In both of Max Allegri's two seasons as Juventus manager, there has been a young player who has caused us to fuss over because we thought he hasn't received enough playing time. Last season, we were perplexed as to why Álvaro Morata was getting so few minutes, this season it was young and talented defender Daniele Rugani who barely featured at all before the calendar flipped from 2015 to 2016.
There are some similarities between the two youngsters' situations. Fernando Llorente was the established striker alongside Carlos Tévez, while the trio of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini are obviously the established three-man defense that Allegri will turn to more often than not when everybody is available. Allegri slow-played both players' integration into the starting lineup, with both Morata and Rugani seeing more and more playing time as each of their respective first season in Turin progressed.
But, as we've seen, not all of the three BBC options — namely Chiellini and Barzagli (with Martin Cáceres also obviously out for the season with an Achilles injury) — have been healthy for long stretches of time the past few months. That's where Rugani has had to step in simply out of need.
And the young man who seemingly has the hope and aspirations of many attached to his shoulders has shown he can hang with some of the best defenders Italy and Europe has to offer.
In retrospect, we should just shut up about it now. Max has handled things right again.
Over the past six weeks, you won't find too many players in a Juventus jersey who have shown better than Rugani. The 21-year-old Italian defender has clearly taken advantage of his drastic uptick in playing time. That is something that we could say about current-day Morata, too. But, as we saw last season, we got to see a young and talented player gain confidence as his role within the squad grew and overall performances became more and more important to the team's success.
The latest one of those games came Saturday night against his former club, Empoli, at Juventus Stadium. It was one of Rugani's best games to date in bianconero. He showed poise, he showed progress, he even showed a little bit of flair, too. The numbers show just how good he was.
Ball recoveries: 11
Passing: 89.7 percent (35 for 39)
Note: All stats via FourFourTwo Stats Zone
Rugani will probably never rack up the tackles like Chiellini has done so many times over the years simply because he's not that kind of defender. If anything, he's more Barzagli than Chiellini — a defender who relies on his positioning and instincts rather than overpowering opposing players to win the ball back. That's perfectly acceptable considering the results. Based on what he's done, why try to change it, right?
And, as Rugani himself said after the Empoli win, he's certainly playing with confidence right now.
"Displays such as tonight's certainly help to boost self-confidence. I feel like I'm becoming more composed all the time and I thank the staff and also my defensive colleagues, who have helped me a great deal.
"I've still so many things to learn both in training and in the matches. I'm looking to take away whatever I can from every single moment to make sure that I improve with every passing day."
I said it in the Empoli post-game thread, and I'll say it again here: Watching Rugani develop and fully fulfill his immense amount potential over the next couple of years is going to be fun to watch. The ceiling is incredibly high when it comes to this one, and we're just seeing the start of things, too. Just like Morata like season, that imaginary switch for young players figuring things out after they've arrived at Juventus has definitely been ticked up. Now we're seeing a player so many has deemed the future of Italy's defense truly show that all this playing time he has gotten lately is more than deserved.
No matter what you say about it being just a reaction off a small sample size I will laugh at it. Daniele Rugani is good, and at age 21, he's only going to be getting better. So there. (And Max was right. Good job, Max.)