For years, the midfield has been the most maligned unit amongst Juventus fans, and rightfully so given the criminal negligence in its upkeep following the days of the MVPP midfield.
But this year the biggest problems came from perhaps the unit that people have taken somewhat for granted for years: the front line.
When discussing the performance of the forwards this year, there are two parallel paths to look at things. Path 1: all the forwards, with perhaps one exception, universally underperformed this year. Path 2: Massimiliano Allegri coached the team in a way that completely throttled the attack and gave them hardly anything to actually work with.
There is truth in both paths. Juve’s forwards were anything but clinical all year long. But coaching absolutely played a part. In 2020-21 under Andrea Pirlo, Juventus scored 106 goals in all competitions (not counting own goals). This past year, that number was 77. Last year, they created 102 big chances in Serie A, far and away the best in the league and more than both champions Inter (barf) and league scoring leaders Atalanta. This year, they generated only 57 such chances, behind the likes of Sassuolo and even with noted offensive juggernaut Torino.
Those numbers are indicative of the fact that Juve’s struggles in front of goal this year have as much to do with coaching as they did with individual performances, and that the presence of certain players who decided to leave the club on short notice wasn’t necessarily a decisive factor in the team’s scoring problems.
Since this article rates the players, not the coach (that’s Sergio’s responsibility this year), I’m going to focus as much as I can on Path 1, but the undercurrent of Path 2 ripples through the performance of a lot of these players, and it can’t be avoided completely. That being said, let’s sink our teeth into Juve’s forwards and how they did as individual players.
As I always do on these ratings, players will be listed in alphabetical order, and players with fewer than five appearances will not receive ratings, meaning the likes of Matias Soule, Marley Ake, Martin Palumbo, and one other dude who played for 30 minutes or so in the first game of the season won’t be listed here.
Let’s hit it.
Federico Bernardeschi — 4.5
I was there the day Federico Bernardeschi first played in a Juventus shirt. It was at an International Champions Cup friendly against Roma at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Bernardeschi had only just joined the team, and came on as a second-half substitute to an ovation from the Juventus fans in attendance that was second only to the one reserved for Gianluigi Buffon.
He didn’t do much in the game save convert a penalty in the shootout that followed the 1-1 draw, but the excitement of having him following his €40 million switch from Fiorentina was palpable.
That was such a long time ago.
Bernardeschi’s story is now one of wasted potential and stratospheric disappointment. The fact that he was on the team at all this season disappointed a lot of people, but then he went and did something weird: he started the season off pretty damn well. Brimming with confidence after playing a small but vital role in Italy’s Euro 2020(1) triumph, in which he scored in both shootouts in the semifinal and final, Bernardeschi looked lively over the season’s first month or so, and had some people wondering whether Juve might see a (very) late return on their big investment from the summer of 2017.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
Injuries, particularly to WINGS OF FEDE mate Federico Chiesa, pressed Bernardeschi into a lot more minutes than anyone thought he’d be playing this year, but he failed to convert those moments into anything approaching a season adequate for Juventus. There were flashes, like the game against Genoa in December where made four key passes and an assist or the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal against his old club when he hit a fantastic chest-and-volley that was almost a cruel reminder of the days when we still thought he had the stuff to be an elite winger.
But his numbers overall simply weren’t good enough. He finished the year with just two goals and three assists in all competitions, by the end of the year becoming a symbol of just how little firepower the team had off the bench by the end of the season. His career is in desperate need of a reboot, and I genuinely wish him well wherever he goes after this campaign. But in this season, like so many others, he simply didn’t have enough.
Federico Chiesa — 5
The 2021-22 season was supposed to be the year Federico Chiesa completed the transition to bona fide superstar. He’d been one of the breakout stars of the Euros, simply muscling Domenico Berardi aside and turning himself from a supersub to an indispensable part of Roberto Mancini’s starting XI in the space of the tournament.
