Continuing with BWRAO’s season-ending rankings, we now switch over to the midfield.
Widely considered by fans to be the weak link in the current Juventus squad, the unit saw a bunch of changes throughout the season. Max Allegri tinkered and tinkered, starting with only two midfield players in the 4-2-3-1 formation and ended up using a three-man midfield in the 4-3-3 formation by the end of the season.
For whatever reason, Juve’s midfield never seemed to find a good rhythm and, as the season wore on, it became evident that some reinforcements for next season are needed.
However, it is still worth it to analyze the individual members of the midfield and maybe try to find an answer as of why this unit never fulfilled their potential.
We will go from the player with most appearances to the one with least amount.
Blaise Matuidi — 6.5
Season stats: 46 appearances, 4 goals, 2 assists, 4 yellow cards in all competitions.
The veteran Frenchman was heavily relied upon in his first season as a Juventus player. Coming over from Paris Saint-Germain for a €20 million transfer fee, Matuidi was considered by many fans as a last-ditch effort by the Juventus board in order to improve the midfield, after missing out on many of the big names that had been speculated for the club.
So, was he a disappointment?
It depends on what you were expecting in the first place.
If you were expecting an elite midfielder that would change the complexion of the entire squad and provide both physicality and finesse the likes of which we haven’t seen in the last couple of years, you were probably disappointed.
But if you had middle of the road expectations, like myself — I’d say he was better than expected. He succeeded in being a physical presence in a midfield that, at times, severely lacked physicality. He did well when deployed as the third man in the midfield and did the job he was asked to do, mainly recovering and pace. He was also a living, breathing example of the saying “The best ability is availability” whenever Allegri needed him, he was there, either as a starter or coming on from the bench becoming the Juventus leader in appearances in the midfield unit.
And yet, God bless his soul, Matuidi might be one of the roughest players to see when it comes to on-the-ball technique, regularly misplaying passes and often having poor control on the ball. I lost count of how many times he misplaced passes in the last third of the pitch, struggling to make the right touch when the team needed it to open play.
Matuidi is not the solution to Juventus’ midfield woes. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a useful member of the squad going forward. There will always be a place in a top squad for a guy like Matuidi, he adds another dimension to the midfield with his physicality, pace, relentlessness and all-around grinta. I expect him to remain on the squad for the coming year and be an important part in the midfield rotation.
Miralem Pjanic — 7
Season stats: 44 appearances, 7 goals, 14 assists, 11 yellow cards in all competitions
One of the constants in the midfield for a second straight season, Pjanic led all midfield players in assists and minutes played. He continued his impressive transition from being a mostly creative midfielder, during his time at Roma, to a full-time regista with Juventus.
At first glance, looking at his raw numbers, you could argue he had a similar season than the one he had last year and even in his previous seasons at Roma. But unlike his previous seasons, Pjanic faltered during the last stretch, many times looking tired, sloppy and a shell of the player he usually is.
The numbers bear that out as well, as soon as the calendar turned to 2018, Pjanic only posted three goals and two assists in 19 appearances in all competitions, pretty much all those appearances coming as a starter too.
So, what happened?
It didn’t just look like Pjanic was dead tired, he probably WAS dead tired. Despite playing fewer games than in the previous season, he played more minutes (3,569 in 2017-18 to 3,428 in 2016-17) and had more full games. Being one of the most relied upon men in Allegri’s squad clearly took a toll on the Bosnian and you could tell by his drop in form.
Despite this, Juventus and Allegri should still expect Pjanic to be a big part of the midfield in the coming season. At his best, Pjanic delivers the type of on the ball security and vision needed of an elite regista and his defensive chops have continually improved during his time in the Bianconeri jersey. And, along with Paulo Dybala, he’s still part of one of the deadliest free-kick taking pairs in European football.
With no World Cup participation for him, I expect Pjanic to have a lengthy vacation and come back fully recovered and ready to boss the midfield the way we know he can do.
And, maybe give him more rest next season huh? Just a thought.
Sami Khedira — 6.5
Season stats: 39 appearances, 9 goals, 7 assists, 1 yellow card in all competitions.
I don’t think it’s unfair to call him one of the most polarizing players in the current squad. Another one of Allegri’s favorites, the German midfielder had a season of ups and downs the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time.
These are all things that were said about Sami Khedira at the beginning of this season, in your friendly neighborhood blog, BWRAO:
- Was “honored” with an award for the player that exemplifies being “incoherent, waste of space, frustrating.”
- Wondered out loud if Khedira had compromising pictures of Allegri and that was the reason he was still starting.
