The Hard Tackle takes a deep dive into the profile of reported Manchester City and Tottenham target Dusan Vlahovic.
Over the past decade, Serbian football has produced among the brightest talents in world football. While the likes of Aleksandar Kolarov, Branislav Ivanovic had set the platform for a footballing upheaval in the country, current stars like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Filip Kostic and Luka Jovic have made Serbia a dominant footballing nation that keeps on producing quality players.
Among them, a certain Dusan Vlahovic has been making a lot of waves in Italian football with his consistent performances in Serie A. The Belgrade-born forward, formerly of Partizan Belgrade, has emerged as a rising star for Fiorentina, scoring 21 goals in the 2020/21 campaign that has catapulted him into the limelight.
And as we head towards the final stretch of the summer transfer window, Vlahovic has emerged as the desired alternative for Harry Kane by Manchester City. The English champions have even reportedly reached a verbal agreement with the forward and his agent, ahead of a potential €80 million.
Manchester City aren’t the only club interested in the Serb, with Tottenham Hotspur also showing their desire to sign the youngster, potentially as a long-term replacement for Kane.
Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at the player’s profile, detailing his strengths and weaknesses and whether or not the striker has what it takes to thrive in the Premier League.
A success story at Fiorentina
Dusan Vlahovic joined Fiorentina in the summer of 2018, for a fee of almost €2 million. It was a low-key investment from the Italian side, for a striker who had made a few waves in Serbian football.
In 2016, Vlahovic had made the record of being the youngest professional, debutant and goalscorer in the history of Partizan Belgrade. Later that year, also became the youngest player to feature in the iconic derby between Partizan and Red Star, at the age of just 16.
However, the forward had only scored three goals in 27 competitive matches for Partizan so it was certainly a shrewd investment on Fiorentina’s part. Fast forward to 2021, the move has certainly paid off for the Violas, with the youngster netting 31 goals in 85 competitive appearances for the club.
21 of his goals have come in the 2020/21 Serie A campaign, which caught a lot of attention as the league does lack lethal, young goalscorers. In fact, he was the youngest of the top 25 goalscorers in the league last term and the fourth-highest overall, just behind Romelu Lukaku, Luis Muriel and Cristian Ronaldo, all aged 28 or above.
Another key statistic that indicates the sheer importance of Vlahovic in this team is the fact that the youngster was involved in 23 of Fiorentina’s 47 goals last term. It is quite fair to assume that the Violas may have emerged as top relegation candidates had it not been for the services of the Serbian.
But what is he all about?
Dusan Vlahovic is an out and out centre forward. His most distinguishable feature is the tall 1.90m figure that often puts the impression of him being a typical centre forward who usually operates as a poacher inside the box.
Vlahovic, though, is far from it. While physique is a crucial element in his game, the forward masterfully utilises it in many departments rather than just acting as a target man. Indeed, he is quite an asset when it comes to playing the ball around the final third and even drifting out wide if necessary.
The 21-year-old has a good understanding of the game. It is a facet of his game that combines well with the forward’s physical stature that helps him hold on to possession and allowing the teammates to make runs in and around the final third, almost like Lukaku (and how he was implemented by Antonio Conte at Inter).
There is no doubt that, over time, Vlahovic has become more of a target man for Fiorentina, with the forward mustering fewer carries and receiving more passes.
But at the same time, he has significantly improved his ball distribution and overall work rate. His tally of 1.11 dribbles completed per 90 ranks better than 60% of Europe’s top-flight strikers in major leagues.
Where he truly dominates, however, is the physical and aerial duels. With a total of 260 attempted headed duels, only Sampdoria midfielder Morten Thorsby had been involved in more aerial duels in Serie A last season. His tally of 114 duels won is also the third-highest in the league, behind the Scandinavian duo of Thorsby and Andreas Cornelius.
Another strength in Vlahovic’s game is his shooting prowess. The striker registered 86 shots in total last season, which was the 12th highest in the league. 62 of his shots came from inside the box, eighth highest in the league and second-highest among players from the second half of the final standings. It is indicative of the player’s ability to penetrate opposition lines and test the opposition goalkeepers.
A good indicator of the Serbian’s effectiveness in front of goal is his xG tally of 18.48, with a healthy difference of +2.52. Even his radar suggests that Vlahovic is more a box-oriented centre forward, one who likes to find spaces inside the penalty area rather than relying on his long-range shooting prowess.
It is further illustrated in the shot-map graphics modelled by the excellent Understat. He is indeed what one can call a “Fox in the Box” but his imposing frame and aerial abilities make him a more complete centre forward. And at the age of just 21, he can only better and better.
Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur?
Whether or not Dusan Vlahovic would be a good fit for Premier League largely depends on the club he joins. A move to Manchester City should offer him the opportunity to pair up some of the most gifted talents in world football, but the possession-oriented football from Guardiola’s men will force him to be technically adept.
Over time, the Catalan tactician may either look to turn the Serbian into a more technical forward or slightly tweak his system to enable more service for an out and out number nine.
At Tottenham, the Fiorentina star will essentially be playing the role of Raul Jimenez in Nuno Espirito Santo’s less creative-more pragmatic system. The entire offensive play will revolve around him and Son Heung-Min, and while that is generally a good thing for most centre forward, it could create problems for Vlahovic.
The 21-year-old is not as technically adept as Kane, which means he cannot move back into midfield and allow Son to make those darting runs in behind the backline. Instead, the pressure will be on to provide the services of his attacking teammates, ultimately making it easier for the opposition to mark both out of the game.
A fee of €80 million should also shatter Tottenham’s transfer record, putting further pressure on Vlahovic to perform, for a club that has flirted with mediocrity ever since the departure of Mauricio Pochettino.
A switch to the Etihad, therefore, appears to be a more favourable move for Dusan Vlahovic. The leadership of Guardiola, coupled with the service of players like Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish should be enough to make him even more lethal in front of goal.
The forward, though, will certainly have to further improve his technical and tactical awareness in order to make himself a star for the Citizens. But one thing is certain, the Serbian has what it takes to shine in the Premier League. His height, strength, and positional awareness make him alarmingly similar to ex-Man City great Edin Dzeko, though Vlahovic is a much more complete forward.
Unfortunately, a fee of €80 million does raise question marks over the possibility of his move to Premier League this summer. Tottenham certainly cannot afford him to without selling Kane while Manchester City will try everything they can to sign the English international, knowing they would have to gamble such a fortune otherwise.
With both clubs making a strong case for being an ideal suitor for the Fiorentina striker, it will be interesting to see how this transfer saga takes shape in this final stretch of the summer transfer window in Europe.