Many Juventus supporters were confident that their side would finally end their 23-year wait for Champions League last season after their blockbuster signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. But while the Bianconeri failed to address the midfield problems, they were completely oblivious about the state of their wounded backline – something rare for a team who pride itself on flawless defending.
With the Scudetto holders about to become accustomed to ‘Sarrismo’, now is the ideal time for them to sign a complete centre-back, especially one that can thrive under Maurizio Sarri’s attacking philosophy. In these last couple of days, there has been concrete evidence that suggests Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt could be the next grand signing for the Old Lady.
With Barcelona reportedly pulling out of the race to sign the teenage sensation, the Turin side will hope they can fend off Paris Saint-Germain and acquire the potential heir to Giorgio Chiellini. But is it worth spending €70m for a 19-year-old, who is still a young prospect in Europe?
In all honesty, Juve’s defence has deteriorated ever since that excruciating Champions League night in Cardiff two years ago. Following Andrea Barzagli’s recent retirement, the only remains of the iconic and intimidating ‘BBC’ backline are Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Age is rapidly catching up with the pair, who are beyond their prime playing days. Bonucci’s short stint at Milan two seasons ago didn’t benefit his performance from an individual perspective, which is why he has struggled for consistency and kept producing blunders in set-piece situations since returning from San Siro.
Chiellini, meanwhile, may still be one of the finest centre-backs in world football, but the veteran is soon turning 35 – an age when a player’s body starts struggling with the demands of regular top-level football. If Juventus sign De Ligt then we could be about to witness one of the most formidable centre-back duos in modern Calcio times.
De Ligt and Chiellini share some parallels in terms of physical and intelligent defending – many Juve fans can picture this pair intimidating many forwards at home and abroad in warrior-like fashion, with bandages wrapped around their heads. A De Ligt-Chiellini defensive partnership would probably last for no more than two seasons, but it would nonetheless be a fruitful combination, which could help take the Dutchman’s defensive game to another level.
In the last couple of campaigns, the Juventus backline has always looked frail without Chiellini on the pitch. Bonucci has also struggled to showcase leadership qualities with no Chiellini alongside him, in turn negatively affecting Daniele Rugani when he fills in. One thing for sure is that De Ligt possesses the confidence to command a backline and an entire team – displaying signs of maturity way beyond his age. The Ajax stopper would certainly have the ability to ensure Juve don’t lose any control in the defence when Chiellini isn’t playing.
In terms of ability, De Ligt has it all. The teenager produces precise and clean tackles – one of the fine arts of his game. His shadowing stature and physical strength have seen him avert aerial threats in set-piece situations and also score from outrageous headers in attacking positions, particularly corner kicks. The majority of goals the Bianconeri have conceded in the last couple of seasons came from set-piece situations, including when De Ligt recently scored the winner for Ajax to eliminate the Old Lady in the Champions League quarter-finals.
De Ligt’s attacking prowess is another reason why Juve should splash the cash on this emerging superstar. The 2018 Golden Boy winner excels in building play through his creative passing and dynamic runs – skills that will complement Sarri’s brand of Calcio.
Matthijs de Ligt’s maturity, confidence, attacking threat and defensive qualities are what make him the complete centre-back in modern-day football. If Juventus manage to secure his signature, they will be on course in taking their football to new heights in Europe.