With Blaise Matuidi out indefinitely due to a thigh strain, Massimiliano Allegri may have to look at reshuffling his set-up, especially in the midfield. Since joining Juventus, the Frenchman has established himself as an integral part to the Bianconeri midfield and complements Miralem Pjanic more than anyone on the club’s books, particularly off the ball.
While his technical abilities have left a bit to be desired, Matuidi has proven to be a willing runner, constantly pressing and hassling opponents.
In Juve’s first game without the former Paris Saint-Germain man against Fiorentina, Allegri opted for a midfield trifecta of Sami Khedira, Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio. On paper, this trio should be the Italian giants’ best options, however, the midfield looked completely out of sorts and failed to build play consistently at the Franchi. To put things into perspective, Khedira and Marchisio completed only 22 and 26 passes respectively, fewer than their goalkeeper on the night.
With Juventus struggling to string a sequence of passes together and impose themselves on the game, Fiorentina were largely able to dictate tempo. Had it not been for Gigi Buffon’s exploits and some VAR assistance, Allegri’s men would have dropped points.
The reality is that despite the immense technical ability of both Marchisio and Khedira, Juventus are a better team with one of them on the bench, as they offer too much of the same. Additionally, Matuidi’s absence means the spine of the team desperately lacks physicality and their ability to press opponents high up the pitch dwindles.
With a crucial Champions League clash coming up on Tuesday against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur, the Bianconeri are going to need to step it up or risk becoming Harry Kane’s next victims.
The North London side are notorious high pressers and are often successful at disorienting possession-based outfits’ rhythm with their aggressive set-up. As a result, Allegri will need to shake up his midfield and introduce a more press-resistant scheme to counter Tottenham’s strengths.
The only issue is finding an alternative to Matuidi, as the French international offers a unique skill-set compared to Juve’s other options. With his hands relatively tied, Allegri will need to get slightly creative.
His first option would be to revert back to their tried and tested 4-2-3-1 and field one of Khedira and Marchisio as the double pivot alongside Pjanic. With both wingers tracking back, it effectively becomes a 4-4-2 out of possession, offering solidity and an ability to hit the opposition on the counter. Juventus have previously had success with this formation, making it all the way to the Champions League final last year.
Another option would be to field Rodrigo Bentancur with Pjanic and one of Marchisio and Khedira in a midfield three. Allegri could keep his preferred midfield three set-up and would help Juventus keep more of the ball.
The Uruguayan has looked extremely comfortable when called upon and has added some much-needed verticality to his game. He still needs to find the killer ball more regularly, but Bentancur would thrive against an aggressive Tottenham side. Despite the grandeur of the stage, the 20-year-old would not look out of place one bit and in fact, would boost Juve’s chances of dominating play due to his uncanny ability of releasing the ball at the right time.
Ridiculed before even playing a minute of football, Matuidi has since silenced even his loudest doubters. While Allegri has a couple of options to remedy the Frenchman’s absence, let’s be clear - both alternatives are decent but, none are quite up to par with the former PSG man, something that was quite frankly unthinkable sometime back in August.