Fernando Llorente: Bench warmer?

If any of you have been on twitter recently, and I’m under the assumption that most of you have, you’ve either seen or been part of the slew of Juventus tifosi that want Llorente to start being integrated, and want it to happen NOW. This was never more evident following the Champions League draw with FC Copenhagen on Tuesday. By the 60 minute mark of the match my Timeline was split between two categories, those who wanted Llorente to come on at least for a cameo, and those who said “if he is ready, Conte will use him.” I’m going to attempt to provide a clear train of thought on all this, look at both parties views, and then ultimately give my opinion (and go deeper than "Unless you see him in practice every day it is not for you to criticize") on when Juventini will see El Rey Leon in action.

First, the argument for why he should be played as soon as possible. He signed on with the side before Tevez did, featured quite a bit during the International cup over the summer, the sooner he gets integrated the better it will be in the long term, and he adds a different dimension to the attack that is currently lacking. Granted, not all of those points are objectively true, but there are arguments that can be made for them.

So, for starters, Conte has always made it perfectly clear that he fields those players who perform the best in practice. There is a lot that goes into this, namely, work rate, understanding of the system, fitness levels, and just overall dedication to the cause. It seems logical, that since Llorente starting training with the side before Tevez did, and even dedicated himself to learning Italian, he should have a perfectly good understanding of what Conte wants. Not to mention, Conte’s training sessions are famously tough, and there has been no word that Llorente has not be able to manage them. Even over the summer, Llorente was chosen over Giovinco and Quagliarella both to feature in the Guinness Cup, yet seems to have since been placed behind them both in the pecking order. If Conte trusted him then, why not now? It doesn’t follow. The quicker Llorente gets used to game time, especially in early season provinciale matches, the quicker he will be ready for Champions League fixtures later on. Conte’s Juve has been all about team chemistry, work rate, and being one cohesive, destructive, unit. The quicker Llorente can become a part of that, the better the team will be in the long run. After all, he does add another dimension to the attack when he is on the pitch. He’s the upper middle class’s version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, without the attitude. Great with his back to the goal, great hold up play, world class aerial threat, adds a lot to set pieces, and surprisingly agile with ball at his feet. He is a classic prima punta with ball skills and creativity of an average seconda punta, which translate to being superb for someone of his stature. Now let me ask you, is there a team aside from the European giants, and Monaco, who don’t need/want that to become an integrated part of their attack? It makes the utmost sense for Conte to go ahead with the switch now, let him bond with Tevez, and give the man the faith and confidence he needs to prosper and regain his form.

I’ll admit, the above argument does sound pretty convincing (especially after watching the video), even has me hoping Llorente gets the nod against Hellas this weekend as well (I actually think there is a decent chance he enters as a sub, will be utterly shocked if he starts).

To recap, Llorente has been with the side longer than Tevez (who regularly starts), possesses qualities that would be welcome in the attack, and the sooner he gets acclimated to the side the better. All makes a lot of sense really. However, the pragmatist in me will side with the following statement; when placed against reality, the above argument doesn’t stand a chance.

While protagonists are quick to point out that last year, despite being frozen out, Llorente made over 25 appearances for Bilbao, what they won't point out is that only 6 of those were starts.

Yeahhhh. Ask any player who is on the bench if they like coming on as a sub and the answer will invariably be yes. However, any striker will also admit it takes to get acclimated to the match flow once on the pitch, and 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the match don't go a particularly long way to maintaining match fitness or form. In 33 club appearances (6 starts, 27 substitutes), Llorente registered just 36 shots, and only 12 shots on goal. That goes a long way to telling one just how many quality minutes El Rey Leone got last year. Not to mention, in addition to only starting 6 matches, he is leaving not only his club, but La Liga in general meaning he has to adapt to a different style of play in addition to learning a different system. Not only does he have to learn the system, but he has to prove to Conte that he knows the system inside and out, forwards and backwards. Conte makes it clear that players who don't know the system, or have his confidence generally do not play. This is exactly why Simone Padoin makes so many appearances, he has the Mister's confidence. For Llorente this will not come overnight, it could be that he is extremely close, and it could be he is still weeks away from really featuring. That Carlitos Tevez has been able to do it so far is a testament to his dedication, and his fitness level as well. He was able to come in to Juve in playing condition while Llorente had to re-acclimate his body to the stresses of playing. One can stay in the best shape possible, but it is vastly different than the stresses actual game play put on one's body.

I wish to take time now to differentiate Llorente from the Eljero Elia situation last year, which people seem to be comparing this too. For starters, once past the surface level, the comparison is about as tangible as Silvio Berlusconi's code of honour -- nonexistent. Elia was brought in on deadline day as a last ditch attempt for Conte to keep his 4-4-2 / 4-2-4 hybrid attacking formation. I firmly believe Elia would have been a fantastic player for the system. We all know what happed after that, however, namely that Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, and Claudio Marchisio decided to form one of the best midfield trio's in Europe, and Conte could not justify dropping any of the 3. This led to a change in tactics, Elia does not fit the 3-5-2 that Juve used for most of the year. He had more than the attacking ability required, but lacked the work rate and defensive capabilities necessary. The point I'm getting at here is that Elia was left out of the side due to a change in tactics that no longer required his services. Llorente was essentially signed last January when Juve were playing the 3-5-2. Guess what, the 3-5-2 is still going strong and Conte has been quoted numerous times ensuring he sees no reason to abandon it.

"THERE IS NO LLORENTE PROBLEM. Don't forget that he didn't play that regularly last season.

When we sign a player and hand him a four-year contract, we're evidently NOT LOOKING FOR IMMEDIATE RESULTS in the space of one or two months.

WE BELIEVE IN HIM and it is too early to judge." - Beppe Marotta, Juventus Sporting Director

The second sentence of that quote's a real logical knee slapper. I mean, whudda thunk it?

So, to recap the other side of the argument, Llorente is not match fit yet, has to adapt to a different league, as well as a different system, and is still very much tactically relevant. And, to be honest, those who are saying he is fit, or ready to play, that argument can very easily be brushed aside with "if he were, Conte would play him."

It may be you think the argument to play him is stronger than the argument that he is not yet ready, but I just don't see it. This is a massive transition for a player to make, and his playing time last year was largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I am largely in the second camp, of the opinion that if he is not playing yet, he clearly isn't ready, and may not be for some time. If he isn't playing come January, I'll start to worry, but until then, In Conte I Trust. Like I mentioned earlier, I think there is a very good chance he could feature against Hellas, at least for 30 minutes or so, mainly because of the high number of matches coming up (Juve are in the middle of a 5 matches in two weeks run with another mid-week fixture next week), and the fact that this weekend's opponent is newly promoted Hellas Verona. On the very good chance he could fail to feature, however, I'm optimistic he can become an important part of the squad following the next international break in October. It's a few weeks off, but one does simply not walk into a Champions League caliber side without some sort of learning curve.

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