The wingback position is a very difficult one to play and master. This is because in a formation with three central defenders, the wingback often performs multiple roles simultaneously.
He cannot solely be a defensive player because then he would be a fullback and the midfielders would have no/limited passing options to the wings. He cannot solely be an attacking player because then the three central defenders will be stretched too far wide when the other team is (counter-)attacking.
The modern-day wingback must be everything, everywhere, all at once. (Note: fun movie, but it got super weird at the end and dragged on too much for my liking. Not sure how it won an Oscar but what the hell do I know.)
Given that wingbacks (like central midfielders) are required to do so much, their ratings can be lopsided if they performed adequately in one domain but exceptionally in the other. For example, if a wingback was decent defensively but fantastic offensively or vice-versa.
Now that we understand the heavy burden that rests on their shoulders (and feet?), let’s review the performances of Juventus’ wingbacks this season.
Juan Cuadrado — 5.5
In last season’s review, I lamented the decline of Alex Sandro, one of Juventus’ most senior players and pillars of the club’s nine-year domestic success and the two times we reached the final of the Champions League. This season, I reserve my sadness for Juan “Dance The Night Away” Cuadrado, whose performances this season showed us that, at the ripe old age of 35, his days as a top-level footballer might be coming to an end.
Minutes Played: 3,290
Yellow Cards: 9
Red Cards: 2
As I mentioned in the intro, a wingback has to be all things to all people, but his performances can be saved if he’s at least decent at one thing and very good at another. Cuadrado’s primary strength used to be his attacking abilities, which makes sense given that he started his career as a forward and has made an impressive transition into a defender/wingback. But he was relatively unspectacular offensively, as shown by his one Serie A goal, one goal in the Coppa Italia (against Inter), and a few assists here and there.
And as we can see from his double digit record of yellow and red cards, he wasn’t very disciplined defensively. This was the first season that every time Cuadrado went in for a slide tackle (and you could always see his coming from a mile away), I held my breath and thought to myself “this is gonna be ugly.”
Realistically speaking, there’s a good chance he’ll stay at the club simply because if he signs a new deal then he’ll probably be on a low salary, is one of the most senior players, and, frankly, seems like a pretty nice guy. If he does, though, it’s clear to me that we cannot and should not depend on him as a starting XI player.
Filip Kostic — 8
The signing of the season, if you ask me. To again go back to the intro,
Crosstic Kostic reached the holy grail of wingback responsibilities this season: fantastic offensively and extremely dependable defensively.
Minutes Played: 3,646
Yellow Cards: 4
I think it was Sergio who said that Kostic was a signing where we got exactly what we paid for. We knew that he was a great crosser of the ball and a solid defender, but to me another thing that stood out was that he was one of those players who are good because he does all the simple things well.
He never did any criss-cross stepovers, fancy tricks, or Hollywood passes. Instead, he knew how to do the simple things excellently like always keeping your body between the man and the ball, simple but crisp passes into feet, going shoulder to shoulder with players rather than shoulder to, well, anywhere else, and cross the ball like David Beckham.
I reduced his rating by half a point because his performances did decline significantly at the end of the season, which was probably because he was the player with the fourth most minutes played for the Bianconeri and he played for Serbia at the World Cup in Qatar. Fatigue catches up with even the best of us. But even with his late-season decline, he was, at worst, still solid, which is evidence of his fantastic abilities.
My only complaint is that he isn’t a few years younger.
Mattia De Sciglio — 6
I looked back at my ratings and comments from last season’s fullbacks review and the only reason I didn’t copy-paste my analysis of Mattia De Sciglio’s 2021-22 season for this segment is that I’m not allowed to plagiarize.
Minutes Played: 1,370
Yellow Cards: 0
In all seriousness, De Sciglio’s performances this year before suffering a season-ending knee injury were almost exactly the same as last season: distinctly average and yet generally dependable. In a strange way, he’s a lot like Kostic: you know exactly what you’re going to get with him and you almost always get that. If the club were in a stable place, had world-class wingbacks, and were competing for titles, I actually wouldn’t mind keeping De Sciglio as a dependable backup to give our starting wingbacks a rest from time to time.
