As Heraclitus opined, you never step onto the same pitch twice.
This axiom has proved inexorably true for Juventus over the last couple of campaigns, during which time a cavalcade of injuries and money problems and coaching changes has precluded not only any sort of year-over-year tactical stability, but even in-season continuity. Now, as we move past the World Cup break and what will certainly amount to a very strange second half of the season, Juventus are faced with yet another formidable decision: how to reincorporate Federico Chiesa into the lineup.
Max Allegri and the Bianconeri achieved some semblance of consistency toward the tail end of the first half of Serie A play, relying on a defensively stout 3-5-2 with the fewest goals allowed in the league at seven, which seems almost impossible to be true given the perpetually dour mood; Lazio was the next-closest on goals allowed with 11. The problem, though, was not allowing goals, but scoring enough of them in games when she did concede; the Old Lady knocked in 24 goals, which makes for the second-best goal differential behind Napoli, but getting the ball into the back of the net nearly always felt like a painstaking effort.
Which brings us to Chiesa.
The kid is back, and he’s back to mess things up for the opposition, and he’s back to make the goal-scoring — hopefully — less painstaking. The question, as I’ve already noted, is how to reintegrate him into a side that had grown accustomed to a 3-5-2. Although I am no footballing mastermind, and although, admittedly, no one has asked for my opinion on the matter, I below offer three ways that I think would be worth trying as we get our favorite Italian Juventino back onto the pitch.
Here are my assumptions before my tactical postulations:
- Chiesa is Juventus’ best player
- A three-man defense is the foundation of Juventus’ best formational options
- Chiesa as a wingback is a veritable crime against humanity and should be punished with prison time
I believe it is possible to reconcile these three assumptions into a workable, potent team. Achieving the best result will undoubtedly take some tinkering and some effort, and might cause some regression in results, but in the end I firmly believe getting Chiesa on the pitch into a non-wingback position will be worth any growing pains along the way.
And now, my postulations.
Chiesa on the left
Danilo- Bremer - [Bonucci / CB Sandro]
Cuadrado - Locatelli - Rabiot - Kostic
Di Maria - [striker] - Chiesa
In defense —
Danilo - Bremer - [Bonucci / CB Sandro] - Kostic
Cuadrado - Locatelli - Rabiot - Chiesa
Di Maria - [striker]
This approach gets your best attacking juice on the field, and obviously would change in the event that Angel Di Maria wasn’t fit for a particular match. But the idea of wielding a 3-4-3 with Chiesa and Di Maria flanking whatever striker was available at the moment certainly has a lot of appeal. If it’s Vlahović in between Chiesa and Di Maria, you’re suddenly looking at a really, really, really scary attack. Granted, those three would have some getting to know each other to do, but if they developed a modicum of chemistry then the rest of the league would be on notice for arguably the best attacking front domestically, and one of the best in Europe — again, there are several “ifs” before that would even be a conversation.
There are concerns here, though. The first is the two-man midfield. Against even an average midfield, are Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot, with support from Cuadrado and Kostic (who wouldn’t quite have the same width priority if you were deploying Di Maria and Chiesa as wingers), be enough to level a game in the midfield? To be determined.
The second concern I see here is a fairly flimsy left flank defensively. If Leonardo Bonucci occupies that third center back spot, or even if it’s Alex Sandro, once you sink back into a 4-4-2 defensively you’re suddenly relying on Kostic as a true left back with Chiesa as support in the left midfield slot. I’m not sure that’s a foundation on which you want to build against some of the more incisive attacks, in Italy or beyond.
Still, though, there’s a lot that’s intriguing here. The potency potential is off the charts if the midfield and back lines can hold, but whether Allegri would feel ready to attempt this is another question.
Chiesa on the right
Danilo - Bremer - Bonucci
Cuadrado - Locatelli - Rabiot - Sandro
Chiesa - [striker] - [Kostic / Iling-Junior]
In defense —
Danilo - Bremer - Bonucci - Sandro
Cuadrado - Locatelli - Rabiot - [Kostic / Iling-Junior]
Chiesa - [striker]
The whole “Chiesa on the left or Chiesa on the right” is a debate that has existed for some time, but the reality of the situation is that he’s really good on either side. In the event where you’re fielding both Di Maria and Chiesa, I think the Argentina on the right and the Italian on the left makes the most sense, but if you’re wanting an additional level of defensive cover while still putting Chiesa in a natural winger position, this variation addresses some of the drawbacks of the first proposed option while still putting your best player on the pitch in his natural position.
Of the two double-pivot proposed formations, this is the more balanced variation. Using Sandro as a wingback can produce some tedious offensive movements, but the defensive upgrade on the left flank vs the last variation is substantial. You’re still going to get plenty of attacking acumen from that side, with Kostic — or, as I noted, throwing in Samuel Iling-Junior.
The one drawback is, again, the double-pivot, which Allegri seems to be wary to try. Here, though, having Cuadrado and Sandro as central midfield support — a trait well within the repertoire of both players — feels quite solid. And defensively speaking, you no longer have to worry about Kostic acting as a true fullback, instead slotting Sandro behind whoever acts as the left midfielder out of possession.
Once again, we might not even see Allegri try out a 3-4-3, but if there was a look in that formation, this might be it.
Chiesa as lone ranger
Danilo - Bremer - [Bonucci / CB Sandro]
Cuadrado - [midfielder] - Locatelli - Rabiot - Kostic
In defense — 3-5-2
Here you go, Max: a three-man midfield. We know Allegri prefers a three-man midfield, and as strong as Rabiot has been most of the season, even I get a little nervous at the idea of Locatelli and Rabiot trying to control an entire midfield.
In this last option, you sacrifice Chiesa as a true winger for an extra midfielder; it might be worth it. Whether you deploy McKennie, Nicky Beans, or Miretti — or some other combination once Pogba returns — you do figure a ratcheted-up midfield presence could be really useful against certain opponents.
In this scenario, when Chiesa floats out to a winger position, the fullback on the other side of the pitch would provide the opposite width. I find this pretty intriguing. If Chiesa floats out to the right, then Cuadrado either overlaps or goes inside, and Kostic gets chalk on his boots on the left hash; vice versa is true if Chiesa floats out to the left. This option would also give some more connectivity in the attacking midfield portion of the pitch, where Chiesa could also find himself connecting with midfielders who have more freedom (since it’s a set of three) to advance and get some interplay with whoever is playing at No. 9. I think Milik or Vlahović would be significantly better than Kean in this instance.
Allegri and Co. resume play against Cremonese on Jan. 4. Even with a few friendlies and training sessions over the holiday break, there has not been an exorbitant amount of time to experiment with deploying Chiesa other than, ostensibly, the caverns of Allegri’s mind.
I know the last thing anyone wants to do is mess with a recipe that has been — for the most part — working and earning points, but you’ve got to get Chiesa on the field in a way that moves the needle offensively. This is going to be trial by fire, as we knew it would be. Juventus play six games in January, including two against top-six teams Napoli and Atalanta, as well as a dip into the Coppa Italia vs Monza.
It’s now or never to figure this problem out.
Let’s hope it’s now.