clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Looking at Lucas Biglia, Mateo Kovacic as alternatives in Juventus' pursuit of André Gomes

New, comments
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

A few years ago, Beppe Marotta described how he and Fabio Paratici work on the mercato. In essence, during the year, they identify targets for every position, from goalkeepers to strikers. At some point before the market opens, they start to take names off the list until they are left with a manageable number of alternatives in each position. From there, they identify which positions are more important and they start pursuing these options.

If something fails or slows down too much, they can move on to another target quickly. Moreover, if cash becomes available and they can sign someone who is on the list but not necessarily a priority, they are ready. You saw this last year, for example, as Juventus moved from Julian Draxler, to Marek Hamsik, to Hernanes (the latter probably due to the rejection of other targets and low cash available at the time).

If you believe what the media is talking about, you know that Juventus are really interested in Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes, but at the same time other alternatives have been mentioned. Among them, Yaya Toure, N'Golo Kante, Javier Pastore, to name a few. I am skeptical of some of these names, specially as alternatives to Gomes. For instance, Pastore plays a different position and role and, although I am sure the management is considering him, I imagine they are looking at him alongside players like Isco, Oscar, and Henrik Mkhitaryan, not as a regista.

Two players that I hope are in contention for the midfield spot are Lucas Biglia from Lazio and Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid. Both players would cost less than what is being rumored for Gomes and have different strengths that would make them suitable candidates for the Old Lady's midfield.

Lucas Biglia

Why should he be considered?

He plays as a central midfielder and resembles Claudio Marchisio's role. He is defensively strong but can string passes and keep the ball moving. His Serie A experience cannot be discounted.

Pros:

The Argentinian player joined Lazio from Anderletch in 2013. As such, he has played close to 80 matches in Serie A and a handful of appearances in Europe. His Serie A experience can be a valuable asset as Juventus seek a sixth Scudetto next year — which would be a first in Serie A — and will allow him to slot right into the team.  I can imagine that someone like Gomes will need more time to acclimatize and may not be a definite starter until after the Christmas break.

If Biglia starts sooner in Serie A, it will also serve to build good chemistry with his teammates, which can only help as we challenge for top honors in Europe. It is undeniable that Juventus suffered immensely this year because the understanding between our new players didn't develop until later in the season.

There is also the leadership and maturity aspect. At 30 years old, he is seasoned, and being Lazio captain speaks to his leadership. Of course, I can't fault Gomes for being younger, but we all know that the pressure at Juventus can get to some players and sometimes age can help weather this issue.

Cons:

First of all, his injuries.  He has missed nine Serie A matches due to injury this season. Although four of those matches were due to bone injuries, the other five were due to muscle problems (hamstring and calf). In the 2014-15 season he also missed 9 matches. With Juventus' — and Allegri's — recent history of injuries, they may be purchasing a player that can only play 70 percent of matches. Hardly ideal given Marchisio's lengthy injury absence.

Another concern is his ceiling. Although I see his age as an asset, it also means that he is unlikely to give the Old Lady more than what he has already done.  There are few players like Nedved who have their best years after turning 30, so I am not holding my breath.

Mateo Kovacic

Why should he be considered?

He's a young and promising central midfielder who has been touted as a future superstar. Strong dribbler and good passer. Being out of favor in Madrid may reduce his cost.

Pros:

His ceiling is immense. He was purchased by Inter for €15 million at 18 years of age and then moved to Madrid for €25 million. Although I don't think what Madrid paid for him was fair market value, I think Los Blancos were buying potential.  He also comes with the recommendation of teammate Rakitic who knows a thing or two about playing in the midfield.

Just like Biglia, Kovacic comes with Serie A experience. He had 32 appearances for Inter in the 2013-14 season, and played 35 games last year (his last in Serie A). What is most important is that he played 800 minutes more in his second season (a respectable total of 2460 minutes) than his first. For comparison sake, Gomes played 2,543 minutes last season (14-15) and has played 2,174 minutes in La Liga this season.

Also, his injury record is almost spotless. In the last three years, he has missed one game due to injury. Yes, you read that right, ONE! This could be due to his age, as Paul Pogba and Paulo Dybala were essentially unbreakable until this year. Nevertheless, this is not an area of concern for Kovacic.

