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Future of the backline: What Mattia Caldara will bring to Juventus’ defense

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AC Milan v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Ever since the original deal was struck between Atalanta and Juventus during the January transfer window in 2017, Juve supporters everywhere have been waiting in anticipation for the day that Mattia Caldara returns from his 18-month loan spell in Bergamo. The agreement was likely a massive coup for Juventus, as the club quickly snatched up one of the most in-demand young central defenders on the Italian peninsula.

Caldara was one of Serie A’s standout performers during the 2016-17 season — not only for his age group, but for all defenders. Caldara quickly established himself as one of the most vital components for Gian Piero Gasperini’s remarkable Atalanta squad that finished fourth in the Italian top flight and qualified for the Europa League. In 30 appearances that season, he averaged a gaudy 3.4 interceptions per game for a total of 101 in all, according to WhoScored.com. That number placed Caldara fifth amongst all defenders in Europe’s Top 5 leagues, not just Serie A.

This past season, Caldara averaged 2.2 interceptions per game across both domestic competition as well as in the Europa League, another impressive number. The only member of Juventus who had a higher average interception rate last season was Medhi Benatia, and the difference was minuscule (Caldara’s 2.2 to Benatia’s 2.4). Caldara is also a goal-scoring threat when he joins the attack and pushes forward on the pitch, something he loves to do. Mattia is a presence in the air, being very successful in aerial duels, which he brings not only to his defensive work, but to his offensive game as well. Having scored 10 goals in the past two seasons alone from corners, set-pieces, and crosses into the box, Juventini will quickly become accustomed to celebrating goals along with Caldara, although he doesn’t have a signature celebration like his soon-to-be counterpart King Kong Chiellini. That can come in time though, Caldara will be learning a lot from Giorgio (more on this later).

While on loan at Atalanta the past season and a half, Caldara continued to refine his game under Gasperini’s tutelage in order to become a more complete defender upon his arrival in Turin. It is also a boon for Juventus that he received some vital experience playing in European competition, as he will quickly have to become accustomed to playing under the bright lights of the Champions League in the near future. Some of Caldara’s best moments of this past term came in important matches in the Europa League, such as the clean sheet kept against Lyon in Bergamo against the likes of Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir and Co., as well as providing an assist in La Dea’s 5-1 rout of Everton at Goodison Park.

Seeing Caldara do so well on every stage he has played on is nothing but encouraging for the 24-year-old, as the matches he will be in at Juventus will prove to be his most demanding yet.

Once he arrives at Vinovo to begin training with his new club, Caldara will be looked upon to contribute and bring these same qualities into Max Allegri’s team. Caldara is supremely gifted for his age in both his mentality, reading of the game, and the physicality he brings. He is someone who, if successful, brings all of the elements of a leader to the dressing room, and embodies the traits that have come to be expected with players who come into a side like Juventus. Caldara will be able to learn the ropes from Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, who will provide invaluable knowledge to the defender in this massive step of his career.

Instead of throwing Caldara straight into the fire, Allegri can slowly integrate him into the squad as he has done with new arrivals previously (see: Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala). This will not only allow for a strengthening of familiarity between the player and his new club, but also allow for Caldara to study the game closely in training from his defensive partners and not feel too much pressure right away. Chiellini is still of great quality, and having that level of experience in all types of matches, from Serie A to Champions League to international duty, cannot be understated to a player like Caldara’s development. The veteran will be able to assure top performances out of the back while also giving out the minutes required to continue Mattia’s progression. This will allow for more first team minutes for Caldara — and Daniele Rugani as well — while Barzagli has more of a behind-the-scenes/leadership role since he most likely will not be playing in most matches at the tail end of his career.

It is a pretty popular opinion — or more of a fact — that Juventus needs to start the process of getting younger all around its roster. In defense, it seems that there’s plenty to look forward to, especially with a strong Italian contingent present. Caldara will form a duo with Rugani at some point if all goes according to plan, something that us fans have been itching to see for a long while. Rugani will be able to provide the adept passing skills needed out of the back (91 percent pass completion success this past season), and Caldara will be the solid presence in the back to provide cover with his discipline, concentration, and positioning. Rugani, it seems, still needs some more time to further his game, but the potential is clearly of a high standard. Mattia De Sciglio is also still young at only 25 years old, and while not spectacular, he was reliable in his defensive duties at right back. Hopefully MDS can get over his injury troubles from this campaign and put in more positive performances next year. And definitely some more bangers like this one, I mean, what a missile.

Not only will these three players all get time together at Juventus, but they will also be center stage in the continued revitalization of the Italian National Team. This will further their comfort levels together, and hopefully shine through to their club matches as well at Juventus Stadium. As Italy gets younger, Juve will as well, and we are all lucky to have players of such talent at the forefront for both.