- Got the moniker “Casper” for constantly disappearing.
Somehow, though, by the end of the season, was Khedira the best midfielder in the squad?
I mean, maybe right?
Talk about turning the corner. Despite his gaudy total goal numbers, Khedira was pretty terrible at the beginning of the season and took a while to get going. But credit where credit is due, because by the end of the season Khedira was putting up great game after great game, of special mention his play against AC Milan at home and the return leg against Real Madrid, both games where he was simply phenomenal.
As we approach Khedira’s fourth season as a Juventus player, and with no sign of him getting transferred out, you know what you’re getting out of the German international. Solid positioning, box-to-box movement and hit or miss offensive output. If he avoids injuries and plays more like the Sami Khedira of the last few months of the season rather than the one at the beginning of the season, he will be an important part of next year’s squad.
And if not? Well, Allegri will still play him a whole bunch.
Rodrigo Bentancur — 6
Season stats: 27 appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 5 yellow cards in all competitions.
Another player making his debut season with Juventus, the young Uruguayan had an all around solid season adapting to Italian football.
We already talked a bunch about Rodrigo Bentancur’s development, playing time and deployment in last week’s mailbag (BWRAOmailbag@gmail.com for your questions!) so I will go over some of the same points and link to the piece here.
So, to recap, give him more minutes in “easy” Serie A games. I thought he adapted impressively when thrown to the wolves against Real Madrid, though, he still makes dumb mistakes which are normal for such a young player and he has a very bright future ahead of him. I’m excited to see how Bentancur looks like next season, especially after his World Cup experience this summer with the Uruguayan squad, where he has an outside chance of seeing starter minutes.
Claudio Marchisio — 5.5
Season stats: 20 appearances, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 yellow card in all competitions.
A fan favorite, Marchisio had one of the toughest seasons in his career in the 2017-18 season, recording career lows in appearances, starts and minutes as well as tying career lows in goals and assists. That’s the same amount in both categories as he did in his first-full season in Serie A playing with Empoli.
As rumors continue to circle signaling an end of Marchisio’s Juventus career, it’s worth asking if this is the end of the road for him in the Banconeri jersey.
Almost two years removed from an ACL tear, Marchisio saw very limited minutes at the beginning of the season and was even removed from the squad due to a knee injury at certain points. Fitness is still a concern for the Italian international, he was given a couple starts and a few more appearances off the bench in November and December, only to be sidelined for the entire month of January, diagnosed with Muscle Fatigue.
There is some optimism, however, if you look at the second part of the season. Marchisio got seven starts and played three full games. If you’re a glass half full kind of guy like myself, you can look at this and say that as Marchisio’s fitness came back he was given more opportunities. If you’re a glass half empty type of guy, though, you could point out that those starts came against relatively weak competition and that, while he did start those seven games, he was also glued to the bench in most other matches.
Major knee injuries are really difficult to come back from, even for young players, so it’s not surprising that Marchisio has had some fitness difficulties in the past couple of seasons. I want to believe that he will continue to improve, and he will be a big part of the squad for the upcoming year, as a healthy Marchisio could be a huge difference for the depth of the team. But if he is not, he might not be much more than a squad rotation type of guy at this point in his career.
Stefano Sturaro — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Season stats: 19 appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 1 yellow card in all competitions.
I love this guy.
I unabashedly love Stefano Sturaro, he’s the best, my guy has won 4 Scudetti, 4 Coppa Italia and 1 Suppercoppa while playing mediocre football at best and hilariously terrible at worst.
This season he was mostly deployed as a central midfielder, however he somehow also played as a right back 6 times during the season. Which, sure! Why not? Not only did he play as a right back, but he started! 4 times! THREE TIMES IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE!
Was he any good? Of course, he wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try, my God did he try. I will give him credit for that, whenever he’s on the pitch Stefano Sturaro tries, he runs to every ball, he fights for every possession and he goddamn cares. You can tell he cares and you got to respect a guy that cares so much.
He’s still relatively young, so you could make the argument he can still develop into something more than the poor man’s Blaise Matudi and into … well, Blaise Matuidi, I guess.
I don’t see him getting many chances with the Bianconeri next season, there has been some speculation that he will go back to Genoa as part of the deal to bring Mattia Perin to Juventus and that might be the better career move for him. Maybe more playing time in less pressure filled situations will help his growth and help him regain some of the potential and talent that landed him with Juventus in the first place.
But hey, we will always have that 2015 Champions League match against Real Madrid, you bossed the midfield that day buddy. We are all proud of you.