As we continue to recap this season just passed, we take a look at the performance of the team's engine room. Juventus' midfield, for a long time considered one of the best in the game, played its own significant part in the team's achievements this past season.
Despite changes to the coaching staff, in personnel, in formations and tactical setups, the performance of the midfield was consistent throughout the season and provided an apt springboard for the successes at both ends of the pitch.
Here's how each midfielder stacked up this season.
Claudio Marchisio - 8
Arguably the most consistent of Juventus' performers, Il Principino was a constant and key midfield presence in what turned out to be a historically successful season. This wasn't his best season in terms of goal scoring — his three goals falling way short of his personal best of ten in the 2011/12 season — but his overall contribution made it one of his overall best. Due to injuries to fellow midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba, Marchisio was deployed in different positions, whether in a diamond midfield or as part of a midfield three in a 3-5-2/5-3-2. This was the season where we saw Claudio exhibit another, previously underrated, facet of his game — his deep-lying playmaker abilities. Asked to play this position because of Pirlo's absence due to injury, poor form or getting rested, Marchisio often excelled in the role, displaying great vision and a useful range of passing that made the aforementioned Pirlo's absence less hard felt.
Obviously he is not yet at the level of Il Maestro, but with a move to Major League Soccer looking all but certain for the veteran regista, Juve fans must be comforted that a ready-made replacement already exists within the current team.
It's difficult to pick out one outstanding game or contribution for Marchisio this season, but I quite enjoyed his backheel that took the FC Barcelona defence completely by surprise in this season's Champions League final. We know how that play ended...
Paul Pogba - 7.5
This was the season where Paul Pogba cemented his place as one of the brightest and most sought after young talents in the world game.
In the mold of most of Juve's midfielders, Pogba adds a silky, skillful flair to his all-action game. Despite his young years, he has time and time again taken games over and gotten results for Juventus. He had his best goal scoring season in 2014-15, with eight goals from his midfield position in the league. For a player of his skill, one would have liked or maybe expected more than just three league assists (five overall). This is another area of his game that needs improvement.
Despite the clear upward trajectory of his career, Pogba still tends to drift out of games too often and needs to be more consistently effective in his game — especially in the Champions League, where he has only one goal in his career so far. He also has a propensity to "show off," which he has been told off for by manager Max Allegri this season. One would expect with some more experience at the top level, and as he becomes more mature, these kinks in his game will be worked out.
After another season which has seen the young French midfielder continue to improve, the rumour mill is already in overdrive, with FC Barcelona already openly registering their interest in the player and using his name as a pawn in their regular presidential campaign games. Both the player and most tellingly the club have move quickly to squash rumours of any possible transfer negotiations. However, given who his agent is, it's always wise to take that with a pinch of salt. While this writer is fairly confident that Pogba will be a Juve player for at least one more season, I'll still be wary of Mino Raiola's wiliness until the European transfer window slams shut on September 1st (come on, we know he's not going to Russia or Romania, right?).
He's scored a number of beautiful goals this season — and some beautiful almost goals. My favourite memory involving Pogba, however, was this one with him and Allegri having a friendly skill competition in training. It was great fun to watch, and one of those instances that made me a bigger fan Mister Allegri.
Arturo Vidal - 7
Following on from a summer of constant transfer rumours of a move away from the Juventus Stadium, the self-proclaimed "best midfielder in the world" continued his career in black and white, much to the joy of Gobbi — and the chagrin of "Mancs" — everywhere. That collective smile soon transformed to furrowed brows, as King Arturo had an inconsistent and poor start to the 2014-15 — especially by his lofty standards. Seemingly still struggling to recover from his knee injury at the end of the previous season, the Chilean put in below-par performance after below-par performance throughout the first three months of the season.
Despite this, Vidal still amassed a credible five goals in Serie A by the Christmas break. He was much less prolific in the Champions League, however, where he went goalless and even missed a potentially key penalty against Olympiakos; in the end that penalty miss was irrelevant, as Juventus just made it to the last 16.
The new year seemed to bring an improvement in form. Vidal even admitted himself that the break had done himself some good, with him finally getting some rest after a hectic 2014. From February onwards, it was like we were watching the old Vidal again. He put in imperious performances in the Champions League knockout stage, being key to Juve's progression against Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco — where he put away the tie-winning penalty with aplomb — and Real Madrid. His headed goal against Sampdoria won Juventus their fourth Serie A title in a row.
