How to make do without Pirlo

Posted by Mina Rzouki

Quantifying the importance of Andrea Pirlo is a difficult task. The truth may seem nothing more than an indulgence in hyperbole, an exaggeration. However, when the famed writer Alvise Cagnazzo referred to the deep lying midfielder as a Chagall painting that Milan replaced with something from Ikea when he departed, he wasn’t overstating the value of a player. To many, he simply stated the truth.

Blessed with unique abilities, few understand the game or possess the vision of the Juventus playmaker. When Udinese’s Andrea Lazzarri brought him down in Sunday’s match, every fan watching winced. Without Pirlo, the Bianconeri not only struggle from a creative point of view but also suffer in taking command of a game.

A leader on and off the pitch, it’s thought the former Milan man will be out for 40 days although there are whispers that he may be back in time to make an appearance against Roma in early January.

-Vidal signs new deal

How will the Bianconeri survive without Pirlo? Sky Sports journalist Riccardo Trevisani explained it’s an “absence that will be felt but not so much in Istanbul (Dec. 10) because over there, Juve will have not have to attack but defend.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Galatasaray are a weak unit with slow reactions and an inept defence. The only beauty to their game lies in the attack, the lethality of their forward line. Should Juventus decide to play a passive game in Istanbul, they would simply be allowing their opponents the opportunity to display their strengths.

To get the draw or the win, the Old Lady will need to attack, to expose the deficiencies of their slow defence and keep Roberto Mancini’s men on the back foot.

Force them to defend and they will stutter. They are a side capable of individual errors at the back. Allow them to attack and they will happily exploit any mistake committed by the Juve defence, as they demonstrated in Turin and in the Bernabeu. Sadly for Galatasaray, Real Madrid didn’t commit as many errors as they needed them to Nov. 27 in Madrid's 4-1 win.

However, Trevisani may be right about one thing, Pirlo may not be as missed against Galatasaray as in domestic clashes. The beauty of playing Paul Pogba in place of Pirlo is that he allows Juventus to speed up their transition play -- not such a bad thing against a slow defence. The problem, as we witnessed against Udinese, is that the Italians will have to make do without the much-needed range of passing and the ability to control the tempo.

We have previously looked at the importance of Pirlo’s absence last season. According to statistics gathered by Maximum Girgenti, in the three homes games Pirlo sat out last season, Juventus not only won convincingly, but kept a clean sheet too. Overall, Juve were without their playmaker six matches and they managed to collect 12 out of a possible 18 points. They did not suffer a single defeat.

So how will Juventus manage their tactics without Pirlo? Some newspaper analyst opined that Leonardo Bonucci might be pushed farther forward, into midfield to fill Pirlo’s role, surrendering his defensive position to Angelo Ogbonna. While one can understand the logic behind the idea, most would probably agree it’s not the best solution. Bonucci may be accurate with his passing but he doesn’t possess the change of pace and range of passing to make this a viable solution. He would not only take up a place in midfield that would be better filled by one of the club’s many talented players in the role but will weaken a back-line that is so finely tuned when all three Azzurri nationals play together.

Arturo Vidal has played the Pirlo role before, but by asking him to adopt a deeper position on the field, the Old Lady are essentially sacrificing their most prolific scorer, a man well versed in the art of netting important goals to secure points.

Paul Pogba is the likeliest candidate to take on that role should Juve stick with the current 3-5-2. Playing him deeper also means sacrificing some of his best qualities, but it would allow the Frenchman a unique chance to further develop his game from that role. It would also allow the team the opportunity to speed up their play and prove even more effective on the counter-attack, especially with Claudio Marchisio played alongside him.

The other alternative could be to change the formation. What if Juventus played a 4-3-3 with a greater emphasis on wing play? Rather than relying on a player to mimic Pirlo’s perfect passes that allow the midfielders to make timely runs forward, some have opined Juve are better off exploring other avenues going forward.

Thankfully, with Fernando Llorente up front, they have a plan B, a player who can exploit a perfect cross. We have already seen the brilliance of Pogba in the wide areas while Sebastian Giovinco has impressed with his crossing even though he has a minor foot injury.

Either way, with Conte on the bench, Juventus will find a way of masking the pain of Pirlo’s absence. Domestically they possess more quality than most if not all their opponents while they only require one point in Turkey. They are good enough to win with or without their legendary playmaker.

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