Max Allegri must've thought he had a useful trequartista on his hands when he added Hernanes to the Juventus roster this summer, but the fit was an awkward one, to say the very least. So much so, in fact, that I once joked about selling him to a Ligue 2 side on FIFA.
His early-season performances were a mess, with promising possessions devolving into an endless array of stepovers, followed by an almost entirely hopeless long-range shot. His skill on the ball was apparent, but he was playing in a way that didn't mesh with his teammates or provide any real offensive spark.
During the Juventus' winning streak, he's been marginalized, and rightly so, but, more importantly, he's been moved to a different part of the pitch. On Sunday against Sampdoria, we saw him play in a slightly deeper role just ahead of the back line and he looked more like a part of the team.
Playing farther back on the pitch seems to steer him away from some of his worst tendencies. He demonstrated some restraint in unleashing one long attempt that was actually in rhythm and had a decent shooting lane. He also provided some useful passes, none more impressive than the beauty he launched to Alvaro Morata, only for him to blow the scoring chance.
Of course, there's still room to improve. Twice, he tried to do too much and gave the ball away in fairly dangerous positions. Had he been playing in front of a less talented defense, those turnovers could have led to great scoring chances. He was certainly a willing defender during the match, but still lacks the physicality required to really fit naturally into that role.
Still, all in all, it was a step forward for a player who had been struggling to find a way to contribute to the team. As Allegri told Juventus.com, "If (Hernanes) continues to improve in that position in front of the defense then he will be a very important player for us and I thought he was very good both offensively and defensively tonight." It's unlikely he'll earn a spot in the first-choice XI, but he could become a useful option if Claudio Marchisio or Sami Khedira are injured or need a break.