It has been an important week of victories for Andrea Pirlo and his Juventus. A late win the in Turin derby was followed by an impressive three goal triumph in Barcelona and that was then topped off with three-points in Genoa on Sunday evening.
The Bianconeri appear to be slowly finding their feet under the guidance of their former midfield player and despite Juve’s “Moraldo” strike partnership rightly taking much of the credit, another player has proven his importance.
That player is Juve’s flying Colombian full-back Juan Cuadrado, whose influence on the team has been steadily growing over the last year. The 32-year-old’s contribution during the last week has certainly highlighted that and the key role he has to play.
It began in the Derby della Mole, with Juve trailing at home to city rivals Torino and with time running out. Cuadrado delivered not one but two pin-point crosses that were headed home to propel The Old Lady into the lead and rescue them in what was a must win game.
A couple of days later, Cuadrado was in the Camp Nou serving up another crucial assist as he again picked out a well-timed Weston Mckennie run. Then most recently with his team struggling to find a way past a stubborn Genoa defence, Juan beats his marker and draws contact in the area, providing Ronaldo a golden opportunity to put Juve ahead from the spot.
It was a passage of play that was classic Cuadrado. An early run to join the attack, he found himself high up the pitch Isolated 1 v 1 against a defender. As the ball found its way Juan, he slowed play down as he so often likes to do, forcing his opponent to start from almost a standing position.
What followed was a fake, a drop of the shoulder and a quick shift of the ball as Cuadrado exploded into life and away into the space. Cleverly positioning his body between player and ball as the tackle was made, a penalty was the result.
Skipping past defenders in this way is an aspect of Cuadrado game he arguably utilises most regularly and effectively, we all know it’s coming but it is difficult to stop. He hides his movements well, it is this disguise along with his agility and speed off the mark that gives him success in these situations on a weekly basis.
Despite providing a couple of memorable moments in the past for Juve - notably a late winner against Toro and a wonder striker against bitter rivals Inter – Cuadrado hasn’t always been appreciated by Juventini, at times quite the opposite.
Often he would leave a lot to be desired. Poor decisions in possession, inconsistent displays and no end product left supporters extremely frustrated.
However, a change in role has helped Cuadrado refine his play. A move from winger to full-back came partly from necessity as Juventus lacked options in that area and Juan filled in. It started under Max Allegri who briefly turned to him at the end of the 2018/2019 campaign, but it wasn’t until Mazuirio Sarri took over that his transformation to right back became permanent.
There was concern around if Cuadrado had the positional discipline to play in the back line, but he has shown to be adaptable. A good learner who has developed well into the role also thanks to the help of Andrea Barzagli, who followed him closely when he was part of Sarri’s staff last season. Proving productive in his defensive battles, Cuadrado is currently recording 2.8 successful tackles per-game, that number is amongst the top 10 stoppers in the division.
In attack is where Cuadrado is shining, currently on 8 assists for the season with 5 of them coming in Europe’s elite football competition. It is not just his assists, the one-time Udinese player currently registers 2.2 key passes per-game, more than any of his team mates and is again inside the top 10 across the entire league.
His pace is also fundamental to Pirlo and modern football. In transitions he can spring counter attacks from deep whilst he also capable of pressing or recovering swiftly when the ball is lost. Playing in a deeper role has perhaps simplified his game whilst increasing his responsibility. He is more effective, less wasteful and benefits from being able to see play develop from further back allowing him to time his involvements.
When he was signed from Chelsea, it was hard to imagine Juventus ever needing to use Cuadrado as a right back, a role he had only covered at the beginning of his career at Lecce and Udinese. It was an option they stumbled across due to deficiencies rather than planned for.
Despite the doubts, it is currently proving to be a shrewd move for player and club. Panita is closing in on his 200th appearance for the Italian champions and has won multiple titles during his time in northern Italy.
Cuadrado has been a dedicated servant to Juve, his work-rate and desire have always been unquestionable but now he is finally being applauded not only for his bright personality, on field dancing and beaming smile but also the significance of his performances.