There has been a changing of the guard at the top of Serie A. It might not be official yet, but Juventus have been toppled as Italian football’s dominant force, with Inter now 11 points clear of AC Milan and 12 of the Bianconeri as champions-elect. They might as well start tying the black and blue ribbons on the trophy.
After nine straight Scudetto wins, Juve must now accelerate a rebuild that started last summer. While it is crucially important to secure a top four finish to keep their place in next season’s Champions League, Andrea Pirlo and the hierarchy at the Allianz Stadium can only look forward. There’s no point dwelling on what has gone wrong this term.
One thing that has gone right is the signing of Federico Chiesa. Signed from Fiorentina on loan with an option to buy for €40m last summer, the 23-year-old suffered a difficult start to life in Turin, but has since flourished into a key figure for the Old Lady. He is getting better and better.
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Cristiano Ronaldo might have been signed to be a leader in black and white, but it’s Chiesa who Juventus increasingly look to when they face a challenge. It was this way in both legs of the Champions League last 16 defeat to Porto, when the winger’s three goals gave his side a chance of victory.
To label Chiesa a winger is to misunderstand the role he plays for Juventus. It’s certainly true that the 23-year-old starts out wide, but he is far more influential than any traditional wide man, often surging through the centre of the pitch with the ball at his feet. The Old Lady has looked its age this season, but Chiesa is the one who gives them life.
This was evident in his performance against Genoa on Sunday. While Chiesa didn’t score or register an assist, he was the electrical charge as Juventus turned in a much-needed display full of tempo and intensity. Much of that came from the Italian international who had something of a free role, particularly on the counter attack.
Chiesa is one of the few players at the Allianz Stadium who has seemingly improved under the stewardship of Pirlo, a rookie manager frequently targeted for his perceived lack of tactical nous.
“Pirlo has helped me a lot in recent months,” Chiesa explained after the win over Napoli on Wednesday. “Especially for the trust he has shown me. I just have to thank him, every day he gives med advice to improve my game, from the defensive to the attacking phase, and this has helped me a lot.”
Chiesa e Pirlo durante Juventus-Porto - Champions League 2020/2021 - Getty Images
Image credit: Getty Images
Juve have some big decisions to make this summer, one of which will concern the future of Pirlo at the club - the former midfielder has yet to truly prove himself as a manager. Aaron Ramsey, Alvaro Morata, Adrien Rabiot, Giorgio Chiellini and a few others could also be called into Andrea Agnelli’s office over the summer for a chat.
A difficult call will also have to be made on whether to keep Ronaldo, a €100m asset who is becoming more and more peripheral at the club. The goals are still flowing, but is that enough to justify such an outlay? Would the Portuguese forward’s €31m wages be better spent elsewhere?
Whichever way you look at it, there is a generational transition taking place at the Allianz Stadium and Chiesa very much looks like Juventus’ best bet for tomorrow. Ronaldo, on the other hand, is yesterday’s man. If Juventus are truly preparing for the future having all but conceded the Scudetto race, there’s only one player they should build around.
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