Cons:

Although he played many minutes at Inter, that team was such a mess that earning a starting spot for a talented player like Kovacic is expected, not an accomplishment.  Once he moved to Madrid his minutes have been limited. In Spain he has started eight times and has been used as a substitute 15 times. Although those numbers are not bad for someone his age in such a stacked club, they also say that he may not walk straight into our starting 11, at least not next year.

The numbers

So how do these three players look compared to one another? I pulled some numbers for this season from WhoScored. I know that numbers don't tell the whole story, but they sure help frame it. So here we go:

Player
Minutes
YC
Passes (Success %)
Biglia
2,126
9
79.2 (87.8%)
Kovacic (LL)
1,005
4
31.1 (90.6%)
Kovacic (SA)
2,463
3
53.1 (87.5%)
Gomes
2,175
8
42.6 (81.6%)
Marchisio
1,931
8
63.5 (88.5%)

These numbers are for this ongoing season. Kovacic's numbers are for La Liga (LL, this season), and for Serie A (SA, last season).

Interestingly, Marchisio has a ridiculous number of passes with high accuracy. Of course, these numbers don't say anything about the difficulty of these passes. Biglia and Marchisio tend to make shorter and easier passes, and they keep the ball rolling. Kovacic and Gomes are more "adventurous" passers. This may explain Gomes' low accuracy compared to the others. In terms of yellow cards (YC), they are almost equally as high except for Kovacic, who is significantly less carded than their peers. Interestingly, his defensive contributions are not signficantly less than Gomes' so he may be a cleaner or more clinical tackler.

Comparison

The comparisson of of key passes, assists, goals, interceptions, and tackles per game above tells a very interesting story.

First of all, Kovacic (SA) and Biglia beat Gomes in every category except for assists Defensively Biglia is the man — more than doubling his tackles per game compared to Kovacic and Gomes. Il Principino comes a distant second in this category. As for interceptions, Marchisio is a little better than Biglia, but both of them are significantly better than Gomes and Kovacic. Offensively Biglia doesn't look too shabby. Although Kovacic hasn't scored for Madrid yet, he had five goals to his name for Inter last season.  In terms of key passes, Biglia has 2 key passes per game, slightly behind comes Kovacic (SA) at 1.8. Marchisio is third at 1.0 with Gomes coming last at 0.9 per game. Kovacic from Real Madrid is dead last, but his role at Madrid seems so limited, these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The Verdict

I should start this with a disclaimer: I must admit that I started this article not knowing much from the players. I have seen Kovacic and Biglia  playing for Inter and Lazio respectively. Unfotunately, I don't follow La Liga enough to have seen Kovacic after he moved to Spain or Gomes at Valencia. Maybe others can enlighten me in the comments below

Now, let's get on with this.

Gomes seems like a player with plenty of room to grow but nowhere near being the finished article. His numbers and other articles I have read suggest that he is not going to be a player that will shield our backline. Maybe Allegri can make Gomes incorporate this into his game but we shouldn't buy him expect him to do so. Offensively, he seems like a very creative player, but his passing statistics are not top of the class.

Kovacic's ceiling seems way higher than the Portuguese alternative. His defensive numbers are equally as good (poor?), but offensively he seems a little better. Also, he is two years younger and with Serie A experience.

After writing this article, I would say that Biglia is the better option. Defensively his game seems solid, and offensively he seems like he can handle his own. His tactical positioning is not as impeccable as Marchisio's, but then few players are as good as the Italian. I also think he would add to the personality of the dressing room and can slot into out midfield with less problems.

If Juventus are going to go and spend €35 million outright plus another €15 million in bonuses for Gomes then I think that money can be better spent by trying for the Croatian or Argentine options. I imagine that for €35 million with no bonuses we may be able to get Kovacic, whereas Biglia will be at around the €20 million mark. Although I am concerned about Biglia's injury record, Mario Lemina could be an excellent understudy and suitable replacement until Il Principino can find his form likely sometime in 2017.

If you have made it this far, you win endurance points.  Tell us what you think are suitable options in the comments or if you even think these players are worthy of the black and white shirt next season.