Alvaro Morata feels at home again at Juventus as the Italians try to convert their ominous domestic form into European success in Wednesday’s Champions League decider with Villarreal.
The Spain striker’s double in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Sampdoria underlined a recent rise in form since being told he was not surplus to requirements in Turin, and he has been a key part in Juve’s grinding unbeaten run.
After looking set to leave for Barcelona in January Morata — who is on loan from Atletico Madrid — is again key to coach Massimiliano Allegri’s plans.
His burgeoning partnership with new signing Dusan Vlahovic is one of the reasons Juve are pushing to keep him in Turin.
Morata’s option for a permanent move at the end of the season is fixed at 35 million euros, but Juve are reportedly trying to renegotiate to secure Morata’s services for 10 million less.
“In January I spoke to Allegri, and before that talk I didn’t feel particularly important,” Morata said after his brace.
“But when your boss tells you what he thinks of you, gives you encouragement and tells you that he rates you, that gives you strength.”
Juve head into Wednesday’s clash at the Allianz Stadium on the crest of a wave as their long run without defeat in the league has taken them to the edge of Italy’s title race.
A dreadful start to the season left returning coach Massimiliano Allegri with a huge task to make something of the campaign, but since late November Juve have only lost once in all competitions.
Juve on the up
Their single defeat in the last 21 fixtures came in the Italian Super Cup back in mid-January, a largely unimportant match even if losing any game to fierce rivals Inter Milan is painful for Juve.
That run has taken Juve to within seven points of league leaders AC Milan and made them firm favourites to requalify for the Champions League next season.
Juve sit fourth and have an eight-point advantage over fifth-placed Atalanta, a situation which before Christmas would have sounded like a pipe dream.
However the arrival of Vlahovic in January has galvanised Juve, who have managed to keep their strong run of results going despite being hit by a host of injuries to key players.
Allegri is hoping for the return of Giorgio Chiellini, Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernadeschi, who are however unlikely to start even if they are ready to be picked in the squad.
He is still sure to be without Leonardo Bonucci, midfielder Weston McKennie, another January signing in Denis Zakaria and Federico Chiesa but that is a much shorter injury list than in recent weeks.
Juve will be favourites as they have won eight of their last 10 home fixtures since being beaten by Atalanta in November, conceding just four goals in the process.
Helping their bid to extend Italy’s participation in the competition is the absence of striker Gerard Moreno, whose calf problem led to him missing Villarreal’s 1-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Unai Emery will also be without Argentina defender Juan Foyth while key midfielder Etienne Capoue could also miss the trip to Turin after missing out at the weekend with a groin problem.