Given the hybrid nature of Andrea Pirlo’s preferred formations, it was tough to classify some players within the categories we traditionally use on these ratings. That was especially true of what I’ve come to call the wide players — not quite wingers, not quite fullbacks, but definitely guys who spent the majority of their time closer to the sidelines than not.
We eventually decided to classify a couple of players who might’ve been in this group into other places, including Danilo (who was very often a center back in a three-man back line) and Dejan Kulusevski (who is far better out wide, but, mostly out of necessity, was played in the strike pair more often than anywhere else this season).
That said, we begin with the wide players of 2020-21. As per my usual, players are presented in alphabetical order.
Federico Bernardeschi — 4
I feel so bad for Federico Bernardeschi. In my opinion, he’s never had a proper shake at Juventus. He was getting into a real groove in the middle of his first season before Tomas Rincon broke him in the Derby della Mole, and after that a combination of inconsistent playing time and inconsistent playing position never let him build up any momentum, and we only ever saw the best of him in flashes, like the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Atletico Madrid three seasons ago. (God, it’s been that long now.)
Berna saw yet another position change this year, mostly moving to fullback and wingback under Pirlo. He’d played the latter a bit during his time at Fiorentina, but his turns as an out-and-out terzino were very much new territory.
It’s hard to say it went well. Bernardeschi was clearly a second-unit player, coming off the bench more than twice as much as he started, and in the games he did start it can’t be said that he stamped his imprint on the games. He only played 90 minutes three times in the league — and two of those games saw Juve drop points.
The one time we really saw the Bernardeschi we all thought we’d be getting when he signed four years ago was during a substitute appearance against Spezia in March. With Juve languishing against the Serie A newcomers, Bernardeschi came on just after the hour and picked up an assist with practically his first touch, and was a creative force on the left side of the field for the next 30 minutes.
But that was the shadow of what could have been. He only had one other assist in the league this year and two more overall — the other being the late corner Adrien Rabiot scored on against Porto in the second leg of that UCL tie — and was pretty much a squad player for much of the year. A new challenge elsewhere is really the only thing that can re-start Bernardeschi’s career — although given Massimilliano Allegri’s insistence on trying him at every single position it wouldn’t surprise me if he was on the team next year while Max tries to make him the next great center back.
Federico Chiesa — 8
The other half of the Wings of Fede was much more successful this season.
When Chiesa completed his transfer, which, when the complex arrangement is complete, will cost as much as €60 million, there were many who wondered if he was truly worth it, and some openly predicted he would become Bernardeschi 2.0.
Those fears were dispelled pretty quickly. He notched an assist in his Juventus debut (and was also sent off, go figure), and things only went up from there. It took him a little bit of time to adjust to playing on the left side to keep Juan Cuadrado on the right, but by the business end of the season Chiesa was clearly one of, if not the most important player on this team. It’s no coincidence that the late drop in form that put Juve into the position of needing a miracle to make the Champions League coincided with the three weeks he spent on the shelf with a hamstring injury.
He quickly became this season’s big game guy, even more so than Cristiano Ronaldo. His two-goal performance in January’s victory over AC Milan was his coming-out party, and perhaps the high water mark of the entire season. When Ronaldo pretty much disappeared in both legs against Porto, Chiesa dragged the team to the brink of advancing to the quarterfinals practically by himself, scoring three of the team’s four goals in the tie before coming off exhausted after 102 minutes in the second leg. He was decisive in the Coppa Italia final, hitting the post in the second half before potting the winner after a glorious one-two with Kulusevski. He was also the best player on the field in key games against the likes of Napoli and Lazio.
All in all, he scored 14 goals in all competitions and notched nine assists in a Juve shirt. (He scored one and assisted another for Fiorentina before the transfer as well.) In the process, he established himself as one of the best transfers in Italy this season and one of the fundamental building blocks for Juve’s future.
Juan Cuadrado — 8.5
Chiesa is one of the top picks for team MVP, but Juan Cuadrado is step for step with him in the race and likely beats him out.
2020-21 might have been Cuadrado’s best season to date. The just-turned-33-year-old Colombia international had a monster campaign as a wingback and fullback, tallying 10 assists in Serie A and 17 overall. Both numbers were easy career highs, with the former being the most for a Juve player in league play since Douglas Costa had 12 in 2017-18.
