If you were to take a test to see if you were truly ready to return from a lengthy injury layoff, how would you go about it? Would you take it easy at first and generally build back up the workload you had before the injury itself? Or, would you take a risk, potentially putting any further health concerns at the forefront because you want to jump right back into the fray without any hesitation?
It was a long eight months away from game action for Andrea Barzagli. One filled with rehabilitation, some test games with the primavera, and plenty of waiting for his time to finally arrive. There were setbacks, certainly some frustration, and as he talked about on Tuesday, some doubts about his career being over because of everything going on.
But the month of March has brought us the return of Barzagli and all of his defensive brilliance. Here's how the minutes have stacked up since his brief late-game appearance against Sassuolo at the beginning of the month.
- Ninety minutes in a start against Palermo.
- Sixty-three minutes off the bench against Borussia Dortmund.
- Ninety minutes in a start against Genoa.
All of this within nine days of each other.
What has this told us?
It's easy: Andrea Barzagli is the same Andrea Barzagli that we saw before he underwent surgery on his troublesome ankle and heel this past summer. Better yet, Barzagli has been just as crucial to Juventus' success in those three games as he has been since he arrived four years ago for that wonderfully paltry sum of about €300,000.
(Seriously, that price continues to amaze me. It's easily one of the best bargains you will ever see for a player so great as Barzagli has been since putting on the Juventus jersey.)
Conventional wisdom might suggest that Barzagli — who last appeared in an official game while sporting an Italy jersey at the 2014 World Cup before his comeback appearance against Sassuolo on March 9 — would take a little bit of time to shake off any kind of rust that may be there. He is essentially showing us every time he plays right these day that we can just take that notion as a bunch of hogwash.
That becomes ever so clear when he makes potential goal-saving tackles like this...
Or when he makes a last ditch-clearance in the penalty area like this...
Those two clips, arguably his best two single moments since returning from injury, are a microcosm of just how well Barzagli has played in those three appearances mentioned above. He has, for all intents and purposes, been the defender we're so incredibly used to seeing ever since he returned two weeks ago. It doesn't matter how much time he missed because of offseason surgery, he has returned to the be the player he was before going under the knife.
It not only means Barzagli has been recalled to the Italian national team for the first time since the World Cup. It also means Juventus has one of its most consistent players back and healthy.
Sure, it took a lot longer than the three-month recovery timetable called for. Much, much longer than originally expected. But to see post-surgery Barzagli be the defender we've become so accustomed to since he became a fixture in Juventus' starting lineup under Gigi Delneri, it's one of the best developments Juve have had this season. It's one thing to see a player come back from injury and pick up right where he left off after just a few weeks on the sidelines. When it comes to Barzagli, it was month after month of rehab and setbacks. Despite all of that, he's proving to be same player he was this time last season. And the season before that. And the season before that.
Barzagli being healthy brings up the obvious question: With the Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini trio reunited, will Max Allegri go with a 3-5-2 to take advantage of his best three defenders all being healthy at once for the first time this season?
It's an understandable question with a (possibly) complicated answer. Allegri has shown about a million times more willingness to be tactically flexible than the guy he took over for over the summer. The win over Borussia Dortmund — which Barzagli played a huge role in — last week is the latest example of that. The 4-3-1-2 has proved to be Allegri's default formation ... to a point. If he needs to switch it up, usually for personnel reasons, Allegri will. And now with Barzagli healthy, the use of a three-man defense for the rest of this season becomes a legitimate option.
No matter what formation will be used in the immediate future, how many minutes he plays or how many games he appears in, there's one thing that's for certain. Andrea Barzagli is back, and it is an absolute treat to watch the comeback tour take place.
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