Juventus fans could be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu at the beginning of the new season. When the team news was announced prior to their opener at Parma, it was a starting XI that had a very familiar feel about it. A team that was more Max Allegri than that of new boss Maurizio Sarri.
The chosen midfield three was particularly contentious. It has been widely acknowledged for some time that The Old Lady’s options in that area required an upgrade. The recent recruitment of both Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey are a step in the right direction. However, former PSG player Rabiot started from the bench, whilst Welshman Ramsey was left out completely as he continues to work towards full fitness.
The Bianconeri faithful had perhaps thought and hoped that the days of watching Miralem Pjanic being flanked by Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira in a functional midfield line-up were over. But come kick-off at the Stadio Ennio Tardini last Saturday, all were present in the Juventus XI. Despite Matuidi and Khedira being heavily linked with moves away this summer, the World Cup winning duo have seemingly crept back into the club’s strategy. That is perhaps as a result of Juve’s own poor planning rather than the pair’s individual qualities.
The presence of Khedira was particularly surprising. A player who over the last 18 months has looked a shadow of his former self, he was expected to be one of the first out of the door as a result of Sarri’s appointment. However, fast forward a couple of months and with Mister Sarri’s OK, there appears to have been a change in stance with regards to the availability of the 32-year-old German.
Sami’s roll of honour is mightily impressive. League titles in Italy, Germany and Spain along with a host of other domestic, European and world trophies that include a Champions League and World Cup winner’s medal. Vastly experienced and having played under a multitude of the game’s top Coaches, why do Juventini want to see the back of him when he comes approved by the likes of Allegri, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Joachim Low and now Sarri?
Khedira is without doubt a supremely intelligent central midfield player. Having adopted a number of different roles over the years, he has shown tactical flexibility and complete understanding of the game. The reliability Khedira brings to his role is reassuring for any Coach. The former Real Madrid player’s interpretation of the game provides balance in both attacking and defensive phases of play. An ability to exploit space with perfectly timed forward runs sees Khedira contribute goals from midfield, but beyond that he understands how and when to press or help the team lock up and act as a defensive shield.
Competent technically, Khedira aids ball retention and contributes in the build-up. Watching Sami play, it is understandable why many of the game’s top tacticians have turned to Khedira over the years and made him a staple of their team. For the supporters currently observing him weekly, all of that is now somewhat irrelevant and it has become clear that Khedira struggles with the demands of the modern game at the elite level.
Against provincial opponents, Khedira has a place in the squad and is useful as part of player rotation. However, as one of those in the top pay bracket at Juventus, he needs to be much more than a useful back-up. A lack of energy box-to-box hampers him against dynamic, fluid opposition. Simple to exploit and play around, he becomes a ghost in the centre the pitch. Without the capacity to break midfield lines via dribbling, he can be marshalled by better defences, severely limiting his offensive output.
La Vecchia Signora have showed a tendency in the past to stay with what they know and at this current juncture – even with the changes Sarri will bring – that remains the case. Khedira has a mentality that is perfectly in keeping with the club he represents. Hard working, ambitious and constantly seeking the next trophy. It is easy to be dismissive of the former Stuttgart player, but he has worked admirably and is currently being rewarded.
A confusing transfer policy has left Juventus in an awkward situation. Unable to move on those players that from the outside, look not to fit in with the direction Sarri will take the team, it has given them a second chance. Super Sami looks to be a beneficiary of his managements deficiencies on the transfer market.