Andrea Pirlo’s first official day as the manager of Juventus has come and gone. Transfer season is upon us, the time of tough decisions and squad composition. Although it feels like the Bianconeri were bounced from the Champions League by Lyon just yesterday with Maurizio Sarri at the helm, the new season is practically here.
Such is the coronavirus-sparked mayhem of the new normal for calcio.
Of the many difficult decisions that litter the road between now and the quest for a 10th-straight Scudetto is what exactly to do about the cadre of attackers at Pirlo’s disposal. With the addition of Swedish starlet Dejan Kulusevksi, named Serie A’s “Best Young Player” with a devastating inaugural campaign in top-flight football with 10 goals and nine assists in league play, there’s inevitably going to be an odd man out. And there’s a very, very good chance that person is either Douglas Costa or Federico Bernardeschi.
So, if you put yourself in the club’s shoes, who would you choose to keep and who would you let go? Depending on your perspective, this is either a classic case of “an embarrassment of riches” or “picking your poison.”
Let’s get to the bottom of it.
The limitations of each are self-evident
Here’s the obvious point that still needs to be made, which applies to both players: neither guy is a world-beater. Over the last couple of seasons we’ve seen inspiring moments from each, but both the Brazilian and the Italian have been disappointing in their tenures, falling short of expectations and price tags.
First, Costa. As electrifying as he can be, the speedy little winger is so frequently injured that I’m actually baffled by the fact that he may be a sellable asset for this squad. (There are allegedly teams interested, emphasis on “alleged.”) Similarly to Aaron Ramsey’s situation, an injury-prone season means there’s no chance to really fully integrate with the squad. Stops and starts and scraps of play here and there.
But here’s the thing: Even when Costa is healthy, his coaches seem to view him as a super-sub only. Indeed, putting that kind of quickness onto the pitch somewhere in the 65-minute range is downright cruel, but if I’m weighing the pros and cons of these two players, this fact is a pretty severe mark against Costa. Adding to all of this, the Brazilian turns 30 in just a few weeks, while Bernardeschi is a spritely (for our club) 26 years of age.
Then there’s the fact that Costa spit in a guy’s face, which is not great!
Bernardeschi doesn’t have the physical limitations that Costa does. He’s mostly healthy, he can play a full 90, and although he’s not lightning-fast he’s not exactly a physical dud out there.
The Italian’s limitations are that, to this point, he just hasn’t been good enough. Not creative enough. Not prolific enough. Not lethal enough. He does a lot of things pretty well and nothing superbly well. When he gets the ball in a good position in the final third he sporadically squanders good opportunities, either with a poor pass, an errant touch, or simply the wrong choice. He’s scored one Serie A goal in the last six decades (or something).
Energy shot vs connective tissue
These are two completely different profiles. Costa is a Red Bull with a shot of espresso and coconut-flavored vodka — a jolt of energy, a moment of inspiration, a spark of hope. But it doesn’t last long, and it’s not something you’re able to do every single game.
Bernardeschi is an Americano — fine most of the time, good occasionally, but never really going to knock your socks off. Even so: dependable, trusty.
This is the question that needs to be answered in order to determine which player stays and which player goes: Which of these two profiles does Juventus actually need?
In my book, the answer is unequivocally clear: rather than the injury-riddled energy shot of Douglas Costa, the Old Lady needs the connective tissue, the reliability of Federico Bernardeschi.
Where Bernardeschi fails in terms of production he succeeds, for the most part, in his durability and his lack of incredibly stupid decisions and mistakes (defensively speaking). Sometimes he can become a bit of a Sami Khedira — a player who plays a full 90 minutes who you hardly notice — but that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Someone like Daniele Rugani would be on the opposite side of the same coin: he doesn’t play much, but when he does you know it because he’s always making egregious mistakes.
No. 33 works particularly well when Juve’s formation slides into a 4-4-2 defensive shape, he’s made cameos in the midfield, and he’s played frequently as a true right winger much closer to goal. If the Bianconeri were to ever experiment again with a three-man back line — something Pirlo voiced as a possibility in his press conference on Tuesday — I wonder about at least trying him as a left back against a lower-level side to see how he does; he has experience there from his days in Florence.
With existing magicians like Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, plus the addition of Kulusevski and, probably, a new striker, Pirlo’s squad undoubtedly needs someone of Bernardeschi’s ilk over Costa. The team needs players who can play multiple positions and who won’t get hurt, who will press like madmen and move the ball around, who are solid defensively and will not make basic positional mistakes.
What’s more, Bernardeschi is young enough to still have some sort of inflection at this point in his career, especially under the tutelage of a manager like Pirlo. Douglas Costa, on the other hand, is Douglas Costa, and he’s not going to change. The Brazilian’s limitations, both physical and tactical, mean it makes plenty more sense to keep Bernardeschi, and this appears to be the direction the club is going.