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Weston McKennie has failed to evolve in his Juventus tenure

Juventus could be wise to start shopping the American.

Juventus FC VS Empoli FC Photo by Federico Tardito/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Nearly two years ago, two Juventus players who faced off against each other during the second day of the 2022 World Cup on Monday in Qatar connected to create a stunning Champions League goal against Barcelona.

Aaron Ramsey collected the ball on the left flank, drove toward the penalty area, drawing a handful of defenders his way. The Welshman dished to Weston McKennie, hovering at the top of the box. The American then sprayed the ball out right to Juan Cuadrado, who crossed immediately back to McKennie with a single touch, floating the ball toward the midfielder who elevated, completely unmarked, and slammed the ball into the back of the net.

That moment, in December 2020 in front of a spectator-less stadium, remains arguably McKennie’s most impressive feat as a Bianconero.

But despite his strengths — aerial prowess perhaps chief among them — the American has failed to evolve into a more dynamic, consistent player for the Old Lady. With rumors beginning to stir about his future in Turin and a couple budding Italian kiddos climbing the midfield ranks, the time might be right to gauge interest from clubs abroad.

What Weston brings to the table

Let’s get this straight: not only is McKennie not a useless player, he’s not a bad player at all, and he shows flashes of being a very good midfielder.

For starters, he runs his ass off. It feels like that’s a trait that every single professional footballer should possess, but we are all too aware that this is not the case. McKennie, though, in the vein of Federico Chiesa or Mario Mandžukić, will involve himself in an attacking foray and then somehow magically appear in the defensive third just a few moments later to make a play. That’s valuable, and it’ll endear every coach and teammate to you immediately.

Speaking of attacks: when he’s on, he’s a major weapon in the penalty area. This is primarily true due to his aerial prowess. He’s bagged more than a couple headers in his Juventus career. He’s big, he’s strong, and he can jump. He’s intelligent in the way he positions himself and attacks space on set pieces. He keeps his eyes up and attacks everything in the air.

We’ve seen evidence of other skills, too. Against Bologna in early October of the current campaign, McKennie stormed forward on the right flank during a counter-attack, received a little setup ball from Manuel Locatelli, and dinked a perfectly — I mean perfectly — weighted cross to Dušan Vlahović at the back post, who headed home the goal.

There have been other moments here and there — a good pass, a nifty give-and-go — that make you think he could be a hell of a force as a physical attacking midfielder with a creative streak, but he hasn’t quite reached a level of consistency in that arena, and his struggles in certain areas have really precluded this from happening, too.

The stuff we wish he did better!

Here’s where we talk about McKennie’s not-so-awesome characteristics.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about McKennie’s flaws is his distribution. Not every midfielder in the world needs to be Andrea Pirlo, but if you’re playing in that position, even on the right or left, you need to be at least something of a threat when passing the ball. McKennie’s skills in this area are pretty severely lacking, especially in the early stages of a build-up. If he gets the ball out of his feet quickly to another player, that’s about as much as you can hope for.

Likewise, McKennie occasionally struggles with his first touch, and he’s also not a player who’s going to beat you with the dribble. Even Locatelli, who’s had his ups and downs as a Juventus player (let’s be real, though: he’s been on fire lately), offers enough skill with the ball at his feet to beat a defender, and he’s head and shoulders above McKennie in his passing.

The biggest thing for me, though, is that the American often seems to be caught a few yards away from where he should be on the pitch.

This is something that Nicolò Fagioli, especially as a 21-year-old, has really impressed me with lately; Nicky Beans, as someone with only a few top-flight games under his belt, has fit into the midfield like a glove next to Adrien Rabiot, our French hero, and Locatelli. It’s such an impossible thing to make into a statistic, but Fagioli is just ... consistently in the right spot — whether that’s to move the ball forward, to defend, to pressure, to whatever. I think McKennie gets a little over-zealous too frequently.

It should also be fair to acknowledge — and this is true for a number of Juventus players over the last couple seasons, to be honest — that McKennie has somewhat frequently been played out of position. We’ve seen this mostly occur when he’s been used as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and, well, yikes, I’m not sure I can think of a single game when that was a success.

It’s worth reiterating: Weston McKennie is a solid player, and at 24 years old he’s young enough to still evolve, still become a more well-rounded player. For that to happen, he needs to occupy the correct space more consistently and sharpen his touch and passing. At this juncture, though, Juventus doesn’t need a player waiting to evolve; in youngsters like Miretti and Fagioli, the club has two Italian gems who are already proving just as, or more, useful on the pitch than McKennie, on cheaper contracts and at younger ages.