Taken at face value, two men playing lead roles in the revival of Turin’s "Old Lady" could not be more different. Alberto Aquilani is an easily recognisable, full-fledged International midfielder who has been well known to fans of the game for a number of years and was picked out as a future great at a very young age. One of the best in his position, he has established his credentials as a classy play-maker, but one with a reputation as being injury-prone and fragile.
In stark contrast, most football fans would struggle to identify eighteen-year-old Danish defender Frederik Sørensen. Virtually unknown in his homeland—where he has never played a minute as a professional—he joined Juventus on a loan deal on the same August day Aquilani completed his move from Liverpool. Expected to learn his trade in the club’s youth sector and placed into Giovanni Bucaro’s Primavera squad to develop.
However, looking a little closer shows that there are striking similarities between the two, and that these common bonds form at least part of the reason for the success of the pair in Gigi Delneri’s new look Juventus.
First is the almost unique role played by each man in the tactical framework laid down by the coach. Delneri has tailored his usual 4-2-4 wing-based system to suit the midfield skills of Aquilani, using Claudio Marchisio in a mezz’ala role to provide extra protection and steel alongside the guile of the Roman and the grinta of Felipe Melo. The team that floundered in the early season, conceding far too often and failing to win games against lesser opponents is unrecognisable from the side that has not lost since Aquilani became a member of the starting line-up.
This shift in system also created a niche perfectly suited to Sørensen’s characteristics. Primarily a central defender, his size and characteristics have made him the first choice for what is nominally the team’s right back slot. In reality, it makes him the player on the right of a back three, a role Marco Motta cannot fill but one that the returning Zdenek Grygera may also thrive in. Where the Dane does have an advantage over the older, more experienced Czech is in attack, where his ability on the ball is far superior to that of the older man.
Both have had to adjust to their new role. Aquilani has said he is asked to defend more by Delneri than he has previously, while adding he feels like a more complete player. This was clearly evident in the displays against Roma and Lazio, but even more prominent in the final game before the winter break when Juve were reduced to ten men and he almost single-handedly provided a screen for the defence, helping to control an out-numbered midfield. Sørensen has not only shifted position but also system, a point he made in a recent interview;
“I’m better as a central defender, but when you have the chance to play for Juventus you do not care where; right, left or behind. The important thing is to get on track and play. We are often in a three centrally, especially if the opposing team’s strength is attacking.”
Another trait they share is the moves which brought each to the club—both transfers are loan deals with a predetermined right-to-buy. While the €130,000 to secure the permanent signature of Sørensen pales in significance to the €16 million Liverpool require to capture Aquilani, both sums represent something of a coup given the impact each has had this season so far.
Injury has played a part in their shared history too. Aquilani missed much of last season sidelined with various issues, a reason often used to explain his perceived failure at Liverpool. Sørensen’s year was also ravaged by injury, as he missed almost the entire season with a leg injury. Fabio Paratici had tracked him for some time while at Sampdoria, a fact often mis-reported as many recent stories link Juventus as long-time admirers. This is simply untrue and anyone looking at the clubs transfer and scouting policy under Alessio Secco can see that a player of his age and experience would simply not register on the radar of the men charged with running the club during this time.
These two factors (injury and being on loan) seem to have given the two players the impetus to prove they belong at Juventus both now and in the future. Making their moves permanent will be foremost in the mind of Beppe Marotta this summer, although he may look to complete either move in January should it be of benefit to the club. While each signing carried its own risks in the summer, both have paid off significantly and have become integral to the reemergence of la vecchia Signora.