But fate had different plans. Chiesa was eased back into the team after an extended post-Euro vacation, and it wasn’t until late September that he started seeing a full compliment of minutes. Then Allegri, having undoubtedly watched the Euros closely and extensively studied film of Chiesa’s excellent ‘20-21 season, decided that the best thing to do with his star winger would be to try to turn him into a striker.
Now, I will admit that I’m being a little harsh here, because injuries had some bearing on why Chiesa ended up playing in a front two for more of the season than he should have, but it also reeked of the kind of tinkering that severely hampered Bernardeschi’s development in his early years at Juventus. Not playing Chiesa on the wing robbed him of some of the best parts of his game, and even though the had major flashes, like his smash-and-grab goal in the Champions League against Chelsea, he didn’t start rounding into form until Allegri finally realized that it was a stupid idea and moved him back out wide when he was able.
It was at that point that the injury bug put the final kibosh on Chiesa’s season. He missed six weeks after a muscle injury forced him off at halftime of Juve’s tilt with Atalanta in late November, and had only been back for two games in the new year when the Stadio Olimpico turf monster claimed him as yet another victim (seriously, I haven’t seen a field consistently chew people up since Veterans Stadium was still standing in Philadelphia), suffering a severe ACL injury that ended his season.
The final tally on a disappointing year was four goals (evenly split between league play and Europe) and two assists. Now we wait to see whether or not Chiesa is still Chiesa on his return or if the injury ends up robbing him of some of what made him special. The good news is he’s running again, and the one positive of Italy not making the World Cup is that he won’t be rushing to get back in time for it. Here’s hoping that by this time next year one of us is writing what we all thought we’d be saying about Chiesa at the start of this season.
Juan Cuadrado — 6
Cuadrado’s position has jumped around a bit the last few years, but he played more games in midfield and forward spots this year, so I get to claim him.
This was a bit of a weird year for Juan. In terms of sheer counting stats he was down significantly, although, in fairness, there isn’t much to go but down when you have a 10-assist season. He still averaged nearly two key passes per game despite the team’s heavy defensive bent that often forced him to defend for long stretches of games. He remained one of the team’s primary — and, if we’re honest with ourselves, only — creative outlets in a season that was mostly barren of them.
He also continued to come up huge in clutch situations. Twice this season he came on as a sub and won games for Juve in stoppage time. Ironically, both were against his old club Fiorentina, the first in early November when he somehow stuffed a ball past Pietro Terracciano at the near post and the second in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal when he broke downfield and forced Lorenzo Venuti into a heartbreaking own goal. At least one more own goal also bounced into the net at his instigation this season. Overall, he scored four and assisted four, helping support the attack in a major way, whether that be from an advanced position or running deep from the full-back spot when he was required there.
Time will tell what becomes of Cuadrado. He was one of the players Juve were hoping would renew his contract at a discount, but he clearly didn’t want to do so and is headed into next season thanks to a vesting option in his contract as opposed to an agreement with the club. He also just turned 34, and there’s a point where a guy whose game is built on pace and quickness feels the touch of Father Time rather keenly. Sergio has repeatedly said he sees Cuadrado’s best role in the future as an impact supersub, and he’s probably right, but until we see how the roster shakes out we’re not going to know exactly how he’s going to be used. Based on his track record, though, we can probably rely on him for at least a few exciting moments.
Paulo Dybala — 6.5
The 2021-22 season was disappointing for a number of reasons for Paulo Dybala. His contract saga and how it ended was upsetting and unnecessary, and his send-off didn’t reflect well on the club’s management at all. But all that might’ve been avoided had he not been repeatedly bitten by the injury bug.
Looking rejuvenated after a lost ‘20-21 season, Dybala roared out of the gate, scoring three minutes into the season opener against Udinese and assisting on a second goal 20 minutes later. Everything looked like it was going up.
