After falling to Fiorentina in narrow fashion, Massimiliano Allegri made a formation switch that may just breathe new life into Marko Pjaca.
It hasn’t exactly been an ideal start to Marko Pjaca’s Juventus career as the Croatian has struggled for playing time with the Italian champions this season. When things were finally looking up for him, the winger cracked his fibula while away on international duty, which ruled him out for three months. Now that he’s recovered from that setback, Pjaca will look to establish himself as a mainstay in the bianconeri’s eleven. While it won’t be easy, it’s as good a time as any for him to showcase his ability as Allegri is finally showing he’s willing to experiment.
When Juventus were dominated by Fiorentina on match-day 20, it was clear Allegri still hadn’t figured out his side’s best formation. Is it the 3-5-2, the 4-3-2-1 or the 4-4-2? Something just wasn’t right. With another important game on the horizon, the former Milan tactician scrapped all his past plans and went with the 4-2-3-1 against Lazio for the first time in his Juventus career. Higuain played alone up top with Dybala behind him while Cuadrado and Mandzukic flanked the Argentine duo. Pjanic and Khedira made up the double pivot behind the attacking quartet. Within 17 minutes, Juventus had blown away Lazio with their offensive firepower and were up comfortably 2-0. More importantly, the midfield, for the first time in a long time, looked assured in a big game. Miralem Pjanic dictated the tempo completing an impressive 97 per cent of his passes while Khedira offered help defensively. Yet, it was Mario Mandzukic, a target man out on the left wing, who stole the show.
Allegri surprised many and went with Mandzukic on the left wing. Despite his unfamiliarity with the role, the Croatian performed admirably and never gave Lazio’s defenders a moment’s rest. The former Atletico man was phenomenal defensively making 14 (!!!) tackles and intercepted a further 10 passes. Mandzukic also finished the game with an assist and six aerial battles won. All in all, it was an accomplished outing for the 30-year-old. Then, with three minutes left to play on came Marko Pjaca, the man most thought would occupy the left wing. With barely any minutes to make an impact, the winger didn’t offer much and left a lot to be desired from the Juventus faithful.
Mandzukic vs Lazio:
14 tackles won.
10 balls intercepted.
5 shots blocked.
11.1km covered. pic.twitter.com/1bZM5LIj6A
— Tarek Khatib (@ADP1113) January 24, 2017
But what can you expect? In his 16 appearances this season, Pjaca has only amassed a total of 209 minutes played. Throughout his Juventus career, the winger has never played more than 29 minutes in a game and that was when the bianconeri were chasing the game against Fiorentina. Until Allegri gives him more opportunities to prove himself, it would be foolish to demand the world from him. At the moment, the Juventus tactician is simply misusing him. However, there are still reasons to believe that he will turn it around as he has created chances every time he’s stepped onto the pitch.
“Pjaca will be the revelation of 2017 for Juventus.” – Massimiliano Allegri, December 31, 2016.
Given Allegri’s statements on Pjaca in the past, it’s obvious that he believes in his talents. In the tactician’s latest press conference ahead of Juve’s clash with Milan, Allegri said that Pjaca was “destined for success.” With Juve likely to stick with the 4-2-3-1 moving forward, the Croatian winger will undoubtedly get more opportunities to make his mark. While Mandzukic did put in a fantastic shift on the left wing against Lazio, there’s only one man fit for the job long-term. And that’s Marko Pjaca. His ability in one-on-one situations combined with his vision and pace make him an ideal candidate for that role. But he will have to improve.
A taste of what’s to come?
In his limited playing time, Pjaca has, at times, dazzled the opposition. However, if he’s to make the role his for the remainder of the season, he’s going to need to prove two things to Allegri. First, he needs to find a balance of when to give the ball and when to hold onto it. All too often, Pjaca charges forward with his head down while there was a better option available. Or as I like to call it, the M’Baye Niang problem. Secondly, and probably more important to Allegri, the winger has to prove that he’s defensively responsible.
In the 4-2-3-1 formation, the defence and central midfielders especially, could be left exposed if they receive no help from the wings. One positive of using Mandzukic out wide is that he’s a guarantee defensively due to his incredible work rate as we saw against Lazio. Should Pjaca improve in these regards, then there’s no reason why he won’t be suiting up week in, week out for Juventus.
The next month will be an important one for Marko Pjaca. Either he steps up and makes the spot his own or he fades into the background at the club, like so many in the past have. With the formation switch bound to give him more opportunities, the ball is firmly in his court. What he does with it will most likely define his career in bianconero.