The problem is that besides Kostic and Iling-Junior, our fullbacks/wingbacks are old and not good enough if we want to be competing for silverware again. As I’ve said multiple times, we don’t have the luxury of another transition year; we have to take risks on players like Iling-Junior who are raw but have a lot of room to grow rather than relying on solid players like De Sciglio who have clearly reached their best and won’t get any better in the future.
That said, De Sciglio is another one of those players I see hanging around just because a) he’s cheap, b) he’s dependable, and, c) he doesn’t cause problems in the locker room. So eh ... see ya next year, Mattia!
Samuel Iling-Junior — 7
The English wingback/winger was one of bright spots of Juventus’ trophyless season. He made a memorable debut in the thrilling (but frustrating) 4-3 loss to Benfica in the Champions League when he almost single-handedly rescued a point from the game through an assist and a crucial role in another goal.
He was a useful backup to Kostic and, crucially, one of the few Juventus players (along with Ángel Di María) who can really dribble at and take on opposing defenders. This gave Max Allegri a different tactical option from the bench even though Iling-Junior is a bit unpredictable and still far from the finished product.
Minutes Played: 559
Yellow Cards: 2
But let’s not forget that like many of Juve’s youngsters who greatly impressed this season, this is the first time Iling-Junior has played football for the senior team. We shouldn’t take his achievements, and those of the others, for granted.
I recognize that I’m positively biased (and therefore more likely to overlook the negatives) in my rating for Iling-Junior because he’s a young player who impressed for a club whose fans are tired of old, dependable players and desperate for talented youngsters to succeed. That said, I increased his rating by 1 point for two reasons.
First, I gave him an additional half point because of his performance against Sevilla. As I mentioned this in the relevant podcast episode, Iling-Junior showed a different, very mature side to his game that he’ll need later in his career: he defended well and really helped Danilo on the left side of defense. That game showed me that he’s not all flair and tricks but that he has the discipline to the dirty, less sexy work when the coach requires that of him.
Second, I gave him another half point because of his remarkable debut in the Benfica game. Remember, this was a player who:
- Just turned 19 years old at the time
- Came on for his senior debut in the biggest club competition in the world
- All of that at a very intimidating stadium against a team that was having a phenomenal group stage
And he significantly changed the game while only playing for 20 minutes. So well done Samuel, this season was a pretty good start to your Juventus career. But a good start means nothing if you already think you’ve made it. Still a long way to go, my friend.
Tommaso Barbieri — 5
I actually didn’t want to give Barbieri a rating because of how little he played, but I was commanded to do so by the merciless tyrant in charge of this website (jk, Danny is the bestest xoxo). Barbieri made his senior Juventus debut when he came on as a substitute in the 88th minute in the 2-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain on the final matchday of our miserable Champions League campaign.
Minutes Played: 111
Yellow Cards: 0
Then, he (surprisingly) made his full debut in the 1-0 loss to Sassuolo. He was decent in that game but showed that he’s definitely not the finished product yet, which is completely understandable given his young age and inexperience. The big thing that stood out to me was his lack of pace, which means that he’ll need exceptional positioning and tactical awareness to compensate for this weakness.
As we saw with Federico Gatti, it’s completely fine to need a few months (or more) to get used to the demands of top level football. I think it shows how short-termist the football industry and we as fans have become that we begin to worry when a youngster who has never played football for the senior team isn’t Paolo Maldini in the first five matches of his career. (Note: I discussed the problems of short-termism in a recent podcast episode.)
So while I don’t think Barbieri is ready to play for Juventus’ first team on a regular basis yet, he is the type of player who needs to continue training with the senior team regularly and making substitute (Coppa Italia) appearances. I have faith that he’ll get there if we manage his development well.