Cast your mind back to the absorbing battle between Atalanta and Juventus a couple of weeks ago at the Gewiss Arena. It was the 82nd minute and the game was delicately poised at 1-1, despite the home side being by far the more impressive of the two throughout. La Dea just couldn’t find a second goal.
And then, just like that, it was 2-1 to the champions. Douglas Costa passed the ball to Paulo Dybala on the left-hand side of the Atalanta half, just on the periphery of the penalty box, where the No 10 often produces his most devastating work.
Dybala then jetted into the box for what looked like a shot before slipping a reverse ball out wide to the rampaging Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian then took a touch, shaped his body as if to slide it across the face of the six-yard box, but instead slid it back towards the penalty spot for the onrushing Gonzalo Higuain, who fired it past Pierluigi Gollini. Clinical. Ruthless. Simple. Beautiful.
What was fascinating about the move was Cuadrado’s involvement and generally how at ease he looks at being reinvented as a right-back. Many felt that last summer was the end of him in Turin. He’d been at the club for four years and tended to fluctuate between moments of brilliance and exasperating frustration - at times within the confines of 10 minutes during a game.
However, since Maurizio Sarri made the decision to push him further back due to injuries to Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio, Cuadrado has been a steady performer in his new position. He’s been so assured in the role at times you’d think he played there his entire career, buccaneering up and down the right flank, and has offering Juve a real alternative to widen the play when things become congested in the central area of the pitch.
The case could be made that Juve’s best performers this season are the trio involved in the second goal in Bergamo: Dybala, Higuain and Cuadrado. And it’s all the more ironic that they were the three many thought would most likely leave the club before the beginning of the campaign. Higuain had already been sent on a mini-tour of the two finest cities Europe has to offer last season and wasn’t expected to play for the Old Lady again, whilst Dybala was offered to just about any club willing to pay in the region of €75m for his services. Cuadrado’s time too had run its course, most believed.
Danilo, who arrived in the deal for Joao Cancelo to Manchester City last summer, has exceeded expectations when available and is bringing solid performances to the table. However, the Brazilian lacks the elasticity of his fellow South American. Indeed, Cuadrado can easily skip past opponents in tight situations or when confronted with a one-on-one, as evidenced by his superb goal against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
This last facet is a component Juve haven’t had in their make-up in years, with the exception of Dani Alves’ one-season stop in Turin three years ago. The Bianconeri have a history of signing industrious, hard-working full-backs, but never particularly skillful ones. Cuadrado is going against the grain.
His conversion is what ultimately could extend his time at the club. With Sarri seemingly preferring a 4-3-1-2 system, there’s little space for Cuadrado as a right winger. Yet at right-back, the 31-year-old is guaranteed to get more game time.
Just two weeks ago he signed a new contract, taking him through to 2022. And on this form, he’s earned it.