It seems it is simply a matter of when, not if, Paul Pogba joins Manchester United. All summer long, talk of the France midfielder returning to Old Trafford has raged on relentlessly, despite repeated but cryptic denials from both the player and his agent, Mino Raiola.
“No deal done between clubs,” the representative tweeted on July 29, while also insulting journalists for racing to “announce it first.” That came the day after it was reported by Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) that a €110 million (£93.3 million) transfer was merely hours away from being announced.
While it is clearly just part of the manner in which such high-stakes modern transfers are conducted, it has detracted from the superb summer Juventus have already had on the market.
The likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Dani Alves, Miralem Pjanic and Medhi Benatia have been added to a squad that was already well-stocked, meaning that the Bianconeri will thrive even if Pogba does move on.
That matter was discussed at length in this previous post, but there are also distinct tactical advantages to be had in a side without the 23-year-old. In his absence, coach Massimiliano Allegri would arguably have even more licence to be creative in terms of team selection and formation.
There is little doubting Pogba’s ability, but as UEFA Euro 2016 proved, he also needs a specific formation around him if he is to shine. At Juve, he was almost exclusively fielded on the left of a three-man midfield, a position from where he could decide how best to influence a given match.
His running on the ball, shooting and passing all appeared markedly better in that role, with the graphic above showing the position Pogba was most often deployed in over each of the past two seasons.
Last season, following the exit of Arturo Vidal and Roberto Pereyra’s constant injury woes—the latter suffering a series of knocks that limited him to just 13 Serie A appearances—Pogba was often the most attack-minded midfielder in Allegri’s starting XI.
The Pjanic signing means that is no longer the case. Figures from WhoScored.com show that only nine players in Italy’s top flight managed more passes per game than the Bosnian midfielder during 2015/16.
Indeed, his average of 65.5 passes per outing was more than any current Juventus player last term, while the Squawka.com graphic below shows that his tally of 80 chances created was also higher than each of his new team-mates.
His ability to retain the ball and split open defences with creative passing marks him out as a special player, a fact not lost on Allegri when he discussed the acquisition of the former AS Roma star with Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) last month:
Pjanic’s arrival is that of a major player.
He gives us a lot of solutions, especially on set pieces. He improves the quality of our midfield, something that isn’t easy for a great team like Juventus.
Pjanic is one of the few players who can do it. Now it’s up to us to give him the best conditions to express himself.
He can play in front of the defence, but also in the middle or at trequartista. I'm pleased the club made such an effort to get him.
The other important addition in terms of tactical flexibility is Marko Pjaca, who arrived from Dinamo Zagreb following an impressive campaign of his own.
According to Juve’s official website, they paid a fee of €23 million for the Croatia international, recognising his vast potential and swooping in early to sign the 21-year-old.
A fleet-footed winger, he had already showcased his ability in the Champions League, with WhoScored showing he created 0.7 chances and completed one dribble per game in four 2015/16 appearances.
Also connecting with 75.2 per cent of his passes, his displays earned notable praise from Pep Guardiola after his Bayern Munich side won 2-0 in Zagreb. “I know that Dinamo have a very young side,” the coach told a post-match press conference. “I think [Ante] Coric and Pjaca are exceptional talents, and they will definitely have big careers.”
The video above shows that the new Juve man can deliver on the highest stage, putting Spain to the sword at this summer’s European Championship. Helping Croatia to a famous 2-1 victory, WhoScored figures show that he completed an impressive seven of eight attempted take-ons, leaving a string of defenders chasing shadows as he cut in from the left wing.
Predominantly right-footed, Pjaca is happy to play anywhere in attack, as he explained in a recent interview. “I mostly play behind strikers, as offensive midfielder, or winger,” he told Calciomercato.com's Federico Albrizio. “I’ve also played as striker but it is not a decision that I have to take. I play wherever the boss tells me to and I always want to do the best to help my team.”
Such versatility will be yet another bonus to Allegri as he looks for ways to field Pjaca and Pjanic alongside the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Mario Lemina, Kwadwo Asamoah, Stefano Sturaro and even Rolando Mandragora.
“I’m a midfielder who loves to be on the ball a lot, I have good technique but I also carry out defensive tasks,” Mandragora said on the official website of the Italian FA last year. “My role model would be a player like Thiago Motta. I always try to give 100 per cent for the team.”
With that vast collection of midfield talent, Allegri will have no end of options, with the graphics above and below looking at four possible alternative formations using a variety of those players.
The 4-3-3 system would be particularly appealing if Juventus are able to bring Juan Cuadrado back from Chelsea, something director general Beppe Marotta indicated he was keen to do when speaking to Mediaset Premium back in May.
“We will soon set an appointment with Chelsea to understand their intentions regarding Cuadrado,” the club official said (h/t Football Italia), and it is a move that would make much sense for the Bianconeri.
With Pjaca on the left and the Colombia international dancing down the right flank, Juve would be able to field a side featuring real attacking width for the first time in many years, something that could help them immensely in the Champions League.
Whatever happens elsewhere, the Old Lady already has a fully laden quiver of midfield options, providing Allegri with a chance to evolve and improve his side even if Pogba doesn’t want to stick around to help.