One red card, one assist, one goal almost scored, a second assist almost tallied — through two games with Juventus, Federico Chiesa looks like the Italian version of Juan Cuadrado: lots of lethal contributions tempered with preposterous decision-making and head-scratching moments.
Like Andrea Agnelli said recently, though, you can’t really evaluate the mercato — or, in this case, any individual transfer — right when the market closes; you’ve got to wait until the end of the season to see what has come to fruition. Still, to effectively chart the course of a player’s progress over the campaign, you can start to see what’s working and what isn’t, what’s worrisome and what’s auspicious, from the outset.
So through (not quite) 180 minutes, here’s what we’ve got from the almost-23-year-old thus far.
The good: the grinta, the pace, the dribbles
The Gianluca Fabrotta experience was exciting for a brief moment, but after seeing Chiesa occupying the left wingback position, I don’t think the Under-23 product should be a familiar face the rest of the way once Alex Sandro returns and Chiesa stops getting red cards.
Chiesa does a lot of good things, foremost among them being the intangible quality of grinta. He simply tries really, really hard. He plays with anger, with fervor, with spunk and spark. His stamina on FIFA should be at least 95, because even in the dying embers of a game he’s pressing on defense and making runs in possession. For better or for worse, Chiesa is not a player whose presence you’ll fail to notice. He makes noise.
With Chiesa, Juve added a more dependable burst of speed than the delicate Douglas Costa. The one moment in the Italian’s early days with the Bianconeri that demonstrates that speed — which might not be at the level of a Kylian Mbappe but which is still pretty brutal for defenders to deal with — is the goal against Crotone. I go into that goal in more detail below, but Chiesa’s acceleration to reach the ball in the box is something palpably clear in the replay. He might not be as shifty as the Flash, but the top-end speed is still a welcome addition to the side.
For a while now — with Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi, and Cristiano Ronaldo as an aging player — the Old Lady has been either old and relatively slow (Pipita, Ronaldo) or just relatively slow (La Joya, Fede), or both. Players like Chiesa are changing that. And he is doing so both with the ball, dribbling at or past opponents, and without the ball, making incisive runs.
The bad: did he just dribble into three defenders?
Chiesa is a very well-rounded player for being all of (almost) 23 years of age. To a certain extent that shouldn’t really be a surprising fact; he logged 137 Serie A appearances with La Viola, playing regularly since the 2016-17 season as a teenager. He’s played with different coaches, in different systems, and at different positions, domestically and internationally. He’s the son of former Serie A star Enrico Chiesa and has been knocking around the ball since he could totter around asking for more pasta.
All of that is to say that, when talking about Chiesa, pointing out his faults is not to deny the fact that he’s a really good player. But there are faults, and that’s OK. Most players have pretty glaring faults, and if any fault of Chiesa’s could be called “glaring,” it’s his decision-making in the final third. Whether it’s over-dribbling, picking the wrong pass, or attempting an overly ambitious effort at goal, he leaves me with a furrowed brow all too often. If you’ve got doubts here, check in with some of Chiesa’s recent appearances with the Azzurri — or with any Fiorentina fan.
But I think that, perhaps, the crux of the matter for Chiesa is finding the right amount of restraint. In other words, his faults are often expressions of what he does well, but rendered too much — or in the wrong situation.
Is Chiesa good with the ball at his feet? Yes. Did Chiesa just try to dribble through 17 defenders at the same time? Also yes.
Is Chiesa a hound when pressing? Yes. Did Chiesa just lunge into a rash challenge that broke the opposing player’s femur? Also yes.
More moderation, lad!
The possibilities: more space & more time to gel
I think what I like most about Chiesa is not his dribbling, but his marauding runs without the ball. You can see exactly how and why this could prove to be his best characteristic in the Crotone goal.
Alvaro Morata holds the ball up with a deft chest pass down to Dejan Kulusevski, who drives forward against the defense. It’s four attackers against four defenders and the keeper, with acres of space on the right-hand side of the pitch. Chiesa recognizes that space and narrows his run, angling toward goal, creating a lane for the Swede to send a through-ball. Kulusevski’s pass is good, not perfect, and Chiesa uses that burst of speed he has to track the ball down and ping the cross to Morata for the assist.
There are going to be avenues for a lot more runs like that — especially when Ronaldo returns. One of the many, many things that CR7 does extraordinary well is create lanes for teammates; such is the attention he demands from the opposition. With a slew of creative playmakers in the final third like Aaron Ramsey and Kulusevski, Chiesa will get rewarded for making those runs.
When Fabio Paratici secured Chiesa’s services in the waning moments of the transfer window, there was no secret about the youngster’s talent. I had and have my doubts about whether Chiesa will succeed over the long haul with the club, but there was and is no doubt in my mind that this kid is really good.
But this is Juventus. And “really good” doesn’t really cut it if the goal is a Champions League crown. If Chiesa wants to go from being a solid contributor to a player who consistently wreaks havoc on opposition of any quality, he’ll need to find a way to marry the talent with a footballing IQ that recognizes where his teammates are and which decision to make given three or four options.
With Andrea Pirlo as his coach, Ronaldo as his team’s star, and Giorgio Chiellini as his team’s captain, I like Chiesa’s chances.