Whether through drunkenness or as part of a publicity stunt, he shows off his pants. He’s got a terrible attitude and thinks he’s the greatest striker alive today. These criticisms – plus many others that are unrepeatable here – have been cast upon Nicklas Bendtner and Juventus since the former Arsenal man joined the Turin giants late last week.
Months of grandiose promised that a so called ‘top player’ would arrive at Juve, leading supporters to believe that a forward worthy of such a moniker would come in, helping to push last season’s Champions into serious contention on their return to European football’s elite competition. Yet when the dust had settled, the 24-year old Dane was the only player delivered, with all the smoke and mirrors in the world unable to convince the Bianconeri fans that the management’s promise had been fulfilled.
To their credit, nobody at the club attempted to do so, with Beppe Marotta refreshingly honest in his appraisal of the striker. "Bendtner is not the high-profile striker we were hoping to sign,” said the Director General, before adding “but it's a chance we had to take in a difficult market like this." The transfer has raised more eyebrows than a Carlo Ancelotti press conference and here – using statistics compiled from the vast array of statistics found at WhoScored.com – we try to understand exactly what the player will add to Antonio Conte’s squad.
Goals Goals Goals
Simply speaking, putting the ball into the back of the net was a real problem for Juve’s group of forwards last term. Despite being the second highest scoring team in the league, Alessandro Matri was the side’s leading scorer with just ten strikes. Mirko Vucinic (9 goals), Fabio Quagliarella (4), Alessandro Del Piero (3) and Marco Borriello (2) meant that the club’s unit of strikers combined for just 28 goals, the same total as Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed on his own.
Bendtner hardly seems the ideal man to improve those figures, managing a mere eight in his 28 appearances on loan at Sunderland last season, although he required just 62 shots to achieve that tally whereas Matri took 68 and Vucinic a stunning 102.
Passing The Test
Juve’s passing game involves every player on the field and here it seems that Bendtner is actually well suited to Conte’s desired playing style. The Dane averaged 1.2 key passes per game and notched five assists last term, which, of Juve’s five strikers, was only bettered by Vucinic’s eight. The Montenegrin is also the only one to top Bendtner’s passes per game average of 31.4, although all of Juve’s strikers completed more of their passes than their new man, who had a pass completion rate of 73.8%. Borriello lead the way with 85.4%, followed by Del Piero (80.9%), Quagliarella (79.4%) Vucinic (76.3%) and Matri (75.9%).
However, the differing leagues, team-mates and philosophies between the two sides could mean that those stats change in the coming months, as the discrepancy between Juve’s excellent 85.4% team figure dwarfs that of Sunderland who achieved a meagre 74.7%.
The relentless pressing that has come to characterise Juventus under Conte is hard to quantify statistically, but looking at defensive qualities it seems Bendtner is indeed willing to work for the team, fulfilling the ethic that is something of a prerequisite for the current Bianconeri. He completed 19 tackles, a number well above any Juve striker other than Vucinic, who surprisingly managed 44, and the Montenegrin again is the only player to top his 0.3 interceptions per game.
He also puts his 1.95m (6’5) frame to good use defensively, adding 1.1 clearances per game to the Sunderland cause, a figure which is way ahead of his new team-mates Matri (0.5), Vucinic (0.4) and Quagliarella (0.1), and his 7 blocked shots is also impressive given that only Quagliarella (2) recorded any at all last term for Juventus.
As we know, this season sees Juve return to the Champions League after two seasons away, drawn into Group E alongside current holders Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine and Danish newcomers FC Nordsjaelland. European experience is extremely thin on the ground, particularly among the attacking players with Matri never having featured in a continental tie. Quagliarella too has limited experience, playing just 12 UEFA Cup/Europa League games, all but one of which came in the 2008-09 season with Udinese, for whom he netted eight goals as the Zebrette reached the Quarter Finals.
Sebastian Giovinco played one of his better games for Juve against Chelsea in the Champions League that same season, but has featured in ten European games and has yet to find the back of the net. Vucinic’s time at Roma saw him play 20 times in UEFA competitions – only 4 of those in the Europa League – and he recorded 11 goals and one assist in that time.
Bendtner tops all of those, playing in 30 Champions League ties for Arsenal over the course of his career, including the 2009 Semi-Final, adding his first professional hat-trick a year later in a Round of 16 win over Porto, and a consolation goal against Barcelona in a heavy Quarter-Final defeat.
Despite being the youngest striker at Juve by almost a year, his international record – 20 goals across his 52 caps for Denmark – also gives him a huge edge over his new team-mates: Vucinic (12 in 32), Quagliarella (6 in 25), Matri (1 in 5) and Giovinco (0 in 10).
Perhaps it is here where we see genuine reasons for adding Bendtner to the squad. His 2.8 successful aerial duels per game was a figure good enough to see him rank eighth highest in the Premier League last term. It stands way above those posted by last season’s battery of Juve strikers, of whom Borriello led the way on just 2.8, followed by Matri and Vucinic on 0.5, Quagliarella on 0.4, and Del Piero understandably trailing on a mere 0.1.
Of course it is his role as a prima punta (leading striker) that has brought him to the club, his size meaning he is able to play as the focal point of the attack in a way that perhaps only Matri – who stands at just 1.83m (6’1) – among the other forwards is able.
So as we can clearly see, while he may not be a world superstar or the long-promised ‘top player’ for this current Juventus side, the new number 17 is a fresh option who offers a very different skill set to those already at the club.
His WhoScored.com rating of 6.77 last season was above that of every Juve striker other than Vucinic’s 7.23, and if Nicklas Bendtner can enjoy a modicum of success perhaps he will convince Marotta to spend some serious money on a genuine front man in the mould of Edinson Cavani or Fernando Llorente. Maybe, just maybe.