In recent years, Max Allegri has made it somewhat of an unwritten rule of slowly incorporating one or two of Juventus’ biggest summer signings into the starting lineup. While players like Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi have been thrown right into the mix and pretty much hit the ground running after their first Juve appearances, others — like, say, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain — have had to bide their time as they played a reserve role for their first few months wearing a Juventus jersey.
So far this season, it’s safe to say Federico Bernardeschi falls into the second of those two categories.
Signed from Fiorentina for €40 million this summer, Bernardeschi — along with Douglas Costa on loan from Bayern Munich — was part of Juve’s much-needed upgrades to the winger position that accommodated Allegri’s full-time switch to the 4-2-3-1. Through the first two months of the season, Bernardeschi has all of one start to his name. Let me repeat, ONE START. And even though that game, Juventus’ 2-2 draw against Atalanta right as everybody was heading into the international break that saw the young Italian winger score Juve’s first goal and record the assist on the second, Bernardeschi’s time in Turin has been spent far more on the bench than the field.
At this point, that’s no secret, but it’s still pretty surprising.
Bernardeschi’s game-by-game minute counts prior to his start in the Atalanta draw are as follows:
- Suppercoppa vs. Lazio — 18 minutes
- Sept. 9 vs. Chievo — 14 minutes
- Sept. 12 vs. Barcelona — 27 minutes
- Sept. 17 vs. Sassuolo — 5 minutes
- Sept. 20 vs. Fiorentina — 8 minutes
- Sept. 23 vs. Torino — 28 minutes
- Sept. 27 vs. Olympiacos — 6 minutes
In case you’re keeping track, before he played from the opening whistle against Atalanta two weekends ago, that’s zero starts, seven appearances and an average of about 15 minutes per appearance. That’s ... not all that much time on the field. And it’s even less time to both try and make an impact and even get into the flow of things before the final whistle sounds.
If you were to ask me just how Bernardeschi fits into Allegri’s plans right now, I don’t think I could come up with an answer for you. As much as I want to say — and think -- that the start against Atalanta is a sign of things to come, who really knows. Allegri made it clear that he wanted to rotate both because of injuries and the fact that he had been forced to play a lot of the same players over the previous few weeks, a stretch that included Juventus’ first two Champions League games of the year.
It’s become ever-so-clear that Mario Mandzukic’s place on the left wing is going to be his and his alone much more often than not as long as he stays healthy. So that essentially means we’ve got three players competing for the starting spot on the right wing — Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado.
We know the pros and the cons when it comes to Cuadrado, an incredibly talented yet a flawed and frustrating player to watch a decent chunk of the time.
We are starting to see the kind of pros and cons of Douglas Costa’s game as he gets more minutes under his belt. (Not much more than Bernardeschi when it comes to domestic competition, but still more.) He’s hot, he’s cold, but he provides something that not a lot of Juventus players can — a whole bunch of pace out on the wing.
When it comes to Bernardeschi, though, we haven’t seen enough of him — not even close to it — in a Juventus jersey to really know where he fits into this team coming out of the second international break.
One could say that it’s too early to come to a final determination and they would be totally right. Hell, for all we know Allegri is going to have Bernardeschi starting on the right wing against Lazio over the weekend and then Sporting midweek and all of this will be a moot point. But, based on what we’ve seen Allegri do with Bernardeschi over the past eight weeks, we don’t really know what the heck to think.
And that might be the whole problem in this lack of early-season playing time.
We want Bernardeschi to play. I don’t think that is something to be denied at this point. But with all the injuries that have hit this squad, the wing position hasn’t truly been affected by the injury bug outside of Marko Pjaca’s long-term absence. There are quality players — or mainstays in the case of Mandzukic — that will get there chunks of playing time as Allegri maneuvers his way through Juventus playing on multiple fronts.
Just how much Bernardeschi gets still remains to be seen.
The catch is that in his first start, he played a lot like the player we saw at Fiorentina the past couple of seasons. What Bernardeschi did against Atalanta — in the first half, at least, before he started to fade away after the break — was what Juventus paid all that money for. It wasn’t just the goal. It wasn’t just the assist. (Although both of those were quite nice considering he hadn’t played all that much at all before the trip to Bergamo.)
It’s no guarantee that Bernardeschi will play like he did against Atalanta every time out mainly because it’s impossible to expect him to. (There are only so many players who can be on the form of their life like Dybala has been so far this season.) But the more he plays,. the better the chance of Bernardeschi coming close to that, if not more.
No matter what, though, I’m still waiting for Bernardeschi to get actual minutes, consistent minutes, for the first time this season. And I’m not talking about 10 minutes off the bench each game, either. We’ll see if Max actually cooperates. Until then, the waiting game will continue — and who knows when it will actually come to an end.