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Wingback Wonders: The case for Juventus to play three at the back

Juventus let their fullbacks do some of the dirty work against Malmo. What if that became a more permanent thing?

Malmo FF v Juventus: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Now that we are in the second Max Allegri era in Turin, it appears he has a much shorter leash with fans when it comes to getting results. There’s no denying it has been a rough start for Juventus since Allegri re-joined the club, and there is pressure for him to find solutions sooner rather than later.

There were some positive signs during last Tuesday’s Champions League match in Sweden when Juventus grabbed its first official victory of the season — and it was easy to see who made the magic happen. Manuel Locatelli certainly shined in the midfield, while Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala looked good in the center of the attack but it was clear they benefited from some excellent play on the wings.

Juan Cuadrado has been maybe the lone consistent bright spot through the first four matches this season and that was as apparent as ever against Malmo. He didn’t technically get an assist on Alex Sandro’s opening goal, but it was his cross that made the goal happen.

Cuadrado bombarding up the right flank was a theme for the rest of the match as it has been for the season but that’s expected with Allegri playing the Colombian as a right midfielder in what has mostly looked like a 4-4-2 this season. And while his defending certainly improved as a true right back last season, it has always been clear he is at his best when he’s entering the final third.

The biggest surprise in the match against Malmo was the freedom Sandro was given to get forward. He was a critical element in the attack and nearly had himself a brace in the first half. It was the first time this season we really saw Sandro consistently get into the box and Juventus benefited from it.

It was the second straight game we saw a strong, attacking performance from the left back spot. Luca Pellegrini got his first true test with Juventus when he started against Napoli and he might have been the squad’s best player in the 2-1 defeat. For the most part, Pellegrini looked just fine in defense, but his best quality, crossing, showed up against Napoli and it’s not that difficult to understand the more opportunities he gets to put the ball into the box, the useful he will be to Juventus.

With these recent performances, it may be worth a shot to give these fullbacks more chances to facilitate the attack and a three-back formation could do the trick. The health of the 3.75 center backs on the roster could be a detriment to this, but let’s pretend they are always healthy and the 0.75 (Rugani+Danilo) can actually play well enough to count as maybe a solid 1.5.

Of course, one of the issues facing the club during the offseason was the lack of depth for both fullback positions too and while that issue still isn’t solved completely, switching systems may be a benefit from it. If Allegri made the move to using three at the back and unleashing a wingback system, it could add some extra depth on each side of the field.

Cuadrado seems to be a staple in the starting lineup at this point and could see at least 70 percent of starts on the right side of say a 3-4-2-1*. But it is also a spot on the field where you may get more out of Mattia De Sciglio while maybe giving an extra shot to debut Koni de Winter. Pellegrini and Sandro would still hold down the left side but the extra depth would come from guys like Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski in more attacking roles but could also be filled by the work rates of guys like Weston McKennie, Adrien Rabiot or Federico Bernadeschi.

But back to the players who would make this system work. In a fully healthy squad, there’s no reason the wings should not be dominated by Cuadrado and Sandro.

Looking again back at the match against Malmo, Juventus had the freedom to push forward against a worse squad and nearly looked like a 3-5-2 at times. Danilo was playing right back but he didn’t get forward nearly as much as Sandro did, pushing into the middle of the field whenever he did get past the midway line.

Danilo staying back as basically the third center back gave some backup to the midfield who used that freedom to move forward and give more options to the team in the attack. Nobody had to worry about getting out wide because you could always find one of the fullbacks to play it to.

The first goal was a perfect example as Rodrigo Bentancur found enough space 30 yards from goal to pick out a pass to Cuadrado on the right before bursting into the box, causing the chaos that led to Sandro’s goal.

This whole idea can quickly be shot down if any injuries happen to pretty much anyone on the backline but when healthy, it seems reasonable to think this system plays to Juve’s strengths and could be worth a shot to turn things around after the slow start.

*Just because I love the 3-4-2-1, I wanted to make sure to give my ideal formation with everyone healthy. Goalie (there is no one ideal here); Danilo, de Ligt, Chiellini; Cuadrado, McKennie, Locatelli, Sandro; Chiesa, Dybala; Morata. Isn’t it beautiful?