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On Stefano Sturaro's suddenly massive importance to Juventus

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Stefano Sturaro was brought to Juventus during the last transfer window for the simplest of reasons — some depth in the midfield was desperately needed. Maybe he'd play in a few games here or there, fill in for somebody who needed rest or was suspended, get a start in the Coppa Italia games because that's when squad rotation happens, and then see where things stand at the end of the season.

But ... Sturaro ... starting ... in the Champions League? In a semifinal ... against Real Madrid? Now, now, now. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, folks. That's something that would have meant some last-minute injury happened in the lead-up to that day's European challenge.

Yet there was Sturaro starting in the Tuesday night. Not just starting, but starting in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, too. There were 10 starting spots that were pretty much certainties when every single predicted lineup was crafted and written out. Sturaro was the one starter that nobody — and I mean NOBODY — thought would happen with so much on the line for Juventus.

Max Allegri had a hunch about starting Sturaro in the latest big game of the season, and did just that.

By simply knowing who is on the Juventus roster but not knowing their context of anything, you would have put just about all of your possible money on a Juve midfielder in his early 20s making a huge impact, it would have been on Paul Pogba, not Stefano Sturaro. Pogba is the star, he's the eye of many around Europe as the summer approaches. Sturaro was the depth move, a player with potential whose starting chances with the club will come down the road.

But, in a direct and unpredicted way, Pogba's long-term injury opened the door for Sturaro.

And like we saw Tuesday night, the 22-year-old Italian midfielder has jumped at the opportunity.

Sturaro was thrust into the spotlight and subsequently played a key role in Juventus' 2-1 win over Real Madrid, the reigning European champions. I feel pretty safe in saying was a little irked when Allegri chose Stuaro over Roberto Pereyra in the midfield. But, man, I sure was more than okay with being proven wrong. And like so many times before, Allegri's roll of the dice proved to be the right kind of move.

He made easily one of the most significant plays of the game Tuesday night — and it took post-game replays to even make us aware of it. The live pictures told us that James Rodriguez blew one of the best scoring chances Real Madrid had all game. In fact, it would have easily been a go-ahead goal if not for Sturaro's right boot getting a piece of the ball right after it connected with James' forehead. It was a deflection that kept Juventus even with Real Madrid and why they're heading to Madrid up 2-1 on the aggregate scoreline.

That one play, one incredibly important play, one completely unpredictable play turned out to be massive in the hours following Juventus' win over the defending European champions. And we didn't even know it at the time.

That one play just seemed to sum up Sturaro's night — endless amounts effort and energy, tons of pressing, and an unexpected impact that was one of the most important of anybody in a Juventus jersey.

(Side note: The guy has to start in Madrid if Pogba isn't ready to go, right? I think he earned it.)

Sturaro's development isn't done or anything close to it. He wasn't a headline-grabbing name that Juventus signed over the summer. They dropped €5.5 million for the Italy Under-21 international and then immediately loaned him back to Genoa before you could look up YouTube highlights of him. It was a deal looked at toward the future, definitely not the present.

Yet there Sturaro was, attempting and successfully completing tackles against some of the best players in the world in one of the most unpredictable starts a Juventus player has gotten in recent memory. Never in his wildest dreams could Sturaro have thought he'd be playing against Real Madrid four months after his loan spell with Genoa was cut short and he headed to Turin for his Juventus medical.

Sometimes, though, that's just how things work out. Juventus' starting lineup is full of stars, but it was a relatively unknown 20-something who helped Juve slay the Spanish giants. One leg down, one to go.