A survey of Juventus over the last several years is about as hopelessly dismal as the sight of Osgiliath burned to a cinder by the orc hordes of Minas Morgul.
A revolving door of managers and sporting directors, in conjunction with an occasionally hapless transfer strategy and misallocated funds, has rendered the midfield the weakest link in the Old Lady chain for some time. And that’s saying something! Other units — striker, wide attackers, fullbacks, center backs — have had their ups and downs, but we have seen nothing like the consistent woes of the midfield. Despite coaching changes, style changes, and formation changes, this unit has been regularly overrun by provincial Italian sides and European giants alike.
But one also remembers that within the fiery destruction of Osgiliath, Samwise Gamgee spoke his most hopeful words to the beleaguered Frodo (I’ve made some interpretive changes):
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this [terrible midfield]. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine [onto a better midfield some day].”
One half of calcio in Paris has given me the tiniest morsel of that good ol’ Samwise Gamgee hope.
Leandro Paredes touched the ball more than 100 times against his old club, logging a 95-percent pass completion rate on 86 attempts. He completed four of five long balls, and in the second half he looked particularly collected in possession. He sprayed the ball left and right and even attempted a couple through balls (the last successful through-ball from a Juventus midfielder happened when Andrea Pirlo was a player). There was a confidence about his play, a sureness of where he needed to be, that we have never seen from Manuel Locatelli in the same position. On top of it all, Paredes has been with the club for barely a week. He’ll continue to get better and to understand the movements and habits of his new teammates.
Of course, now we’re in an all-too-familiar place.
Having sent Nicolo Rovella, the only other natural regista, out on loan, the Argentine is the only natural player in that position on the roster. We’re a single injury or poorly timed red card away from losing the apparent engine and getting back to a world in which Locatelli is attempting to pull the strings, a movie we’ve seen so many times we can recite the lines in our sleep. Living life on the bring of destruction, my friends. It’s a precarious place to be, because even though he just got here, without Paredes I don’t see the midfield standing a chance against the better clubs in Italy or Europe.
The other burst of hope I felt from the Champions League in France came from a Frenchman named Adrien Rabiot, our favorite curly-haired paragon of nonchalance. Max Allegri has insisted for some time that Rabiot is a good player, on the verge of putting things together, and ... is that maybe happening? I think we’re all going to want several rain check vouchers before we suddenly declare that Rabiot is the physically imposing box-to-box midfielder we’d all hoped he could be, but with copious amounts of reservations and qualifying statements about changing my mind later, I will say that Rabiot has looked pretty damn impressive recently.
Rabiot’s issue was never physical; Rabiot’s issue was never technical. He has always had all the tools in the world in both departments, and he also cannot legally be injured on planet earth, which itself is a valuable attribute for this club (and the midfield unit).
Maybe the collapsed Manchester United deal rejiggered his brain. Or maybe it’s the World Cup in a couple months. Or maybe it’s having Paul Pogba on his team. Or maybe it’s playing with actual registas. Or maybe it’s having a teenager suddenly getting minutes next to him. I don’t know! And I can only conjecture so much. But Rabiot has been good, and that’s good for this team.
Then, finally, there’s Fabio Miretti. As Sam (not the hobbit) pointed out, our teenage sensation did not have the game he would’ve hoped for against PSG, but he remains an absolute revelation and arguably the brightest part of this season to date. Miretti always has his head up to move the ball forward. He finds more creative pockets of space than many of his more experienced counterparts. And he somehow exudes a confidence that belies his age. Allegri has started Miretti in the Bianconeri’s two most important games thus far, against Roma and PSG, so in my book I hope we can put the “Allegri doesn’t play youngsters” debacle to bed. The coach recognizes the talent he has at his disposal.
Miretti is far from a finished product, as we saw against PSG. But he’s a spark of creativity and fresh air that’s going to benefit the entire midfield and team, not least in that he’ll be pushing Weston McKennie and Locatelli to up their respective games if they want to get on the pitch.
With Paul Pogba out for the next few
years months, the best Juventus midfield trio is Adrien Rabiot, Leandro Paredes, and Fabio Miretti. The fact that we’re putting our midfield hopes and dreams into the hands of a blasé Frenchman, a newcomer, and a teenager shows that we’re nowhere near casting the One Ring into the lava of Orodruin (i.e. having a world-class midfield).
But you know what?
“There’s some good in this [midfield], Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”