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Juve transfer target Aleksandr Golovin shines in World Cup opener

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The CSKA Moscow midfielder supplied a pair of assists in Russia’s romp over Saudi Arabia.

Russia v Saudi Arabia: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Most Juventini have been so focused on the possibility of signing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to upgrade the midfield this summer that another target has largely flown under the radar.

When I first saw the name Aleksandr Golovin, my reaction, along with what I expect is most people who don’t follow the Russian Premier League closely, was “who?”

The 22-year-old plays for CSKA Moscow. Former Juve player and assistant Massimo Carrera, who manages CSKA’s crosstown rival Spartak Moscow, has raved about the player. Fabio Capello has also praised the youngster, and Roberto Mancini reportedly attempted to sign him before he left Zenit St. Petersburg to coach Italy. In an interview with Corriere dello Sport yesterday, Giuseppe Marotta said that a move for Golovin is “more than a possibility.”

Golovin is already garnering comparisons to Miralem Pjanic. He’s an excellent passer in midfield, and has a bit more of a defensive bite to him than the Bosnian pass master. He scored five goals and registered three assists in domestic play this season and added two more scores and a helper in European play (both the Champions League and Europa League). With the World Cup beginning, the wider world was going to have a good look at him for the first time on a big stage.

The first look was a good one.

Wearing No. 17 for his country, Golovin was the best player on the field in Russia‘s 5-0 curb stomping of Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener. He dictated play from the outset, and was involved in three of Russia’s five goals. He dropped a beautiful cross in the aftermath of a corner to Denis Cheryshev’s opener, then did the same from the opposite side of the field for Artem Dzyuba in the 71st minute to make it 3-0. After Cheryshev popped a long-range stunner out of nowhere to make it 4-0 in stoppages, Golovin got up from being hacked down just outside the penalty area and curled in a beautiful free kick to put an exclamation mark on the game.

He finished the game with some remarkable statistics: one goal, two assists, five key passes, four tackles, and three interceptions. That’s a hell of a way to introduce yourself to the world.

Now, there are some buts here. As well as Golovin placed his passes when they counted, he only completed 71.4 percent of them in total. He also committed seven fouls and got himself a pretty needless booking late on with the game already salted away. It’s also pretty clear that the Saudis may be the worst team in the tournament.

Stiffer tests await, starting with Egypt on Tuesday and then Uruguay on Monday, June 25. That game could see him clashing head-on with Juve’s current top midfield prospect, Rodrigo Bentancur. But if he has similar success against the better competition in the group, Marotta may end up having to move fast in order to beat the competition to the midfielder.

If this Golovin is the real Golovin, he would be a huge boost to Juve’s aging midfield.