At the Stadio Dall’Ara in Bologna on Sunday afternoon, Miralem Pjanic stood over a free kick for Juventus. The angle was tight, positioned on the outer reaches of the Bologna penalty area. Despite a well-earned reputation as one of the finest dead-ball specialists in the game, most assumed Pjanic would send the ball into the box. Even for a man of his talent, that was the better option. Wrong.
The Bosnian arched the ball splendidly over the wall and, disregarding some very suspect goalkeeping from ex-Juventus player Antonio Mirante, the ball predictably nestled in the back of the net. The goal gave Juventus the lead and Pjanic would later add an assist for Mario Mandzukic.
The Juve No. 5 has been in scintillating form in his second season in Turin. Watching Pjanic last season, you almost got the impression he didn’t quite comprehend what was expected of him, as if he wasn’t comfortable yet playing in black and white. Was he to play as an attacking midfielder, like he was for Roma, or was he to be the heir apparent to Andrea Pirlo? The lack of clarity hurt Pjanic.
He wouldn’t have been the first big signing to find the going tough in Turin. Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini famously found it difficult to acclimatise to the demands of being a Juventus player. In fact, things for Platini became so bad midway through his first season, he seriously contemplated moving back to France.
Yet the pieces finally clicked into place for him when Max Allegri implemented the now famous ‘five-star’ system, incorporating all of Juve’s most technically gifted players at his disposal into the starting XI. Pjanic now had a fixed role, receiving the ball from deep and orchestrating Juve’s attacks. Performances improved, and he was particularly outstanding in both games against Barcelona at the quarter final stage of their Champions League run.
This season, Pjanic has really kicked on. Now firmly entrenched in Pirlo’s old role, he’s become the fulcrum of the Juve midfield, building attacks with sharp, intelligent and incisive passing. He’s provided six assists in the league, only three short of last season’s total, whilst he’s only two goals shy of equalling last season’s tally of five.
Statistics of course can never give a full indication on an individual’s performance, but there’s no doubting that Pjanic has left those early struggles behind. His latest free kick sees him rise above Platini in the all-time list with 16, and is within distance of Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Zola and Francesco Totti, all on 20. Such is Pjanic’s unnerving accuracy that it’s really only a matter of time before he leaves that trio in the dust too. In the last decade, nobody has scored more free kicks than the Bosnian.
Pjanic has been the standout midfielder in Serie A this season, and you feel that if Juve are to win a seventh straight scudetto and once again forge a deep run in the latter stages of the Champions League, Mire will be a key component.