The first time I heard the announcers say "Andrea Barzagli is at right back" on ESPN2 here in the U.S., I couldn't help but laugh. I had seen the Juventus starting lineup, even a couple of pictures of it, and every single thought in my head screamed out "That's a 3-5-2, jack! That's a damn 3-5-2!" It was as clear as clear-cut gets.
Except it wasn't a 3-5-2. It was far from the textbook 3-5-2 we've seen used in just about every other game that Juventus has lined up in that formation over the past four years. Juventus bounced in between a 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 like it was no big deal at all. And even though it was a role we've rarely seen Barzagli in — if at all — it was his effectiveness that allowed Juve to defend so well through their 2-0 win over Sevilla on Wednesday.
Barzagli was the same old Barzagli. He was arguably the best defender on the field, which has become a pretty regular occurrence over his Juve career regardless of the opponent. He was the player we've come to know as 'The Wall' because he's so damn good at his job. Giorgio Chiellini had just as many tackles. Heck, Hernanes had more tackles than anybody in a Juventus uniform, according to WhoScored. Both Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci had more clearances. Chiellini had more interceptions. The stats never truly show how good Barzagli is, but that's nothing by now.
Instead, it was just a fantastic, consistent game from start to finish game from our old buddy Barzagli.
And at the time he needed to be just that, too. At right back. Yeah, right back.
This was the kind of move by Max Allegri, one that takes a little you-know-what, that paid off as well as even he could have hoped it would. It was a massive risk just as much it could have turned into a huge advantage. Nobody knew what to expect from Barzagli playing in a wider position, just like nobody really knew what to expect from Juventus as a team against Sevilla based on how things have gone in Serie A. But posed with a problem, Allegri found a different, out-of-the-box kind of solution. No natural right backs? Ha! Max has an answer for all of you — i's to play a 34-year-old centerback who has battled injuries the past two years in a position that he hasn't played in years and years. Certainly not in his days wearing a Juventus jersey. Yet, there Barzagli was playing on the right wing as Juventus settled into their defensive shape.
That isn't Stephan Lichtsteiner's heat map from his last appearance against Genoa. Nope, That's what Barzagli did against Sevilla on Wednesday night. As much as a lot of us didn't want to think it was anything other than a 3-5-2, this clearly proves that Barzagli was the right back that Allegri so desired when he filed his starting lineup.
The thing that made this all possible was knowing that on the other half of the field Juventus could lean on Juan Cuadrado to make an impact offensively. Therefore, Barzagli's onus could be on the defensive side of the ball where he obviously is so damn good at what he does. (Yes, even now as a right back.)
And, of course, Barzagli ended up getting the assist on what proved to be the game-winning goal from Álvaro Morata because that's just how the world works. You want something that's totally ironic, well, then there you have it.
Is this some kind of long-term solution? Nah, I don't think so. But in a pinch or when Allegri feels the situation calls for it, then Barzagli has shown he can handle this kind of new hybrid 3-5-2/4-3-3 kind of role on the right side of the Juve defense. (Of course, Juve would have everybody available for selection, too.)
For at least one game, though, Allegri's decision to play Barzagli as a right back turned to gold.