The Juventus midfield needed all of two fixtures to hit rock bottom.
Facing an absolutely hollowed-out Sampdoria side, a midfield trio of Adrien Rabiot, Manuel Locatelli, and Weston McKennie looked listless at best, hapless at worst. The spacing on the pitch was consistently poor. In almost every regard the unit was a complete failure.
There aren’t no positives from the first 180 minutes, I suppose. Not conceding a goal, especially given the last few years of leaky defenses, is probably being overlooked given the surrounding issues. Bremer, though shaky against Sassuolo, looks like an able replacement for Matthijs de Ligt. And when Angel Di Maria did see the pitch, he was as electric as he’s ever been.
But the fact remains that the midfield is the impasse with this squad.
Even if Paul Pogba were healthy right now, the unit would be the natural restraint to keep this team from seriously challenging for a Scudetto, let alone making any meaningful noise in the Champions League. But despite the club’s precarious financial state and patchwork roster, there are steps they can take to address — not to say completely fix — the midfield.
Manuel Locatelli isn’t regista, so stop playing him there.
I’m a believer in Locatelli. When he’s on his game, he oozes class, he sprays balls across the pitch, and he plays with movement toward goal; Juve have rarely seen this Locatelli. Instead, given Max Allegri’s apparent need for a regista no matter the roster, Locatelli sits uncomfortably in front of the back line; in this position, he’s prone to turnovers, he’s easily man-marked out of the game, and he seemingly fails to orchestrate any meaningful build-up. The leftover product is Daniele Rugani and Bremer passing back and forth to each other in the waning minutes of a goalless draw against one of the five worst teams in the league.
The Sampdoria game was, for me, the nail in the coffin to Locatelli playing regista. He showed virtually no improvement last year in the spot, and he evidently didn’t improve over the summer. Stop playing him there.
Retain Nicolo Rovella, even if Leandro Paredes is brought in.
Rovella is young, and he’ll make youthful mistakes, but he’s a better regista than Locatelli. Unfortunately, those youthful mistakes might preclude him from actually seeing minutes on this team, given Allegri’s vociferous outcries on small mistakes.
Regista is Rovella’s natural position, and immediately upon his entry to the Sampdoria game you saw the different kind of movement he offered than Locatelli. As mentioned above, Locatelli is easily (shamefully easily) man-marked; Rovella finds more frequent and energetic ways to make himself available and to facilitate the forward movement. He’s a bulldog defensively, which is not to say Casemiro in his prime. But he is better than Locatelli, even with the mistakes he’ll make.
A few weeks ago I would’ve said that loaning Rovella out but retaining his rights would’ve made a lot of sense; I’ve changed my mind. He should stay regardless of who else comes in.
Bring Leandro Paredes in.
If Allegri wants a regista, get him a regista so he can stop complaining. If there’s a cheap loan option available, even if it was a purchase obligation, then find a way to spread out the payments.
The Paredes track seems to hold some promise, especially with the Di Maria national team connection, and while I do think that though he’s been injury-prone — have you heard that before? — he would be a good fit, and that he would free up Locatelli to play elsewhere (or ride the bench for a while).
Unfortunately, my guess is that acquiring Paredes would, in fact, mean loaning out Rovella, which I think would be a bad mistake.
Sell one of Weston McKennie or Denis Zakaria.
If it takes selling one of McKennie or Zakaria to acquire Paredes, then the club should do it. The efforts to offload Rabiot have failed, and even though the club has essentially severed any real links with Arthur there is still no solution there. The fact is that McKennie and Zakaria offer at least a modicum of desirability on the market.
Such is the dismal financial state of matters that two players who might be useful in a number of circumstances might and probably should be sold. If this is what it takes to acquire the players or types of players that Allegri is asking for, in my opinion the sacrifice is worth it: if Allegri gets his players and starts succeeding, the club succeeds; if Allegri gets his players and keeps failing, the club finds a solution to move on (whenever that may be).
Give Fabio Miretti minutes — a lot of them.
Miretti was the singular midfielder who offered any sort of creative spark against Sassuolo. It was his hustle and creativity that nearly created the goal, though Dušan Vlahović was just offside.
More than that one play, though, Miretti found pockets of space that no one else did — not Rabiot, not McKennie, not Locatelli. He plays with a fearlessness that is admirable, a creativity that is seemingly absent in our other midfielders.
Miretti is still wildly young and inexperienced, but Allegri has shown a surprising amount of faith in him so far; he should not just continue to do so, but ramp the minutes up even more, especially in Pogba’s absence.
The steps enumerated above would greatly improve the midfield. Would it suddenly be world-class? Of course not, even if Pogba returned and played consistently. But if the Old Lady actually rostered two legitimate registas in Paredes and Rovella, then had some options for the other midfield spots (Pogba, Miretti, Locatelli, etc.), then Allegri would finally have some semblance of what he wants.
I’ve long defended Allegri and I’m not ready to jump ship just yet, but one thing of which I am certain is that I’m tired of hearing excuses — blaming injuries, luck, or anything in between. There is no excuse in drawing 0-0 to a depleted Sampdoria side. It’s time for the manager to take responsibility, and to make the needed changes in the midfield to give his team a chance.