Writing about actual football tactics and pitch-related activities during the heat of the transfer window — not to mention the literal day before the beginning of the World Cup, aka Project Uruguay, aaka The Juve Forwards of Argentina Files — is like trying to dutifully fill a ledger with a company’s tax information from the last year while, at the same time, sitting in a cafe during that scene in the movie Magnolia when the sky rains frogs.
This time of year is intoxicating like that, in every good and bad way possible. There’s the romance of imagining X or Y player and how they’d link up with Douglas Costa or Paulo Dybala. There are rampant rumors of buying and selling. And there is, also, and perhaps most poignantly, the utter sense of vertigo, given the malleability of truth
Probably that selfsame vertigo sent my mind to the scene in Magnolia, and to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s bewildered character: “There are frogs falling from the sky .,. ”
Alas, raining frogs or not, I hereby propose an actual football discussion: Recently the Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Juventus see Miralem Pjanic not just as an important player to retain, but the key to the present and future of the midfield. At 28 years old, the Bosnian, pending health, has two to three years of peak football ahead of him, and despite the fact that he has been arguably playing out of his
For a moment suspend your judgment of the report’s veracity, and instead focus on the question at hand: Would Juventus be wise to structure the midfield around Miralem Pjanic?
As far as this Stefano Sturaro fan is concerned, the answer is an emphatic yes — for two reasons. The first is that the question presupposes the correct diagnosis for the existing woes of this team, which is that there is currently on contract an absolutely badass collection of forwards (Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Costa, Mario Mandzukic, Federico Bernardeschi, Juan Cuadrado, Marko Pjaca, Moise Kean), a basically permanently amazing defense (fullback personnel notwithstanding), and two recently signed goalkeepers who are both really, really good.
In other words, the midfield is the unit with problems, and aiming to structure around the midfield moving forward means the management sees this clearly. As well as the Bianconeri did this year earning the two trophies, the movement so often felt disconnected from the back line to the front line. Pjanic never looked comfortable. Sami Khedira ended the season well, but went through some really ugly spells of form. Blaise Matuidi was ... good, not great, not a world-beater. Rodrigo Bentancur showed promise; Claudio Marchisio rode the bench; Sturaro is what he is (a future Genoa midfielder).
Pjanic is without a doubt the best midfielder on the roster, and I think he’s one of the best midfielders in Europe. But he definitely has his weaknesses. Too often we’ve seen him easily dispossessed. He’s looked incredibly uncomfortable under duress near the back line, even giving the ball away in embarrassingly poor locations a number of times. His passing frequently looked tentative, bland, completely uncreative.
For all that, the moments when he does shine are absolutely brilliant. Remember this? I want more of that.
Bonus Section Interlude: No BS, No Context, All Answers
In which the writer of this article says, simply, “yes” or “no” to the 10 million transfers to whom Juventus have been linked in the past weeks in an attempt to relegate this topic of discussion between the inserted horizontal lines.
Anthony Martial — Yes
Alvaro Morata — No
Robert Lewandowski — No
Mauro Icardi — No
Mousa Dembele — Yes
Mateo Kovacic — Yes
Aleksandr Golovin — Yes
Lucas Torreira — Yes
Jack Wilshere — No
Paul Pogba — No
Joao Cancelo — No
Matteo Darmian — Yes
Matthijs de Ligt — No
Stefan Savic — Yes
Article resuming in ... 3 ... 2 .... 1 ...
Which leads me to the second reason I think this is the right move: The current movement suggests that management knows Pjanic has been playing somewhat out of position, and that if they reshape the midfield slightly and move him to where he naturally shines then they’ll unlock the world-beating aspects he possesses.
Pjanic came to Juventus as an attacking mid, and mostly out of necessity he has played as some sort of holding midfielder, defensive midfielder, regista combination. But with the names currently being thrown around, most notably Emre Can, it seems like management is hunting for someone who can hold and allow Pjanic to move forward. Can is certainly not a regista, and while he has some box-to-box qualities I think he’s maybe best suited as a pure destroyer, a la Casemiro (though Can is faster).
A brief image: Can sitting in front of Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani, wreaking havoc on opposition attacks, winning the ball, and then sending the ball up to Pjanic.
That’s the connection I want to see; I want to see Pjanic higher up the pitch by a quarter, doing what he did at Roma with the improvements he’s made since then.
In some ways, of course, too much tactical speculation is, at this juncture, a fool’s errand, because who knows if Can is coming to Juventus? Who knows if Pjanic isn’t going to Barcelona on July 28? Who knows what the hell is going to happen? Nobody, obviously.
All the same, I deem it a healthy exercise, in such a turbulent time, to pause assumptions and veracity and look at football matters. And given Juve’s current transfer movements, it seems like Max Allegri and Beppe Marotta are well aware the midfield needs immediate addressing. With Bentancur’s continued improvement, the potential signing of Can, and the rediscovery of Pjanic, I think a few modest moves this offseason could pay enormous dividends in the following years.