It was a rare sight on a night that has become routine over the last decade. In the 66th minute Cristiano Ronaldo bore down on the Sampdoria goal from his usual left hand position of the field, nearing the periphery of the penalty area, the Portuguese cut inside before lashing a shot that was spilled by Samp stopper Emil Audero.
Audero desperately tried to regain the loose ball before Federico Bernardeschi, with all the anticipatory instincts of a modern-day Pippo Inzaghi, steamed towards the ball ahead of opposition left-back Tommaso Augello and fired home Juve’s second, sealing not just the victory, but their ninth straight title. It was the winger’s first league goal since September 2018, a collector’s item.
Bernardeschi punched the humid Piedmont air in celebration, and had every reason to. This has been a difficult campaign for the 26-year-old despite featuring regularly under Maurizio Sarri. The Tuscan native has been implemented in a host of different positions since Sarri replaced Max Allegri last summer, with varying degrees of success.
Bernardeschi benefitted from Douglas Costa’s fragile body perpetually breaking down, as the Brazilian was initially Sarri’s first choice as a right-winger in his customary 4-3-3 system at the beginning of the season. Bernardeschi was a like-for-like replacement for Costa, but was soon shifted to a play as a trequartista in light of Sarri’s switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Bernardeschi, a reserved-but-willing character, tried his utmost to interpret the demands of the No. 10 position but failed: Bernardeschi offered more diligent industry than the artistic flair needed for a role playing in behind Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala. To his credit, Sarri persisted as he tried to figure out the ideal system for his new set of players, and throughout the autumn and early winter Bernardeschi featured in the starting XI more often than not. Yet he failed to make the most of his opportunities.
In games against Napoli and SPAL he also played in central midfield, albeit briefly, a position wholly unsuited to his skillset. It’s that willingness to try and adapt to any position in the final third of the pitch that has been his undoing at Juve. Even after three seasons at the club, it’s difficult to pin down what his ideal position is. Sometimes, versatility can work as a detraction.
Bernardeschi was imperious in Juve’s remarkable comeback against Atletico Madrid in last season’s Champions League Round of 16. Ronaldo apart, no other player in black and white drove at the heart of the Spaniards quite like Bernardeschi, who played an instrumental role in two of Ronaldo’s three goals that night. It was a landmark performance from Bernardeschi, his coming out party of sorts.
Yet 16 months on, and Bernardeschi has failed to build on the momentum of that Atletico performance. If anything, he’s regressed, to such an extent that rumours have continued that Juve will cut ties at the end of the current season. A single goal and assist in Serie A – his least productive showing since signing for €40m three years ago from Fiorentina – encapsulates his struggles this term.
There is a sense that a move away from the pressure cooker environment of Turin would be best suited for all concerned. In recent times Bernardeschi has been touted as a potential makeweight in a supposed deal taking Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik to Juve. There has also been links with a move to Milan and Roma.
There is huge potential in Bernardeschi – most of it still untapped – but it’s not likely to be fulfilled at the reigning Italian champions.
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