Pick a big moment from this season and he was likely involved. The late comeback in the first Derby della Mole of the season? He assisted both goals. The Supercoppa against Napoli? His assist sealed the victory. The second leg against Porto? He registered an absolutely insane 12 key passes, provided the assist that tied the aggregate, and came this f$%#ing close to winning the tie in stoppage time with a wicked angled shot that nearly broke the crossbar in half. The must-win Derby d’Italia in the penultimate round of the season? He scored his only two goals of the campaign, including a clutch penalty with two minutes left that clinched the victory.
Even more striking than his work on the field was the way the team played when he was off it. Juve were demonstrably worse when he wasn’t there — less incisive, less creative, less everything. When talking about the most valuable player, you really can’t say more. Even if his defending was less than Barzagli-like at times, he has evolved into an adequate defender for the role (unlike a certain Portuguese guy we shipped out a few years ago that some people still seem to be pining for) and his contributions on the other end more than cancelled out the occasional mistake. Cuadrado was legitimately the most important player on the team this season — and it doesn’t look like he has any intention of slowing down.
Gianluca Frabotta — 4
Remember when Gianluca Frabotta was playing significant minutes in the early part of the season? I certainly didn’t, because I actually had to be reminded to include him in this piece.
After receiving his first team debut in the last game of last season under Maurizio Sarri, Frabotta was given a surprise start in the season opener against Sampdoria when Alex Sandro suffered an injury in training days before. He impressed in that game, providing some accurate crosses and even forcing a save out of Emil Audero.
His role was reduced as the season ran on and both Sandro and Chiesa began taking bigger roles on the left. He popped up with some significant playing time again in early January, when Sandro and Cuadrado were both out due to COVID-19, causing Pirlo to swing Chiesa to the right and re-introduce Frabotta. He played well in wins over Milan and Sassuolo, notching an assist in the latter, before he got absolutely cooked by Achraf Hakimi in the 2-0 loss to Inter in the first Derby d’Italia of the season. Many fullbacks were on the receiving end of that over the course of the season, but Frabotta looked particularly out of his depth in that game. It was telling that he only ever made two more starts, the first in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal against Serie B Cinderella SPAL, in which he scored his first first-team goal, and the second against newly-promoted Spezia — a game in which his replacement (Bernardeschi, see above) created the opening goal less than 60 seconds after replacing him.
Frabotta didn’t even make any appearances as a substitute after a seven-minute cameo in a 3-1 victory against Cagliari on March 14. He flashed a few times and at 21 still has a lot of potential, but he clearly needs to make a lot of progress to be an everyday player in Serie A — progress that likely will have to come elsewhere, either on loan or simply sold off.
Alex Sandro — 6
At this point, Alex Sandro is what he is. His first two seasons at Juve were legit pushing him into the conversation for best left back in the world, but he’s since leveled off from that meteoric rise.
That’s not to say he’s become a bad player — far from it. After missing the season’s first two months with a training-ground injury suffered days before the season opened, Sandro was about as solid as you can get at a position where that kind of player is sometimes hard to come by. The knock on him is that his offensive contributions have dried up over the years, and this is true to some extent, although it can also be said that that aspect of his game hasn’t benefitted from the fact that so much of this team’s attack goes through Cuadrado on the other side of the field. He only recored two assists in all competitions, although he did come up with his first career brace in late April to get Juve out of jail after going down to rock-bottom Parma at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. He’d make a few good runs and a solid cross here and there, but nothing was too special or flashy.
Defensively he was solid as always, averaging 1.4 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per match in league play, with those numbers rising to two and three, respectively, in the Champions League. The odd mental lapse cost the team goals every now and then, but he made a pair of immense defensive stops against Sassuolo and Inter in the last two weeks of the season that kept Juve ahead in must-win games and in all likelihood saved Juve’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
All in all, Sandro continues to be a solid left back in a team that has hardly any fullbacks on the roster at all. His first years in Turin were perhaps a bit of a tease, but while he may not be the superstar we thought he might become he’s turned into one of the veteran glue guys that this team is sometimes a little bit short of. It remains to be seen whether he remains with the team or is sold on this summer (Allegri’s arrival might have something to say about that in either direction), but if he’s still the starting left-back come next season I wouldn’t be mad about it. I just hope we have some real depth behind him.