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Merih Demiral might still play a part in this unpredictable season

Guess who’s back, back again. Merih’s back, tell a friend.

Juventus v SSC Napoli - Coppa Italia: Final Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Every few days, the question pops up on this blog or on the BWRAO Twitter feed. You’ve probably seen it. Hell, you might have even asked it after it popped into your head and you really had no idea what the answer would be, therefore you sought some help.

“When is Merih Demiral coming back?”

Not that there was a definite answer from us folks who are not in-the-know and not hanging outside of Juventus’ fancy new training grounds on a regular basis. Essentially, we could only go off of what we new already — and that was the fact that Demiral, who underwent major knee surgery in January after tearing his ACL against Roma, was only partially training following the restart. We’ve seen him traveling with the team, in a suit and wearing a mask, but nothing more than that and a few pictures here or there of him doing work on the side.

So be it my surprise when Juventus’ website posted this on Sunday:

Juve will play in Emilia in three days time, and therefore, they have already returned to training. On the today’s menu, was recovery and gym, as always for those who played yesterday evening, and training on the pitch, which was dedicated to technical work, ball possession and a match for the rest of the team. Merih Demiral also worked in the group.

You read that last sentence right, my friends. And just to help, it’s been bolded so you see it.

The same Demiral who was one half of that Roma-Juventus game where two extremely talented players in their early 20s suffered the exact same injury is back to full training just about (For what it’s worth, Nicolo Zaniolo made his comeback a couple of games ago, even scoring a goal this past weekend in Roma’s win over Brescia.)

It was Jan. 13 of this year — I know that feels a loooooooong time ago the way 2020 has gone — when we heard Demiral had torn his ACL as well as suffered damage to his meniscus. The timetable for his return was six or seven months, which put him in the range of a return for, at the time, was going to be the start of preseason training. That wasn’t really a surprise when you immediately saw how the injury happened and then went through a couple of sets of replays. And that was mid-January, a time where there could end up being a three-month gap in between games due to a pandemic.

So, knowing that Demiral is back to full training now and the fact that Juventus’ season is still going on rather than preseason training beginning around this time, another question that’s based off that original one is probably now popping into your head: When will he be BACK BACK?

To that end of the equation, it’s still very much a case of to be determined.

But, the fact that Demiral has started training means that there could very well be a chance he plays — albeit it’s probably a small one knowing the risk involved with rushing him into game action with where we’re at in the schedule — is obviously something we didn’t really consider all that much even in the early stages of the shutdown in Italy.

Juventus has operated much of the new year with three healthy center backs — Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt and Daniele Rugani. Of those three, it’s the first two that have truly shouldered the bulk of the playing time both before and after the coronavirus lockdown. The other center back to undergo major knee surgery this season, Giorgio Chiellini, has been in the last few matchday squads but has yet to actually step onto the field following the restart of play.

Where does Demiral fit into all of this then?

Well, for one, it depends on how long it takes for him to get back to a level of match fitness where Maurizio Sarri feels comfortable with Demiral out there. (There have been reports that Demiral is staying on-site at Juve’s Continassa facility 24/7 so that he can get extra work in.) It also very much depends probably depends on Chiellini’s standing the rest of the season. For all we know, we could see Chiellini get his first start post-lockdown in Wednesday’s trip to Sassuolo. That’s not necessarily something that has been talked about in the Italian press since Juventus’ 2-2 draw with Atalanta on Saturday, but it would make sense seeing as Bonucci has played every post-lockdown minute and de Ligt’s shoulder took an absolute beating against Atalanta this past weekend.

But, the fact is, six months ago we thought Demiral’s season was over. Now, with the season obviously still going, Demiral could very well be the thing that actually gets some kind of squad rotation taking place again. It might not be this week or next week, but the fact that we might see Demiral play again this season is a positive development to come out of all the suck that this pandemic has given us.