They say change is the only constant, but for the last year or so Juventus have taken that axiom to a different level: the only constant for the Old Lady seems to be absolute, soul-wrecking chaos. Financial troubles, off-field drama, injuries, coaching consternation, Champions League ouster and erratic form have all played a part in the carnage, but there is one component of the Bianconeri which has been anything but inconsistent, anything but unpredictable: the steady, hardworking Filip Kostić.
I think I’ve said before that the Serbian is the anti-Federico Bernardeschi, and I stand by that understanding more than ever. The venerable cult figure, now playing on my side of the pond, was a total unknown every single game despite playing five seasons for Juventus. Every time Bernardeschi graced (or tainted) the starting lineup, I honestly had no idea what to expect; I always felt this latent potential, but it never really blossomed. Was he a winger? Was he an attacking midfielder? Something else? Was he a playmaker? A scorer? An orchestrator? Nobody seemed to know, least of all the player.
The scouting report on Kostić has proved not only true, but ridiculously true, laughably true. In a season of perpetual curveballs, the former Eintracht Frankfurt man has been reliably solid. He’s almost never spectacular and he’s rarely terrible. This is exactly the kind of player the club needs right now, and his assist production is proving his worth.
Where Kostić excels
Kostić is good at the things we thought he would be good at, and that’s an incredibly refreshing thing to write and realize. The number of times Juventus have acquired a player who allegedly had X or Y skill set but then never demonstrated that skill set consistently or, in some cases, essentially at all, is alarmingly high. Weston McKennie was supposed to be a box-to-box hound with aerial capabilities, but his strong qualities, such as they were, tended to be more in the attacking third, and they weren’t that strong of qualities; I remember after a semi-good game people would be wondering if he was the next Vidal. Denis Zakaria was supposed to be a destroyer, but that didn’t work out. Leandro Paredes is the latest figure. The list goes on.
Whether or not the strengths or realities of some of these players was the fault of the player, the system, the coach, or some combination of factors is sort of beside the point; from his first minutes in Turin, Kostić did what Kostić does, which is douse his boots with chalk, cross the hell out of the box, and run end to end to end to end until the gas tank reads “E.” His job is to receive the ball, move it forward, and then provide some sort of service into the danger area. He knows it, you know it, everyone watching knows it.
That is pretty much what he does! He’s a tradesman who knows his trade incredibly well, and although he’ll get a handful of crosses blocked each game, his relentlessness wears down opponents and creates chances consistently even though they know exactly what’s coming. He’s played the third-most minutes for Juventus this year, logged the most assists, and even scored a few goals to boot. His reliability is such that it can be taken for granted very easily.
How Kostić could help in the coming seasons
Besides being good at the very obvious Kostić things, here’s something else I think that is valuable about him: I struggle to imagine a coach, system, or formation that couldn’t find some use for him. If Juventus change coaches, the next manager will find some way to deploy the winger. If Juve play three or four at the back, there’s a spot; if they return to the dreaded 4-4-2, there’s definitely a way to field him.
Thinking about Kostić more consistently in a 4-3-3 as a left winger — not a left back — is one of the more exciting possibilities to me. I don’t think the club is unaware of the extremely alarming state of the fullbacks at the moment, so there’s a degree of uncertainty and/or improbability about this line of thinking right now, but for argument’s sake let’s imagine that over the summer the club finds a solid or even good left back.
In that scenario, you field a striker (Dušan Vlahović, Arkadiusz Milik, or Moise Kean) and a right winger (Federico Chiesa or Angel Di Maria) with Kostić on the left. Adrien Rabiot or Paul Pogba could slot in the midfield position behind Kostić, or, as we saw working fairly well against Lecce, you could try one of the busy bee youngsters. One could also imagine a 4-2-3-1 with Kostić on the left, DV9 up front, Chiesa on the right, and Di Maria in the whole. Possibilities.
How Kostić could improve
The strength of Filip Kostić is that he’s good at the things he’s good at, so to some extent I’m not sure asking the Serbian to “improve” is really even the right track. He’s also 30 years old and more or less at the apex of his career. Still, if he could figure out how to be slightly more dynamic with his ability to beat players one-on-one, or even more confident in that ability since it’s something he does flash every now and then. If he could figure out how to diversify his service a bit more than his primary two methods (a traditional in-swinger from the outside or cutting the ball back on the ground), that might help slightly in getting X crosses blocked per game.
In a season of ups and downs, Kostić has been incredibly important. One could even argue he’s been vital to the club not being in a significantly worse position than it’s in. Great teams, I think, usually have two or three of these guys. If your whole roster was made up of only this type of player, you would be competitive but probably not great; if your whole roster had zero of these guys, there are going to be serious problems.
Kostić is not the best winger in the world, and in many ways he’s a very limited (and limiting) player. But his hustle and specialization have proven immensely valuable this year, and that might be true for two or three seasons in the future.