Everyone knows the most intelligent thing to do after a single game in Serie A, with 37 fixtures remaining, i.e. 97 percent of the season, is to reach wild and spicy conclusions about who should stay, who should go, and what player combinations are the best from this point forward.
Therefore, I will introduce a red hot and spicy wing(back)s reaction: Juventus should sell Filip Kostić because they’ve got what they need in Andrea Cambiaso with Samuel Iling-Junior as additional depth with different qualities.
The impossible task and the market
As recently as last May, I wrote a literal encomium of Kostić, who I maintain is a very good player. While I’m not saying that Kostić is Mohamed Salah, I’m not sure I would go quite so far as my dear friend Sergio, who called the Serbian a “one-trick pony.” Kostić does the crossing thing wonderfully, but he also brings fantastic pace and an even better work rate to his position. He’s not a gladiator defensively, but he’s also rarely caught completely out of position; in the event that he is, though, he’s got the speed and gut to get back into place. He’s a very, very valuable soldier and reliable performer. He’ll turn 31 later in the fall, and while, as with Juan Cuadrado, one can lose one’s legs rather fast (“time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near…”), you feel like there are still a minimum of two seasons left for his being at a similar level of reliability.
All of this means that there is probably would be a decent market for Kostić. Cristiano Giuntoli has been given the ridiculous task of simultaneously righting the ship financially, creating a roster good enough to win a top-four spot in Serie A, and also constructing a team with eyes for the future. That’s not easy, but with the emergence of Iling-Junior and, apparently now, Cambiaso, he might have been given a compelling opportunity here.
Simply put, Cambiaso is a better fit with Chiesa
Max Allegri keeps insisting that Federico Chiesa is a striker, and nobody, I’m guessing, is going to change his mind. Anyway, there’s a not-zero chance that Allegri is trying to manifest the statement, because it seems like a 3-5-2 is the way this is going to go, and Chiesa remains the club’s most potent attacker.
If that is true — Chiesa is the club’s most potent attacker — and if it is also true that Kostić is the best, or at least most reliable, assist man, then I think there’s a problem, because the Chiesa-Kostić fit has always looked awkward. I don’t think I’ve really seen a shred of evidence to suggest that there’s something workable here. I know that Chiesa was hampered last year and never quite able to get into form, but the patterns and interplay between these two is just too predictable. Kostić does not have the ability to cut inside at all, both because his right foot isn’t something to write home about and because he’s so intent on crossing with his left. End product: Kostić always farther and farther left, Chiesa always cutting in. That’s that.
Cambiaso, even from one Serie A game in the black and white shirt, seems to offer a ton more flexibility and variability. He’s veritably two-footed and, even though he and Chiesa had some “missed connection” moments, there were also signs suggesting that these two could forge a very fruitful partnership of overlapping, interweaving, exchanging positions, and genuinely creating some good, old-fashioned Italian havoc from the left.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the final week and a half of the transfer market, but probably one or two players still need to go. There’s simply not enough playing time to go around, especially for the younger players who desperately need first-team minutes. If the fork in the road in this case is either sell or loan Iling-Junior or sell Kostić, I think the latter move, although not without risk, more fully addresses the conundrum with which Giuntoli has been presented.
Bonus wing(back)s: Let the Americans keep holding down the fort on the right
Our good friend Sam gave Tim Weah a 6/10 in his recap on Sunday, which, all things considered, seems fair to the American. The number of disclaimers was certainly high for the new arrival: it was his first game in Serie A for his new club, the weather was something very particular, and perhaps more than anything with Chiesa and Rabiot on the left hand side of the pitch much of the attack and movement was facilitated through the opposite flank, rendering most Weah involvement somewhat moot. So yeah, he struggled to get into the game too much.
That said, the few times Weah did get a chance to flex his stuff, I think you can see the flashes. The speed is evident — oh-so-evident. That dude is extremely fast, something I noted Juventus were in sore need of at the end of last year. But he also makes intelligent runs and finds his way into good spaces. He’s not perfect on the defensive side — he got nutmegged once pretty good, and seemed late tracking back a couple of times — but what a weapon on the counter.
Call me crazy, but I thought Weston McKennie looked quite sharp in the right wingback position. From Sam’s perspective, he earned the same score as his compatriot in the exact same spot, but I thought he was a notch or even two better. McKennie slotted in as the rest of his teammates were clicking into cruise control, and more than a couple times he almost single-handedly won back possession or snuffed out an Udinese attack. He’s a very different profile than Weah in that spot, and I don’t hate the idea of a one-two American punch.
It’s early days, but the signs from the game one wingbacks were extremely encouraging. Not only did nobody do anything extremely, ridiculously bone-headed, but the handful of players who might occupy these spots are extremely diverse in what they bring to the table. I think that’s a huge asset. The main liability remains their defensive acumen against superior competition in the league because, let’s face it, Udinese are not the cream of the crop, and their roster was riddled with injuries and debuts on the first match day of the season.
The lack of European football changes the schedule dramatically, but even with the increased ability to focus on a single Serie A opponent each week, the proof is going to ultimately be in the pudding of beating Napoli, Inter, Milan, Lazio, Roma, and Atalanta enough to secure a top-four spot and, hopefully, challenge for the Scudetto.
The first step has been taken. Time for the next one.