It’s time to talk about Gonzalo Higuain.
He isn’t playing well.
To put it bluntly, since the international break ended, he’s sucked. And Massimiliano Allegri needs to bench him.
When Higuain was signed last year it was, as perceived by most of the soccer world, to be the final piece for Juve to compete toe-to-toe with the game’s highest elites. He would complete the puzzle, the goalscorer that would lead Juve to victories.
At the moment, Juventus are winning in spite of him. The last three games, in particular, have seen the big striker at his worst. He was anonymous in Juve’s crunch Champions League opener against Barcelona, continuing a string of failures in high-profile matches that stretches his entire career. Last weekend’s match against Sassuolo quickly turned into the Paulo Dybala Show, but Higuain didn’t even play a supporting role.
He was even less effective on Wednesday against Fiorentina. His struggles were magnified to the nth degree. He repeatedly saw his first touch desert him after teammates found him in decent positions in the box. He dribbled far too much, missing promising passes and losing the ball while he carried them into a wall of defenders. His decision making seems like it’s happening in slow motion. Sometimes he loses the ball before it’s even complete, sometimes the light bulb sputters to life far too late and by the time he makes his move to pass or shoot the opportunity is gone.
On the rare occasions he’s acted on instinct, he’s done some good things. Andrea Consigli denied him with an excellent save against Sassuolo, and he’s let Juan Cuadrado out down the right a time or two. But the majority of the time over the last two and a half weeks or so the attacks have bogged down at Higuain’s feat rather than finished with a flourish.
Even in the two games he’s scored in, against Cagliari and Chievo, he was far from an unstoppable force, with the goals rescuing what would have otherwise been mediocre performances and turning them above-average.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going wrong for Higuain right now. He’s not in the best of shape, but he is looking better than the block of lard he was when he first pulled on a Juve shirt last summer. It could be some sort of mental block — as his career has born out, he isn’t the strongest player in the world psychologically.
An equally likely culprit is fatigue. Higuain played in all but two of Juve’s competitive fixtures a year ago, and all but six of those appearances were starts. That was an inevitable byproduct of the depth crisis the team had at the forward position last year, but it has to have taken a toll on him. By the Champions League final last year he looked about ready to fall over. At one point against Sassuolo he was spotted moving at a walking pace while Mario Mandzukic streaked in from the left wing to press Consigli. It makes one question what his body is telling him if he ceded that duty to someone so much farther away from the ball.
Whether it’s a mental problem or a fatigue problem, some time off would do him good. It would allow him to recharge his batteries and to press the reset button from a mental standpoint so that he can jump in with a fresh mind. It will be easy enough to let Mandzukic, who incidentally seems to have hit a seam of good form after a goal and an assist in the last two games, play as the striker while Douglas Costa or Federico Bernardeschi (probably the former) mans the left wing.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating for a major reorganization of the depth chart. As long as he’s fit, Higuain will be the starter there. But, from time to time, every player needs the opportunity to sit and breathe, whether to rest a tired body or a stressed mind. Higuain is most likely suffering from one of these problems, if not both.
At the end of the day, it’s probably better for him and for the team if he sits for a game or two. When he comes back with a fresh perspective, he’ll be in a better position to get himself back on track.