TURIN Juventus are poised to reach the last sixteen of the Champions League for the first time in four seasons but their erratic strikers could undermine their chances of launching a serious bid for the title.
Although their 3-0 win over Chelsea on Tuesday was ultimately emphatic, Juve's final pass was rarely up to the superb approach work of an Andrea Pirlo-inspired five-man midfield.
Both opening goalscorer Fabio Quagliarella and Mirko Vucinic, his striking partner on Tuesday, were good at pulling their markers wide but were also guilty of squandering numerous openings.
Vucinic, often criticised as being too individualistic, had Juventus fans howling with frustration early in the second half when he shot wildly over from a position where he had no realistic chance of scoring.
Shortly afterwards, he wasted another chance by going to ground under a challenge from Gary Cahill and claiming a penalty, instead of trying to get his shot in.
Quagliarella, who scored the fortuitous opening goal, was also guilty of trying to score from a narrow angle instead of passing to the better-placed Stephan Lichtsteiner, who would have been left with the job of tapping the ball in.
All of those chances came with Juventus 1-0 ahead and the Italian champions, whose win is a huge boost for an increasingly discredited Serie A, may well have been punished for their profligacy against more incisive opponents.
Juventus have been trying to get their hands on a world class forward for some time and were in the race for Sergio Aguero before the Argentine opted to join Manchester City just over one year ago.
Instead, they signed Montenegro forward Vucinic for 15 million euros from AS Roma and he has often exasperated supporters by going it alone.
Sebastian Giovinco, who scored the third goal against Chelsea after coming on as a substitute, has also performed in fits and starts since his move from Parma in the close season.
The Atomic Ant's joy at hitting the target was so great that he got himself a potentially damaging yellow card by performing a shirtless celebration.
Alessandro Matri has struggled for form this season and Simone Pepe has been absent through injury while Danish forward Niklas Bendtner, signed from Arsenal in the close season, has barely played.
Amid all that, coach Antonio Conte has chopped and changed his two-man strikeforce, something which Quagliarella claimed his hindered all the forwards.
"It is never easy for strikers to deal with this rotation, but the coach has been clear with us and said he will rotate all five forwards," he told reporters.
"It can happen that a forward plays three games in a row, then goes on the bench. We are aware of the situation and therefore relaxed.
"A striker is always happy when he scores," added Quagliarella, who got on the scoresheet by deflecting Pirlo's low shot past Petr Cech.
"It was also my third start in a row, which hadn't happened in almost two years," he added.
Juve's performance was still good enough to send a warning to the rest of Europe that the twice former European champions
"This was a beautiful night, like others which I have experienced with his squad," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. "When you give such a convincing show of strength, it's a big sign to both Europe and the whole of Italy.
"Some people had doubts about us, but if we play like this I think we cast those aside," he added. "We were hungrier, sharper, more attacking, more creative and with a little more precision could've scored even more." (Editing by John O'Brien)