His performance in the Champions League final was less impressive, unfortunately, and he was lucky not to get himself sent off. However, his second half of the season improvement was enough to make his overall season's performance acceptable.
Now, another summer of transfer rumors await, but more than likely, the start of the 2015-16 season will see Arturo Vidal continue with Juventus.
Andrea Pirlo - 6.5
The classy Italian veteran had a mixed season plagued by injury and indifferent form. Playing only twenty league games, Pirlo notched up four goals and five assists — the latter statistic his lowest in his Juventus tenure. In all competitions, his stats are only improved by one goal more — a brilliant free kick against Olympiakos in the Champions League.
Pirlo was still very useful this season, regularly directing play and spraying passes all over the pitch. The main disappointment this season was just how much he showed his age at times. More and more he got caught in possession and slowed the game down a bit too much. He became less of a protagonist.
Undoubtedly brilliant when on his game, regardless of his advanced years, but it was a notable positive that Juventus did not seem to struggle when the player was out of the team. Seemingly aware of his waning powers, Pirlo has reportedly decided to call it a day on his Juventus career and make a lucrative move to Major League Soccer and New York City FC. All the best to him in New York and in the rest of his playing days. One sub-par season will not erase his general brilliance at Juventus — nay, his entire career.
Roberto Pereyra - 6.5
Signed on what has been described here as a "Marotta Special" (a loan-with-option-to-buy), the young Argentine midfielder was brought in to add depth to a midfield that offered little in terms of quality outside of the starting MVP2. Admittedly, this writer was not particularly excited by Pereyra's signing; I viewed him as nothing more than a poor man's Vidal (down to the hairstyles). However, to my pleasure, Pereyra did prove to be more than just that. A competent midfielder with skill and an ability to make plays, the one area where improvement is definitely needed is his finishing. He scored six goals in all competitions this season, with Verona being his favourite victim — including this beauty in the last game of the season — but given some of the chances he got, he should have scored more.
Regardless, he impressed enough to convince Beppe Marotta to take up his option with Udinese and purchase him outright. He also made his debut with the Argentine national team this season, and can currently be seen playing for La Albiceleste at the Copa America.
All in all, job done in his debut season for "El Tucumano."
Stefano Sturaro - 6
The young midfielder, dubbed "the new Gattuso" by some, was brought into the Juventus fold in the winter transfer window. His early Juventus career was pretty much a nonevent; a few minutes off the bench here and there, where he failed to impress. However, Sturaro really made his mark when played as a tactical wild card by Max Allegri in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal versus Real Madrid. Allegri threw everyone off by deciding to leave (the player expected to start) Roberto Pereyra on the bench and start Sturaro on the left side of his diamond midfield, playing Arturo Vidal being the strikers. Real Madrid was not expecting this, and were not able to adjust to counter this move by Allegri. Sturaro, for his part, put in a great shift for about an hour before being substituted. His highlight of the game — nay, highlight of his season — was this brilliant last ditch challenge on James Rodríguez's goal-bound header, getting enough of a deflection to take it onto the crossbar. This turned out to be a key play in the entire tie, and in the end was an important play which led to Juve's progression to the final in Berlin.
Oh, he also did this against Napoli (I never saw Gattuso do something like that, though).
A decent showing by the young Italian in his first six months at the club. Next season should hopefully see some more playing time and development for the young mediano.
Simone Pepe - s/v
The oft-injured winger played a bit part role this season, as has been the case since the 2011-12 season. Making a total of twelve appearances in all competitions, Simone scored one goal (a penalty in Juve's last home game against Napoli) and assisted on one goal.
Despite his decreasing minutes on the pitch, Simone has been reportedly a constant positive presence in the Juventus dressing room. And that is something that priceless. After confirming his exit from Juventus, as his contract has come to an end this summer, I'm sure he will be missed by his now former teammates.
Here's to Pepe doing what he does at another one of Serie A's clubs in the near future.
Mattia Vitale - s/v
The teenager, promoted from the Primavera squad, made the bench for a number of games before finally making his league debut in the loss away to Parma in April. He only made two appearances, but one can see some ability there. One to watch for the future? Maybe. Hopefully he can be a rare promotion from the youth to the senior team in the future.
Luca Marrone - s/v
The perma-injured former Italian under-21 international captain, Marrone did not make a single appearance this season. A proposed move to La Liga side Cordoba in January fell through due to a failed medical. We had such high hopes for Luca, and at twenty-five, he still has some of his best playing years ahead of him. But will he actually get to play those out though?