On June 13, 2016, Juventus opened their chequebook to acquire their first player of the summer transfer window, and subsequently inked him to a five-year contract. They spent €32 million to meet the player’s buyout clause from his current contract with Roma. That player was Bosnian superstar midfielder, Miralem Pjanic.
Since the day he was brought in, there was huge debate and speculation as to what his role with Juventus would be, and where he would fit in best. At this point in the season, he has spent time at all three considered midfield roles, so I have attempted to breakdown his contributions in each formation by the numbers.
Acquiring the data was no easy feat, as most of the publicly available statistics from Transfermarkt, WhoScored, and Squawka are not sortable, filterable, or exportable. Much of this work had to be done by hand, and was a long drawn out process. Credit must be given to Ty (Semperty) for his assistance both inputting data, and helping locate some of the statistics. If you would like to see the data or how these final numbers are calculated, leave a comment and I can send you a copy. The data collected and used is from all 29 of Pjanic’s appearances across Serie A and Champions League. Insufficient data was available for other competitions. The world of football statistics is certainly not perfect, and I would guess that there is money to be made in that category if it can be improved.
So far, Pjanic has featured in three prominent roles. All minutes and appearance data is from Transfermarkt. He has played as the left central midfielder in a 3-5-2 formation for 15 appearances, with 1090 minutes played. He has spent two games as a regista in a 3-5-2 formation, but without statistical significance on their own, they have been added into the 3-5-2 LCM statistics. He has lined up as an attacking midfielder, or trequartista, in a 4-3-1-2 formation for five appearances with 368 minutes played. Finally, and most recently, he has been one of the members of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation for nine appearances, good for 673 minutes.
Positioning in each role
To illustrate his positioning on the field, I have decided to show a heat map of a game in each formation in which his stats from that game closely resembled the averages for that formation. All heat maps are courtesy of WhoScored.
To begin, I have selected Juventus’ 4-0 Cagliari victory on Sept. 21 where he operated as a left central midfielder in the 3-5-2 formation:
This heat map shows that Pjanic spends most of his time operating down the left side of the field. He still gets involved further down the field, but most time is spent just before the midfield line. There is some evidence of him instances of moving down the wings.
Next, I have selected Juventus’ Dec. 3 match against Atalanta, where they won 3-1 and Pjanic was deployed as a trequartista in the 4-3-1-2 formation:
Here is where Pjanic’s role is least defined. Part of me expected that when placed in this role, he was given the most freedom to roam the field as he sees fit. He spent a large portion of the game operating the wings, but also a surprising amount of time tracking back on defense.
Finally, I have selected Juventus’ game on March 19 against Sampdoria, where they won 1-0 and Pjanic was used as part of the double pivot in the midfield:
Here, Pjanic seems to operate more centrally. A large portion of the match was spent in his own half, and there isn’t much evidence of pushing forward.
Pjanic is no doubt one of the world’s elite passers. Here is where I examined his total passes (WhoScored), total short vs. long passes (WhoScored), completion percentage by type (Squawka), key passes minus corners (Squawka), and assists (Transfermarkt).
In regards to total passes attempted, Pjanic made the most passes per 90 in the 4-2-3-1 pivot role, with 78.75. Giving a top playmaker the opportunity to make more passes can’t be a bad thing, and this role has given him the most passes so far. Also in this role, he boasts the highest number of short and long passes per 90, and is completing them the most frequently.
The key passes metric shows that Pjanic made the most key passes per 90 while in the 3-5-2 formation, with 1.14. His numbers didn’t fall off a cliff while in the 4-2-3-1 formation, but they did drop to 1.03. I like this metric much more than assists, considering it is not based on whether someone finishes off the chance provided or not. Interestingly enough though, Pjanic does not have an assist while in the 4-2-3-1 formation thus far. In the small sample of the 4-3-1-2 formation, he has a high total of 0.83 assists per 90, while boasting 0.28 in the 3-5-2 formation.
Other noteworthy points include the lack of long passes used as a trequartista, with only 2.41 long passes attempted per 90. We can chalk up the low completion rate to a small sample size, but he wasn’t able to distribute long passes almost at all in this role.
Pjanic is an expert free-kick taker, among the best in the world. Just that is a huge offensive contribution in itself. Aside from that though, he has been at least an admirable offensive performer this year. Here is where the least variation by role comes in. All raw data for this portion was extracted from Squawka.
Pjanic was able to take roughly the same amount of shots per 90 in all three roles. All four of his goals from open play though came from the 3-5-2 formation. This should not be the biggest of concerns for the team, though, as in the 4-2-3-1 formation there should be four bona-fide attackers relied on for the scoring.
The goal of the defense exercise was to measure how involved defensively Pjanic was in each of the three roles. The heat graphs already showed that he dropped deepest as part of the 4-2-3-1 role. To measure where on the field he made the most defensive impact, I analyzed his number of interceptions, and successful tackles. All raw data for this portion was extracted from Squawka.
Here is where the data showed strong variance for the different roles. His successful tackles per 90 for 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2 were 0.68 and 0.46, respectively. In his new pivot role in the 4-2-3-1, though, his successful tackles per 90 have nearly tripled to 1.74. Similarly, his interceptions per 90 in the 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2 were 1.02 and 1.35 respectively, have nearly doubled to 2.01 in his new role in the 4-2-3-1. From this, we can conclude that he has certainly made much more of a defensive impact in this new role, based on these two stats.
Pjanic has likely found his optimal role with this current Juventus team as a pivot in the 4-2-3-1 formation. By these metrics, Pjanic is able to make more passes at a higher rate, while delivering a similar amount of key passes. If the output of key passes stays up, the assists will more than likely come. He is still able to take similar amounts of shots, although the quality of these shots were not measured, or not made available to the public. He has also been able to significantly improve his defensive contributions in this role.
Stats are great, but they certainly do not paint the whole picture. Vote on where you think he’s played best so far, from the eye-test.
Where do you think Miralem Pjanic has best played his best football for Juventus so far?
This poll is closed