Juventus aren’t exactly in an ideal situation currently. While they are into the knockout stages of the Champions League, they are now down to second in the Serie A table. On paper, it isn’t bad at all. But they aren’t playing the best of football under Maurizio Sarri.
While it was probably expected, it has been drab sometimes. The transition from always playing a pragmatic brand of football to playing possession football always takes time. Sarri knows that from his time at Chelsea. He gave Napoli an identity and made them a consistent top-two side.
Juve haven’t really played bright football. They have been scraping through games, picking up close 1-0 or 2-1 wins. But they are often doing a job.
So far this season, Juve have found the back of the net 25 times in the Serie A. That is less than Atalanta, Inter, Roma, Lazio, and Cagliari. The fact that they have been scraping through games and relying on individual quality of the likes of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain shows that.
The lack of creativity in midfield has been a reason for that. Miralem Pjanic has been playing 1.8 key passes per game when he is playing as the deepest midfielder. Rodrigo Bentancur has been the second-most creative midfielder and has been playing just 1.1 key passes per game.
Aaron Ramsey and Blaise Matuidi have been playing 1 or less than 1 key passes per game for the club. These numbers point towards sluggishness. The fact that the most advanced player on the pitch in Cristiano Ronaldo has been the most creative player signals just that. He has been playing 1.9 key passes per game.
Dybala has his numbers at 1.8, completing 2.5 dribbles per game. There is a reliance on him and he hasn’t disappointed at all.
But that lack of mobility and creativity in midfield has been painful. That takes the attention to Paul Pogba- one of the most creative midfielders Juve have had in recent times.
In his last season at the bianconeri, the Frenchman played 1.5 key passes per game, completing 2.9 dribbles per game too. The numbers were quite the same throughout his time at the club. The dynamism he brought to the plate kept Juve ticking in midfield. He had the freedom to go one way and conduct play.
In the 2015-16 campaign, he had eight goals and 12 assists to his name. There isn’t a single midfielders in the current Juve side who can rack up those numbers. More than the numbers, it is about adding that creative spark in a side that is looking very slow and drab this season.
Antonio Conte’s system brought the best out of him. Pogba had a defensive midfield playmaker in Andrea Pirlo or Claudio Marchisio behind him. A ball-winner in Arturo Vidal was beside him and took the burden of winning it back off him.
That isn’t to say that Juve should sign Pogba. His time at Man United hasn’t been a huge hit. He has taken criticism for lack of work-rate and complete commitment to the club. But his numbers have been quite the same since his Juve days. He plays almost the same number of key-passes per game, completing about the same number of dribbles per game too.
It is a player like Pogba that Juve miss. The club has scored only 14 goals from open play. 11 of them have come from either counter-attacks, set-pieces, penalties or have been own-goals. To win the league, Juve need a creative midfielder like Pogba.
That explains why Juve have been linked with Christian Eriksen. Having a player like that could provide a much-needed lift to the bianconeri.