And then everything just collapsed. His hot start was cut short when he suffered another muscle injury in late September against Sampdoria, which kept him out for a month. He also missed a month in February and March, missing out on the first leg of the Champions League tie against Villarreal and only being fit for 11 minutes of the second. In between, there were consistent niggling problems that saw him lose a game here and there. It must have been maddening, all the more so because of the effect it had on his contract issues.
When he was on the field, Dybala was by and large quite good. He scored 15 goals in all competitions and added six assists. When he was on the field, he was often the lone creative outlet up front, trying to create from the top what the midfield by and large couldn’t provide. When he was absent, the lack of his skill set was keenly felt. One can only wonder what may have happened had he stayed healthier, and what the future might have held if he and Dusan Vlahovic, who clearly developed a significant friendship in their four months as teammates, got to develop that connection.
As it is, Dybala will leave the team off a season that was, while certainly not his best, still a good one overall.
Kaio Jorge — 3
Kaio Jorge was always going to be a project. Only 19 when Juve gazzumped AC Milan to sign him from Santos, he was always going to be a developmental signing. Anyone who thought otherwise was being way overoptimistic.
However, one had to think we’d see a little bit more than what we ended up seeing out of him.
An early training-ground muscle injury didn’t help things, as it took until October for him to be healthy enough to see the field. A series of low-minute cameos followed. He only played more than 11 minutes for the senior team twice, a 27-minute performance against Sassuolo in his third game and then 64 minutes as a sub against Venezia after Dybala came off with an injury — although Allegri eventually subbed him out late in the game. He didn’t even get significant minutes in the 4-1 win over Sampdoria Coppa Italia Round of 16.
The offer of a loan to Sassuolo for some playing time in the winter was rejected by the player, and his playing time completely dried up soon after. He was dropped from the Champions League squad and didn’t play a league game in the new year. He was assigned to play a game with the U23 side at the end of February, and it was there that his season came to an abrupt end when he suffered a serious injury to his patellar tendon.
Even as a developmental player, Kaio Jorge didn’t come anywhere close to expectations. Fortunately, the team doesn’t have a whole ton of money invested in him, but it still remains to be seen what will happen to him after his long injury layoff and what such a significant injury will do to his game — and how it will effect said development.
Moise Kean — 4
In a season full of disappointments, this one is up there as one of the biggest.
The return of Moise Kean had a lot of people, including myself, excited. Brought back after that dude who only played for 30 minutes ran his way out of town, Kean was perhaps a desperation move but it also made sense. His plusvalenza move to Everton hadn’t panned out, but his loan spell at Paris Saint-Germain last season had shown he wasn’t by any means washed. He’d scored 16 goals in all competitions in France, and considering the fact that Allegri had orchestrated his breakout in 2017-18, it was hoped that he could pick up where he left off and start becoming a serious, day-in day-out goalscoring threat.
But that never materialized.
Despite having numerous chances to claim the center-forward job with Alvaro Morata also struggling, he never seized it. He showed a little bit of life at the end of December when Allegri played him wide left in a 4-2-3-1—a spot from which he’d seen his best form at PSG last year — but that was never built upon and eventually he would end up as a backup to Dusan Vlahovic when he arrived at the end of the winter window.
When he was on the field he rarely performed. He finished the season with as many bookings as goals (five) in the league, adding one in Champions League play. The last of those five goals — a late winner against Sassuolo in May — was extremely important and eventually allowed Juve to lock up a top-four spot early, but there needed to be more of that this year from Kean, and there simply wasn’t. Now it’s a question whether he’ll even be on the roster next year as Juve looks to build a completely new front line.
Dejan Kulusevski — 4
This one also makes me sad.
It simply never worked out for my large adult son in Turin. He was never given significant time in his best positions out wide. Even Andrea Pirlo tried to turn him into a seconda punta, an example that Allegri was only too happy to copy.
The difference was that Pirlo eventually sent him back out to the wing, where he started looking better and eventually closed the season out on a high note. Allegri, meanwhile, never did so, and Kulu became one of the more disappointing and often reviled players on the team.
