Juventus look like they are juggling with two different projects at this current time. The Bianconeri have made a drastic coaching change and have added some new key signings to the squad – hoping these acquisitions can instantly solve the Old Lady’s Champions League drought.
However, it seems evident that Juve are also trying to construct a youthful core in their defensive line. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are past their prime, with the latter having been more prone to injuries and fatigue over these last couple of demanding campaigns. Signing de Ligt was a case of the Italian champions pushing for instant European success and preparing for the future. But numerous Serie A viewers and Juventini forgot about the smart purchase of Merih Demiral.
Demiral, who was purchased for €18m from Sassuolo, has to be one of the savviest signings the Bianconeri have made this summer. The 21-year-old Turkish international was supposed to be one of the players to be sacrificed for the de Ligt signing, that was until the talented centre-back took Juve and its fans by storm in the two International Champions Cup fixtures against Tottenham and Inter.
After Demiral showed glimpses of his exceptional defensive qualities in these last couple of pre-season friendlies in a Bianconeri shirt, the Turkish starlet proved why he fits the mould of a traditional Juventus centre-back.
The way Demiral defends resembles how several past Italian centre-backs played at Juve. His overshadowing height, robust figure, versatility and composure are all the same qualities that Chiellini holds. But from what we saw at his short stint with Sassuolo and some of his recent pre-season performances, Demiral has the talent to emulate Juve legend Claudio Gentile.
The Fenerbahçe youth product can use his height advantage to avert any aerial threat in the box and also score off corners and set-pieces in attacking situations. Demiral is also an outstanding reader in one v one situations – using his strength and precise tackling always to win challenges.
While defenders in modern-day football predominantly use zonal marking, Demiral has occasionally defended with the man-marking system – a method that worked for him in nullifying Fabio Quagliarella, Duvan Zapata, Josip Ilicic, Federico Chiesa and Andrea Belotti last season. Claudio Gentile used to defend like this as a way of life, which ended up frustrating football icons Diego Maradona and Zico at the 1982 World Cup.
Not only is Demiral a mature centre-back for his young age, but the former Alanyaspor player also has decent technical skills with the ball. The Turkish youngster has the ability to surge forward – dribbling past opponents with intense pace. Boasting a hard work ethic is another exceptional trait that the 21-year-old holds. He can trackback and instantaneously dispossess the ball from any top striker.
Another reason why Juve would be wise to cherish this Turkish gem is to avoid a chaotic repeat of last season, when Medhi Benatia was sold to Qatari club Al-Duhail. By letting go of Benatia, the 35-time Scudetto winners struggled for depth in defence when injuries struck Chiellini. Daniele Rugani alongside Bonucci left Juve exposed in corners and set-piece situations, which consequently led to their early exit in the Champions League.
Demiral’s abilities could offer tremendous depth in Maurizio Sarri’s backline this upcoming season. The young Turkish delight is a luxury back-up to have when Chiellini needs to rest. Also, Demiral is a much more talented option than Rugani, with the latter struggling for confidence and form.
A large portion of Juve tifosi probably wouldn’t mind seeing Demiral receive more game time than Bonucci this campaign. The Bianconeri’s new centre-back is younger, has more potential and can even produce accurate long-range passes just like Bonucci. Playing Demiral and de Ligt more often could give Juventus fans a taste of the club’s future centre-back duo.
Juve must ensure Demiral stays in Turin, especially if the Italian champions are to prepare their next generation of centre-backs for future domestic and European success.
Image credit: juventus.com