When Juventus triggered Miralem Pjanic’s release clause, many thought the Italian champions had secured one of the world’s elite midfielders and increased the gap between them and the rest of the field. While that looked to be the case in the Bosnian international’s first two seasons with the club, Pjanic has since slowed down.
Last season, Massimiliano Allegri deployed him in a new position as the side’s regista; the deepest-lying midfielder on the field. Initially, it worked out for Juventus and the former Roma midfielder used his range of passing to dictate proceedings. As the season wore on, however, Pjanic struggled to impose his game on the opposition and proved to be a defensive liability.
Under Maurizio Sarri many expected the 29-year-old to return to his dazzling form, but Pjanic hasn’t exactly kicked on. Playing in front of the defence, the midfielder was supposed to be an essential part to Sarri’s offensive schemes, offering the link between the back four and the front three. Jorginho acted as this link to Sarri both at Napoli and at Chelsea, while the Bosnian seemed like the right man for the job at Juve.
Pjanic, however, has continued to struggle in this deeper role and often opts for the safe option rather than the line-breaking pass Sarri so desperately craves. His pass completion rate is near an impressive 90 per cent, but it is not representative of the impact he’s had on games. If anything, it demonstrates how passive he is, rather than taking control of games. While his fellow midfielders lack in quality and Pjanic is tasked with filling multiple roles at times, the former Roma man often puts in anonymous performances for the bianconeri.
In addition to his dwindling impact in possession, Pjanic offers no defensive cover as the side’s regista, leaving the back four often exposed on the counter. This season, the bianconeri have conceded the most goals they have in recent years, having already shipped 17 on the year.
While many associated Andrea Pirlo to pinpoint passing and deadly set-pieces, his defensive impact was often forgotten, playing in the same role as Pjanic. He may not have been the most rugged of players, but Pirlo always contributed significantly defensively, whether it was interceptions or tackles. Pjanic has fallen short in both those categories thus far. Given the Bosnian’s importance to Sarri’s tactics, this is not something that could go unaddressed.
The good news for Sarri is that he’s been presented with an alternative to Pjanic in recent weeks. After an indifferent start to life in black and white, Rodrigo Bentancur has impressed over the last few games and has now established himself as a set-starter in the midfield. Currently, the Uruguayan international has been playing on the right of Pjanic as a mezz’ala, but has regularly played as the side’s regista both under Allegri and under Sarri, at times.
Given Pjanic’s struggles, Sarri would be wise to swap them positions and field the 29-year-old higher up the pitch with Bentancur slotting in at regista. After all, Pjanic made a name for himself at Roma playing as a number eight. Alongside Radja Nainggolan and ahead of Kevin Strootman, Pjanic had a career year, notching 10 goals and 12 assists. What wouldn’t Juventus give for similar output?
With less defensive responsibility and more freedom of movement, Pjanic has demonstrated he’s up there with the world’s best and is something Sarri should look to foster. Given his past exploits as a mezz’ala, it makes Sarri’s decision to keep fielding him deep all the more puzzling. Factor in Bentancur’s recent form and it makes the switch a no-brainer.
As Juventus head into a crucial part of their season, they’re going to need Pjanic in top form. A slight position change may be exactly what the doctor ordered and the solution to Juventus’ “Pjanic problem”.
Join the most popular Fantasy Serie A game here: www.fantasyseriea.com