Once again, Paulo Dybala showed some great close control to get past the onrushing Nigel de Jong, before placing a perfectly-weighted through ball to meet Sami Khedira’s run behind the defence and the German finished the action with an unstoppable shot that went in off the far post. With just six minutes left to play, the goal was all Juventus needed to seal the 2-1 victory at the San Siro, regaining the lead at the top of the Serie A table, two points ahead of Milan and four ahead of Roma, with three more games left in the current campaign.
Khedira, who stepped into the starting XI in the place of the suspended Paul Pogba, was named Man of the Match for an impeccable defensive performance, crowned with scoring the winning goal so late in the game. It was just one of the many other similar strong displays the former Real Madrid man put in throughout the season, helping Juventus move closer to a fifth consecutive Serie A title and also reaching the semifinals of the Champions League.
Quite the scenario, if it wasn’t for a tiny but not-to-be-neglected setback.
Last season, Khedira spent a total of 112 days on the sidelines with injuries — either thigh muscle strains or ankle injuries. If my maths were just a bit worse than they are now, I would say that represents exactly a third of a year. Not quite but, nonetheless, it still is a heck of a long time, considering the fact that his season started later than usually, as he played an important part in Germany’s successful World Cup campaign in the summer of 2014. All these troublesome periods, combined with other times when Carlo Ancelotti would just ignore Khedira and leave him out of the match day squad, resulted in the new bianconero man starting just four games for Real Madrid last season.
Prior to the World Cup, Khedira had also been away from the pitch for another six months with an MCL knee ligament injury. On the plus side, based on his performances during the tournament in Brazil, there was hardly any hint the German midfielder had spent more than half of his season at the gym, doing physiotherapy, instead of kicking the ball around on the pitch. The injury nightmare that followed after the World Cup and went on throughout the last season might have little to do with the serious knee injury sustained at the end of 2013, but it still is hard not to link them together.
Khedira’s injury-proneness started with that damned friendly against Italy at the San Siro — hence the stadium choice for the fantasy script — and the question is: will it continue for the next year?
Although every single juventino hopes the answer is "NO! YOU MENTAL!?" it is hard to predict. Khedira is only 28, so theoretically, his body should still have the required strength to fully overcome these problems. In addition, the German’s career prior to November 2013 hasn’t been marred by too many injuries, Khedira playing around 40 games in each of his seasons for Stuttgart and Real Madrid. And that is encouraging.
What is also needed to be kept into account is his psychological state. After suffering that knee injury in early 2014, it took Arturo Vidal almost a year to finally be playing football with the same intensity and of the same quality he used to — despite the fact he was physically 100 percent fit. There is little to stop Khedira from finding himself in a similar position with the one Vidal was in.
But that "little" is important and, in this case, it has to do with the change of environment. The new challenge that represents moving to Serie A, to a club that aims for the fifth consecutive league title, while also hoping to build on the recent appearance in the Champions League final, could be the catalyst Khedira needed. In some ways, it is not far away from Andrea Pirlo’s situation of 2011: 32 years of age, deemed surplus to requirements and shunned out of Milan’s squad, before joining Juventus and writing history.
After his recent difficulties, Khedira could manage a similar feat and become a key man in bianconero. Vidal and Pogba are expected to keep their places in the starting lineup and the Pirlo role should nicely be played by Claudio Marchisio, completing the line of three midfielders, but the German midfielder will be the top backup for any of those when the circumstances impose. All this, of course, if there will be somebody else than Vidal playing behind the strikers in Max Allegri’s preferred 4-3-1-2 system.
Regardless of the formation deployed by Allegri, giving his immense experience and proved quality, Khedira will no doubt be a major part of the upcoming season. If fully fit and with the right state of mind, he will have the power to influence Juvenuts’ game to an extent close to Pirlo’s level — just how big an impact, it remain to be seen. Truth is, Beppe Marotta might just have struck gold once again with the free transfer of Khedira.