This summer was one of upheaval in Turin as Juventus took to the transfer window to retool their title-winning outfit with a number of signings. With Paul Pogba leaving to Manchester United for a record transfer fee, there was a gaping hole left to be plugged in the midfield. In came Gonzalo Higuain for €90M from Napoli as did Miralem Pjanic from Roma. Add Dani Alves, Mehdi Benatia and Marko Pjaca and you’ve got yourself one hell of a summer transfer window. Well, not quite.
Despite a plethora of quality signings, Juventus are yet to fully gel and have some glaring issues in the middle of the park. Most notably, there is a clear lack of a physical presence, especially without Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba dictating the tempo there. While Miralem Pjanic’s six goals and six assists in all competitions are impressive on paper, the Bosnian international is not influencing games as much as he should. In a majority of the bianconeri’s big games, Pjanic has gone missing, which is something that has plagued him since his Roma days. It’s also important to note that his goals have come against Sassuolo, Dinamo Zagreb, Torino, Chievo, Genoa and Sampdoria. Outside of his strike in the Derby delle Mole, Pjanic hasn’t exactly delivered when needed and has scored on Italy’s mid-table sides. Let’s face it, that’s not what he was brought in to do.
Sami Khedira is another player who’s had a solid but unspectacular year. After having a phenomenal debut season, the German international has gone quiet. Like Pjanic, Khedira has been invisible at times in the bigger games and leaves Claudio Marchisio with an enormous task. Without Pogba, the 29-year-old was expected to pick up the physical mantle but it hasn’t happened. Juventus have struggled partly due to this. Then, of course, Juventus have Kwadwo Asamoah, Mario Lemina, Hernanes and Stefano Sturaro to round off their midfield ranks. While each of them excel at different things, none of them cut it at the highest level.
As a result, when looking at Juventus’ midfield options and their Champions League aspirations, I’m left perplexed. Not even the most optimistic fan can say with confidence that this side is among the contenders for the Champions League. While their defence is more or less the same and the attack is improved with Higuain, the midfield is far too passive to compete against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. At the very least Juventus have recognized this and are trying to address it immediately. However, it might be too late for this season.
In order to compensate for the lack of a physical midfielder, the Italian champions went out and bought Tomas Rincon from Genoa. The Venezuelan international has an incredible engine and will somewhat make up for the Pogba/Vidal-sized hole in the midfield. However, the reality is that Rincon won’t push Juventus over their Champions League hump and will only serve as an efficient player. Again, the bianconeri have realized this and are pushing on for another midfielder. With Axel Witsel opting for Chinese money over Juventus, it now leaves Allegri’s men in an awkward situation. Do they shift their attention to someone else or do they stay put?
In my opinion, even with Rincon, this Juventus side are one world class midfielder away from contending for Europe’s highest honour. Let’s be clear here, I’m not talking about a Witsel level player. For Juventus to join Europe’s big three, they need a player in the realm of Marco Verratti or similar. Despite the fact that many believe it’s Champions League or bust for Juventus this season, they would be foolish to act with the mentality on the transfer window in January as it would harm the side down the line.
It is rare that truly world class players are available and not cup-tied in January therefore what is the point of rushing the process. In my opinion, whether fans like it or not, the wise thing to do for Marotta and Paratici would be to act with caution. Unless a Verratti type player is available in January, which is incredibly unlikely, Juventus’ winter mercato should begin and end with Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara and Genoa’s Tomas Rincon. There is quite literally no point in adding midfielders who will incrementally improve Juventus. The N’Zonzi’s of the world will not bring the holy grail that is the Champions League to Turin. Come summer time, the Italian giants will be stuck with these middling players on their books and nowhere near Champions League contention.
This conundrum falls squarely on the shoulders of Marotta and Paratici, who failed to replace their departed midfield stars over the years. While they get plenty of praise for their fantastic work on the transfer window, as they should, it is now time for them to assume responsibility for last summer’s botched mercato. Should they have patience, they will have wiggle room to rejuvenate the midfield and potentially add a player to replace Vidal or Pogba this summer.
While most Juventini won’t be too happy to hear this, this season won’t be the one they break their 20-year drought in the Champions League. Considering where Italian football is currently at, they should comfortably win the league for the sixth consecutive season. But that’s not why they activated Higuain’s and Pjanic’s release clauses, was it? In Europe, on the other hand, they still have ways to go. With a lot of luck in the draw, they could find themselves in the semi-finals, however, I think it’s unlikely. Given how they acted on the transfer window this past summer, this realization, as a Juventino myself, is a grossly disappointing one. My advice to them? Stay as you are and use the next transfer window to fix last summer’s unbalanced mercato.