The 2018-19 season was full of high expectations and bitter disappointments for Juventus, and perhaps no other position was reflective of that more than the group of fullbacks.
What started as such a promising campaign for the quartet of talented defenders took a sharp decline and ultimately resulted in one of the most topsy-turvy seasons in recent memory.
At the end of the season, one that saw Juve lift an eighth straight Serie A title, the club’s fullbacks left a lot to be desired on the field with their up-and-down play. But, under the tutelage of the right manager next season, they also have the makings of a solid group with European experience that can be more than serviceable deep into Champions League competition.
This group can give Juventus Director of Football Paratici the flexibility and cash to focus on bigger needs at the club over the upcoming summer transfer window. That is, if they are all going to still be Juventus players come the start of next season.
Leonardo Spinazzola — 7
The 26-year-old Italian got his first major action for the Bianconeri after the winter break, and he showed flashes of why Juventus decided to keep him at the club in the second half of the season despite plenty of rumors of a move elsewhere in January. An injury to Mattia De Sciglio and suspension for Alex Sandro forced Allegri into starting Spinazzola in what was, at the time, the biggest match of the season in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Atletico Madrid. He responded with one of the best offensive performances of the season for a Juve fullback, constantly threatening the Atletico defense up the left side of the pitch.
In his limited appearances, he often displayed the same tenacity and willingness to move forward and attack, offering Juventus a clear alternative to Sandro on the left flank — something that Max Allegri lacked in previous seasons. His performance was a positive development in what was an otherwise disappointing season, and he has earned himself a spot in the rotation. You could argue for him being a first choice fullback come the start of next season should Juve finally decide to cash in on Sandro.
His versatility, hard work, and natural skillset offer Juve and Paratici the flexibility to use Spinazzola as a cheaper option on the field, and focus their spending on other more pressing positions such as central midfield or center back.
Alex Sandro — 7
After the season he had a year ago, and rampant offseason transfer rumors during the summer, few expected Alex Sandro to remain with the club when the 2018-19 campaign kicked off. His stock, however, took a slight hit, and Juve never found an offer worth enough money that would make selling him worthwhile. What ensued was a campaign that wasn’t quite as good as 2016-17, yet not quite as bad as 2017-18.
Sandro continued his marauding approach on the left flank, but often left much to be desired both offensively and defensively despite the grit that he showed. With that said, he will be hard to replace and is still considered one of the better fullbacks in world football. With reports of Marcelo to Juve (finally) dying down, keeping Sandro will likely still be Juve’s best option when it comes to the left back position.
Despite having lower numbers — 1 goal and 2 assists in 42 total appearances — across competitions, Sandro had a higher pass success rate percentage and maintained a higher number of aerial duels won than he did in his revered 2016-17 season.
Joao Cancelo — 7
Joao Cancelo had a mixed season at Juventus that was emblematic of the club’s performances as a whole. His performance in the beginning of the year had some hailing him as the best signing of the offseason ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, but ultimately an injury halted his progress and he returned a shell of his former self, never regaining his early-season form.
At his peak, he was a dangerous threat up and down the right flank, providing such consistent service into the box that it masked his defensive deficiencies. At his worst, he was a great liability in defense, subjecting Juve’s center backs into a barrage of dangerous crosses and attacks in numbers by playing out of position or too far upfield.
No question, Cancelo displayed the talent this season to be considered among the best fullbacks in the world. If he can provide consistency in his game, he would be well worth the €40 million transfer fee Juve paid to get him last summer. On the other hand, when he’s not providing the service you expect from a guy with his kind of talent, he’s a huge detriment to the entire team.
If he stays with Juventus through the summer months — and there’s already been plenty of rumors about a possible sale — it will be interesting to see if Juve’s new manager can coax Cancelo into playing at his best. His relationship with Allegri often seemed contentious toward the latter part of the season due to performance and playing time.
Mattia De Sciglio — 6.5
The other 26-year old Italian, Mattia De Sciglio, had another slightly above-average and unassuming season for Juventus, something we’ve come to expect from the traditional fullback. He is what we thought he was. That will never change.
A team that aspires to win Champions League glory will never rely on a player of De Sciglio’s caliber to provide the inventiveness and box-to-box reliability required of today’s fullbacks, but that is not what he is asked to do. De Sciglio will happily take heavy minutes in midweek Coppa Italia and Serie A matches against the likes of Sassuolo and Genoa.
This season, he did more of the same. Typically solid defending with a few head scratching defensive lapses and forays into the attacking third. Ho hum. Life goes on.