In the end, Juventus got their man, just. Only hours remained of the transfer window when it was officially announced that the club had signed Federico Chiesa from Fiorentina.
Juve had to shift some pieces of the jigsaw around in order to get the 22-year-old; a Douglas Costa loan move to Bayern Munich here and a Daniele Rugani loan move to Rennes there, freed up the necessary funds in order to get the Chiesa deal finalised.
As has been the story of this Covid-influenced transfer window, Juve signed Chiesa on a two-year loan deal, but in reality it’s just a creative method of staggering the payments for the winger.
So everyone was happy: Juve got their man, Chiesa got the move he wanted a year ago, and Fiorentina offloaded a player who clearly didn’t want to be there for a cool €50m. But is Chiesa actually what the champions need?
There is no doubting Chiesa’s talent. The son of Parma and Sampdoria legend Enrico has seemingly unlimited barrels of energy, and can skip past players at will, when in the mood. Yet since his graduation to the first team at Fiorentina, Chiesa’s decision-making has been questionable. Too often he has beaten an opposing defender in a one vs. one situation, only to produce an inadequate cross or fail to pick out the correct pass. On occasion he’s simply been guilty of supreme selfishness, aiming for goal when a colleague was in a better position.
Chiesa posted 10 goals and six assists in Serie A last season for the Viola, a respectable record for a player in a side that finished 10th. Yet it should also be pointed out that he took more shots on goal than any of his teammates, with an average of 3.3 per game. Next in line was striker Dusan Vlahovic, with 2.2.
On the verge of his 23rd birthday, Chiesa is still incredibly raw. His development has been hampered by a succession of coaches at Fiorentina utilising him in a myriad of different positions, thus denying him the possibility to hone his ability in one position. Vincenzo Montella, Paulo Sousa, Stefano Pioli and now Beppe Iachini have shifted Chiesa everywhere from right wing-back to left winger, via stints as a second striker and attacking midfielder. It’s left the player as a non-accomplished jack-of-all-trades, and certainly a master of none. It’s a wonder Chiesa hasn’t been tried out at centre back, given the poor performances of Federico Ceccherini recently.
So where does Juve’s new €50m signing fit in Andrea Pirlo’s starting XI, and was Chiesa an essential purchase?
Due to the lack of pre-season games, Pirlo has been given little margin for experimentation as Juve boss thus far. In their opening game of the season against Sampdoria, Juve lined out in a 3-5-2 formation. A week later Pirlo changed to a 4-4-2 in order to accommodate the returning Alvaro Morata, but the switch didn’t work, and Juve played like the ghost of Maurizio Sarri had returned for one final game.
Speaking of ghosts, for the game that wasn’t against Napoli on Sunday, Pirlo had intended to line up in a 3-4-1-2 system. Should Pirlo return to this set-up in matches that actually happen, then this could be where Chiesa is set to play, replacing Juan Cuadrado on the right-hand side.
Chiesa’s arrival also gives Pirlo the option to utilise a 3-4-3 system, with Chiesa either being deployed as a right-winger, or on the right in the four-man midfield.
Whilst plotting theoretical positions for Chiesa is all well and good, do Juve actually need him? The answer is no, they don’t. Sporting director Fabio Paratici should’ve prioritised signing a right-back, with Danilo fluctuating somewhere between injury and unconvincing since joining the club from Man City a year ago. Cuadrado has done fine job as a makeshift right-back, but the Colombian is now 32, and defensively suspect, as is the case with someone who spent the majority of their career playing as a right winger.
Midfield is still another fragile position that’s been underfunded over the last half decade, with the shadows of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal still looming large. It’s early days in Weston McKennie’s Juve sojourn, but the American produced a positive display against Sampdoria on his debut. Is he the Vidal-replacement the team has required for five years? Only time will tell. The signing of Arthur may alleviate the creative burden from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Dejan Kulusevski, but the Brazilian lacks the dynamism the midfield area so badly requires.
Bringing things round to Chiesa once more, recent history isn’t on his side. Giorgio Chiellini, signed by Juve in the summer of 2005, remains the last player to arrive from Florence and succeed. Since then, the likes of Felipe Melo, Neto, Valeri Bojinov and Federico Bernardeschi have all made the switch and failed to make an impact, and in the case of Melo, damagingly so.
There are similarities between Chiesa and Bernardeschi, the most recent player to make the jump. Like Chiesa, Bernardeschi arrived at Juve as the Viola’s brightest star in the summer of 2017 with a price tag of €40m. Furthermore, Bernardeschi, again like Chiesa, possessed some degree of versatility. This has proved to be his downfall at Juve, with the Carrara-native operating in various positions in the final third of the pitch, and in the process blunting his own skillset. The club would’ve accepted an offer to offload him during the transfer window, but there were no serious takers.
The pressure is firmly on Chiesa now to make the qualitative leap that playing for Juve demands. He wanted the big move for over a year, and now he’s got it. His father Enrico never got to play for Italy’s biggest club, it’s up to Federico to demonstrate that he’s more Roby Baggio or Chiellini, than Melo or Bojinov.
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