“I have played with many strong players, but Pirlo is one of the few who has that little extra above the rest. The club showed great intuition a year and a half ago when they managed to bring him to Turin.” (Goal.com)
Those words were spoken by Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon early last month as the Bianconeri closed in on a second consecutive Serie A title. And when looking back at the last nine months in the Italian top flight, it’s impossible not only to disagree with him, but also to make the claim that any other Juventus player was as vital to the cause over the course of the campaign as Andrea Pirlo.
At 33 years of age, the midfield maestro is playing some of the best football of his career. He sees the game as well as he ever did—his passes are as accurate as they ever were—but experience and maturity have also resulted in an even more patient and thoughtful player, if that’s even possible.
His understanding of the defensive side of the game has always been considerable, but at Juventus it has reached another level entirely. Alongside Arturo Vidal he helps provide a shield in front of manager Antonio Conte’s three-man defense, and while contributing nearly three tackles per match, he has averaged barely a foul per game this season—something that would indicate an ability to close down an opponent using space instead of brawn.
But it is in attack that Pirlo’s contributions have been particularly meaningful.
Although Juventus are second in Serie A goalscoring with 67 tallies through 35 rounds they have not, at any time this season, been able to rely on a consistently in-form striker, never mind striking tandem, for offense.
Mirko Vucinic’s nine goals represents the most from a forward on this team, and Vidal’s 10 from the midfield paces the entire squad.
Having said that, the Bianconeri have been getting goals from just about everyone this season. Not all that many, mind you, but enough from the entire roster so as to still be among the most potent attacking sides in the Italian top flight.
And that’s down to Pirlo.
The Italy international has averaged 78.9 passes per match so far this season—by far the most in Serie A—and has completed an astonishing 87.3 percent of them. His 10.3 successful long balls per match is second only to AC Milan’s Riccardo Montolivo and he is neck and neck with Roma’s Francesco Totti in the “key passes per game” category (all statistics courtesy WhoScored.com).
In other words, Pirlo makes each of his nine outfield teammates an offensive weapon—whether from a set piece, a long through ball or a clever layoff. He is the base of the build-up, and that Juventus have scored as many goals as they have this term is down to him more than anyone else.
And then, of course, there are the back-to-back titles since his arrival from Milan in the summer of 2011.
In this instance, it’s no coincidence.