Thursday, January 27, 2022

Federico Chiesa injury: How will Juventus replace their star for the rest of the Serie A season?

An injury can completely change a season for a player and for a club. That’s absolutely what happened during Juventus’ game against Roma last Sunday (catch all the Serie A action on Paramount+). A collision with Chris Smalling that at first didn’t seem to worry too much, ended Federico Chiesa’s season. Chiesa tried to play on for a few more minutes and unfortunately, those extra minutes cost him the whole season. It turns out he suffered an ACL injury that will end his year with Juventus and will also force him to miss the World Cup playoff in March Italy.

That’s bad news for both Juventus and Roberto Mancini, who will now have to try to qualify for the World Cup later this year in Qatar without his best player, one who shined last summer at the Euros. While the Italy manager must come up with an internal solution, Juventus can also solve the problem with the transfer market. Here are three ways in which the Bianconeri can do it.

Transfer market implications

Let’s start with the transfer market, the most loved solution by the fans. The January transfer window is never easy. The first issue is that the spending power of clubs is usually limited compared to the summer. Secondly, replacing a crucial player like Chiesa is close to impossible. In January, clubs are looking for opportunities, surprise acquisitions, smaller moves that might present themselves. Replacing Chiesa would probably involve buying a star. Instead, the first move then that Juventus have made in the transfer market is to make sure a player doesn’t go anywhere. Dejan Kulusevski is not leaving the club, despite the requests and interests of many Premier League sides. Chiesa’s injury makes him much more important in Turin.

Even though Chiesa might be a winger, Juventus have been focusing their interest this month on a striker and that’s not likely to change. But it’s possible that more attacking production from a different position might make up for his loss. Many names are now offered by agents and intermediaries, especially after the Alvaro Morata deal to Barcelona collapsed. Mauro Icardi is unlikely to happen because PSG will not sell him easily or cheaply and Juventus would like to wait until the summer to make an important investment for the striker. Since the Bianconeri are unlikely to make major expenditures in January it is more likely that a player on loan could arrive until the end of the season. Sporting Director Federico Cherubini is one of the most wanted people on the phone these hours, with several agents calling him for players like Zenit Saint Petersburg’s striker Sardar Azmoun, but at the moment none of them are on the Juventus list. 

By the way, Chiesa’s injury could technically complicate Juventus’s obligation to buy him from Fiorentina at the end of the season, which is written in the agreement signed in September 2020. It is an obligation linked to appearances and goals scored, which will not be achieved for obvious reasons this season. Another clause in the contract is about the qualification for the next Champions League, for which Juventus are in the running in Serie A this season, but it’s certainly not guaranteed. But fans don’t need to worry, Juventus will certainly buy Chiesa even if they aren’t technically forced to by the terms of the agreement, and even if the team does not qualify in the top four. No doubt, the decision has already been made by the club.

Tactical change 

In the recent weeks Juventus have found positive results thanks to a tactical stability that was not there before. Manager Massimiliano Allegri has added a defensive midfielder and moved Paulo Dybala back few meters on the pitch, freeing him to find more space between midfield and attack. Chiesa’s injury ruins Juventus’ plans, and they’ll now have to find a new way to play without their best player. Allegri has always shown that he is a coach who adapts to the players available, and has never been a so called fundamentalist in terms of tactics.

Playing without Chiesa means not having a player who often solves games on his own. That probably means of a change of tactics is coming, especially if another striker arrives this January. It’s possible Allegri could deploy a three-midfielder system with Manuel Locatelli, Arthur, Adrien Rabiot and Weston McKennie or Rodrigo Bentancur and play Paulo Dybala behind two strikers, at the moment those would be Moise Kean and Alvaro Morata. Obviously, this will only be possible in the case of a new striker arriving from the transfer market to provide some depth. The positive side of this would be a more central role in the team for Dybala, who still has to renew his contract expiring in the summer. However, his main issue has always been injuries, which have often prevented him of playing many games. The negative side of a new system without wingers concerns Dejan Kulusevski, who would not fit well.  

Kulusevski time

That brings us to the last option. Dejan Kulusevski himself is the player who can solve Juventus’ problems in the coming months. Up to now he has not lived up to his potential at Juventus. This is in part because he has never played consistently in his best role as a right sided attacking winger. Without Chiesa, that position is now wide open. Until few days ago Kulusevski was the player to whom Juventus was ready to sell in case of interesting bids. Not anymore. 

Juventus could now return to play as they did at the beginning of the season, even if the results led Allegri to make opposite choices. This would mean a midfield with more space in between the players, with Rabiot who can play on the left as a sort of adjusted winger and Kulusevski on the opposite side, with Arthur, Weston McKennie and Rodrigo Bentancur for two spots as central midfielders. The fact that Juventus have moved so decisively to change their transfer posture on Kulusevski suggests that this is at least under serious consideration.

In short, there would be solutions for Massimiliano Allegri, but no matter which route he goes, the issue will be the same. No matter what they do, Juventus will be returning to playing in a way that just wasn’t good enough at the beginning of the season, and that was with Chiesa involved. Trying to do it again, without him, is the most difficult challenge Allegri has had to face since he came back at Juventus last summer. 

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