As Juventus enter the October international break with a crucial fixture against Milan on the schedule when Serie A recommences, the Old Lady finds herself already more than 20 percent through league play with almost as many questions as before the season started. Max Allegri’s squad has been good, bad, boring, chaotic, and everything in between. Luckily for the Bianconeri, the same can be said for many other Italian sides, and at the end of all this mayhem Juventus sit precariously in third place.
The madness starts with the midfield. This is a unit that has been under the microscope for several seasons but which, to this point, for various reasons, has failed to undergo the complete revamping it has so desperately needed.
Through eight games, here’s where things stand. Note: I have not included Weston McKennie in these report cards, although as I’ll mention in the end even deployed as a wingback he does help the unit retain a semblance of workability.
Let’s get to grading. Red pen deployed.
Manuel Locatelli: B
Locatelli has probably been Juventus’ best midfielder thus far, and that should tell you something about how the rest of this evaluation is going to go. Like the team itself, Locatelli’s play has been wildly uneven — a couple very solid performances with a couple duds. I feel like a broken record noting that Locatelli needs to reach a significantly better level of consistency if this unit wants to take a leap forward.
Paul Pogba: F
There’s nothing much to say here: Pog-back has not only not worked out, but has become a sort of microcosm for the self-inflicted follies and disasters that Juventus have endured over the last several years. Among the many painful elements of this saga is the fact that the midfield sorely needs a player of his exact qualities. “So close yet so far” has never run truer.
Fabio Miretti: C
I’m not sure if there’s a single player in whom I have been more disappointed from last year to this than Miretti. Let it first be noted that the youngster is just that: young. At 20 years old, there’s plenty of time for Miretti to have a clunker of a year and then improve drastically the next season or two after that (and he’d still be on the younger side of 25!).
At this juncture in the campaign, though, we need to call a spade a spade: Miretti hasn’t progressed, and in some regards he looks like he’s regressed. His energy and motor are appreciated, but he turns the ball over carelessly, seems to force the issue, and often looks a bit lost on the pitch. He’s seen his fair share of starts as Nicolo Fagioli has been spending time mending, but his playing time might be dipping from here on out unless something changes.
Nicolo Fagioli: B-
Nicky Beans is perhaps the most difficult player to evaluate so far given the fact that he has spent a significant amount of time during the summer recovering from illness and injury. The unfortunate collarbone incident that occurred last season happened right as Fagioli was really hitting his stride. One hopes he can regain or even surpass that form has he begins only now to be fully healthy, because Miretti is not cutting it as a starter.
Adrien Rabiot: B
A repeat of Contract Year Rabiot has not come to fruition the way fans might have hoped. While the Frenchman has been far from poor, and has been consistent in his way, the dynamic force from a year ago is gone. This might be a classic case of regression to the mean, but whatever the cause he’s just not the same player as last year. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but in some regards he simply looks flat or even uninterested. I almost wonder if there’s a lingering disappointment at not having been chased by some of the more successful bluebloods on the market last year, and whether, too, there’s perhaps some distraction already thinking about doing the dance again at the end of this season when the one-year contract is up.
As much as we can dream about a midfield savior arriving in January with the possibility of Pogba’s salary getting off the books, the chances seem as remote as Neptune given the consistent state of financial losses, I don’t even imagine a decent sale (e.g. Samuel Iling-Junior) would make way for this kind of mid-campaign bolstering acquisition. For this reason, the 3-5-2, loved and hated and tolerated, is probably going to make sense the rest of the way, for the formation at least helps solidify the midfield with bodies; players like McKennie and Filip Kostić are able to slide more central.
Juventus may or may not be able to achieve a top-four finish playing this way, but whether or not Allegri can steer the Old Lady back to European waters, Cristiano Giuntoli and the club will have some difficult decisions to make next summer, because if there is a chart to course for Juventus to reach the levels where it wants to be, I don’t think this midfield is the one that can see that journey all the way to its final destination.