He has not yet hit a real purple patch in a Juventus shirt, with his winner at the Stadio Olimpico his 12th goal of the season. But that is due in part to the way he has been rotated in and out of the side – his minutes per goal rate is about the same as Mandzukic’s – and in big moments he has consistently delivered, particularly in the Champions League.
Morata has been good enough to draw plenty of admirers at other clubs and could be at the centre of one of the summer’s biggest transfer sagas. The clause allowing Real Madrid to bring the 23-year-old back to Spain effectively puts him up for sale – if any club, with Arsenal and Chelsea both said to be interested, is willing to pay more it costs Madrid to exercise that option, they are able to turn an effortless profit.
The only potential way out for Juventus is to attempt to buy the clause out of Morata’s contract, with reports in Italy suggesting that would mean paying the €20 million they splashed out to sign the 23-year-old in 2014 once again. With every major goal like this one, Morata is strengthening the argument that he is worth it.