Before getting injured, Martín Cáceres was performing at a level that put him amongst some of the best in Serie A and possibly Europe. He was as steady as steady gets, putting in fantastic performance after fantastic performance and helping a lot of us forget that the Great Wall of (Andrea) Barzagli was out for who knows how long. It was a player seeing an opportunity to play and taking full advantage of it — every single game.
But that was months ago. Things have changed — including the formation Max Allegri uses.
Goodbye, 3-5-2 formation. It was nice to know you. There were good times, but you're no longer needed around here. That, in turn, has meant Juventus' need for certain players has changed a bit. Instead of the need for three central defenders, now there's only two in Allegri's 4-3-1-2 setup. And with it, the wingbacks Juventus have used the last three years have been replaced by fullbacks (even though they're basically the same players).
That was evident when Cáceres made his return to the starting lineup on Sunday night against Napoli. For the first time in over a year, Cáceres was used as a right back rather than on the right side of a three-man defense. His performance was like so many of those before his hamstring injury that kept him out for three months — energetic, full of tackling and pretty much just awesomeness.
This is the Cáceres we know, and will forever be grateful for.
Yet seeing him playing well at right back shouldn't be a surprise. Ever since he initially arrived on loan from Barcelona in 2009, Cáceres has always been known for his versatility. You know, like how he has gone from being a center back in a 3-5-2 with Juventus to a left back with the Uruguay national team the past few years. The notion that Cáceres is able to play just about any kind of defensive position isn't something we should consider new. In fact, it's why he's such a valuable player when he's healthy.
But where does he play now?
Cáceres is a tweener — the kind of defender that isn't a natural center back yet isn't totally a full-fledged fullback, either. While he can play effectively as a fullback in a four-man defense, his ideal position was probably where he was before his injury — on one of the sides of the 3-5-2 that both Allegri and Antonio Conte utilized. There is not full-time and pinpoint position for Cáceres at this point. But it's not like this is something new to us.
And that may well be his future as well.
Unless Allegri views Cáceres as a better full-time option at left back than Patrice Evra or somebody to rotate with Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right, the 27-year-old Uruguayan could very well be the first player off the bench when Juventus is in need of a defender no matter what the position on the field is. There were rumblings Evra was injured in the first half of last Tuesday's Derby d'Italia, and guess who started warming up? That would be Cáceres. When Lichtsteiner came up injured in the lead-up to the 3-1 win at the San Paolo last weekend, guess who got the start in his place? That, too, would be Cáceres.
The only thing — or dilemma — is this: Cáceres was so good this season before he sustained his hamstring injury in Juve's win over Roma three months ago, it's going to be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup. He's become too good to sit on the bench more often than not. And as he showed us all against Napoli, he still has the fullback skills to play out there whenever called upon (or when he's not wearing a Uruguay jersey.)
But these are the kind of decisions Allegri has to make.
No matter what happens, though, it's nice to not have to write Cáceres' name in any kind of injury reports these days. And it's also pretty nice knowing that one of Juventus' best defenders is healthy again even if we don't totally know where he may line up the next time he takes the field. Maybe, just maybe, the Cáceres piece to the puzzle is one that can mold itself to the situation. Basically like what he's done so often in the past and what he continues to do right now.
Ah, the beauty of Martin Cáceres. Much more than just a guy with a cool ponytail and high socks.
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