‘Belgrade Zlatan’ associated with Arsenal are now firing Juventus back into action

There is no stopping for Dusan Vlahovic. The Serb scored an instinctive goal 32 seconds inside his Champions League debut against Villarreal to get the crowd raving about new superlatives.

Juventus were eventually held to a 1-1 draw, with the second match taking place in Turin on Wednesday night, but the 22-year-old’s lightning-fast blow even left his opponents in awe.

“I saw him in some TikTok videos, but I had never seen him play before. Seeing him live, he was incredible, he’s a beast,” Villarreal striker Yeremy Pino said. Gazzetta dello Sport.

Pino’s assessment is likely shared by anyone who has kept a close eye on Vlahovic over the last 18 months, and his former suitors like Arsenal could live to do not regret having made a move before.

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Juve sprayed 66.6 million pounds out to pick him up from Fiorentina in January, but all indications are that that fee provides value for money.

Gianluigi Buffon called Vlahovic “the best young player in the world with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbapp√©”, while Christian Vieri called him “the best natural striker in Europe with Haaland.”

Haaland’s name never takes long to come up in debates about where Vlahovic stands among Europe’s elite, and it’s easy to see why.

Comparisons are inevitable. Vlahovic is only six months older than the Norwegian, while both are tall and powerful, fast and productive.

The Serb insisted after his goal in Villarreal that he does not like comparisons, but he has at times not even been able to resist the temptation.

Vlahovic said in April last year that he was watching videos of Haaland to “try to understand his finishing touches and how he moves”, adding that “with commitment I can get there too”.

In September, he said that “Haalland is faster, but otherwise we are equal”.

He is not a man to shy away from a big statement. A teenage Vlahovic once told Partizan teammate Valeri Bojinov that he was “Belgrade Zlatan Ibrahimovic”.

Vlahovic scored just 32 seconds inside his Champions League debut (Photo: Getty)

Bojinov went on to say, “I liked his arrogance. I thought he was going to be a strong player.”

However, there is substance in trust. Vlahovic became the Belgrade club’s youngest debutant ever at the age of 15 in February 2016, and their youngest goal scorer two months later.

His rise continued after joining Fiorentina in 2018. He first caught wide attention in 2019-20 at the age of 19 when he sprinted inside his own half of the pitch and smashed a last-minute equalizer against Inter Milan.

Vlahovic won the Serie A award for best young player the following year after scoring 21 league goals, and is already only a shy to match that number in this period after burning in 2021.

He scored 33 league goals to become only the third player in the last 60 years to surpass the 30-point mark in Serie A in a calendar year after Cristiano Ronaldo (33) and Luca Toni (31).

Only Robert Lewandowski, with 43, did better in Europe’s top five leagues in that period.

But skeptics still questioned how Vlahovic would perform at the highest level, as his only European experience ahead of his Juventus switch was a replacement in the Partizan Europa League’s second qualifying round defeat to Zaglebie Lubin, Poland, in the 2016-17 season.

It took Vlahovic half a minute to put those doubters on El Madrigal, and the easy transition to Massimiliano Allegri’s side has been impressive.

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The 22-year-old has started well and has scored four goals in nine appearances and seems to be the tonic to Juve’s great suffering this season – their bluntness in attack.

Vlahovic’s arrival has given an extra threat, but also spurred Alvaro Morata to an improved form and given the team a boost that has helped them go 12 games unbeaten in all tournaments.

He was rested for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sampdoria ahead of Wednesday’s second match as he looks to fire the old lady into the quarter-finals for the first time in three years.

Vlahovic will have to follow up on his stunning Champions League debut to be widely recognized as a true rival to Haaland.

But his career path suggests that he may well be remembered by his former suitors as the one who escaped.

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