Kulusevski scored just two goals for Juventus this year in 25 appearances, all but five of which came off the bench. One of those two goals was a big’un, upholding the recent Juve tradition of late winners in away games against an eastern European side when he beat Zenit St. Petersburg with a glancing header in the 86th minute of Round 3 of the group stage. But there wasn’t much in the way of the production otherwise, which made sending him to Tottenham Hotspur on loan with obligation to buy as a cost offset for Dusan Vlahovic.
That Kulusevski proceeded to absolutely blossom under Antonio Conte in North London only makes his tenure at Juve all the more mystifying, frustrating, and sad at the same time, because his talent is so abundantly clear, and two different coaches failed to fully unlock it.
Alvaro Morata — 6
Alvaro Morata had the thankless task of having the role of main center-forward thrust upon him after certain late-window transfer departures. He did get off to a pretty hot start, scoring in three straight games after the first international break, but things dried up after that. After a 20-goal season a year ago, he endured multiple long dry spells, and it looked pretty certain that Juve would be passing on his option to make his loan permanent.
But then the Vlahovic sale went through, and Morata’s role—and season—changed. In a move very much reminiscent of what he did with Mario Mandzukic in 2017, Allegri moved Morata to the left wing, and the Spaniard responded immediately. Already a player who naturally gravitates to the left, Morata’s play on that side was splendid. He developed a good rapport with Vlahovic and was one of the team’s better performers down the stretch. He added five assists to his tally in the new year, bringing his season total to a respectable seven, while registering 12 goals in all competitions.
His situation is now a little more complex, as his second half performance has produced a desire to keep him — albeit not at the €35 million option his loan carries. Juve have already begun negotiating a lower fee, although it remains to be seen whether that will be successful. It would be interesting to see just how he would develop if he remained on the team and continued his wide role.
Dusan Vlahovic — 6
When Dusan Vlahovic actually signed for Juventus at the end of January, there was a mix of astonishment (that the team had actually managed the deal) and elation (that the supposed solution to the team’s season-long goals problem had finally arrived),
Vlahovic initially did nothing to refute the latter notion. He scored 13 minutes into his first game against Hellas Verona, then scored with quite literally his first touch in Champions League football 30 seconds into the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Villarreal. A brace against Empoli quickly followed. It was looking for all the world like this was going to be a ridiculous second half of the season that would perhaps live up to the branding he was given upon his arrival, which was a clear flip-off to the guy who had worn No. 7 previously.
But reality soon set in. It became clear that a simple lack of finishing wasn’t the main problem and that Juve’s woes were far more systemic. Vlahovic did his best, but the style Allegri was determined to play this year simply wasn’t a match with the way he played. With so much defending and countering being done, Vlahovic was constantly alone waiting for long balls that he would either have to hold up until help arrived or do everything himself. It also exposed him as the only player up front, which opened the door for him to repeatedly by taken out of the match by simply being physical with him. The likes of Merih Demiral, Gleison Bremer, and Martin Skriniar took turns beating the crap out of him in their respective games, while other defenders of far less skill on teams far less good managed for the most part to copy that playbook to keep him relatively quiet.
At the end of the day, the return was disappointing.
Apart from that Champions League goal, he scored seven times in the league, adding in one last goal in the Coppa Italia final that, frankly, ought to have been the winner but for the foolishness of both the referee and his own coach. It’s not the return Juventini were expecting when the Serbia international signed. There were some mitigating factors involved, chief amongst them Allegri’s negative style of play and a midfield that couldn’t really create for him, but Vlahovic himself does deserve some of the blame, as he proved far to easy to neutralize physically and also far too prone to flops in the box, often when he still could have done something with the ball. His talent is enormous and if he’s put into the right position he will succeed — but he has to be put in the right position, or he’ll never live up to the price that will always be mentioned in the same sentence as his name.