Looking in from a distance, you could be forgiven for questioning what has changed at Juventus this season.
The Old Lady may have swapped Antonio Conte for Massimiliano Allegri, but still line up in their almost symbolic 3-5-2 and retain the same ruthlessness and sheer desire to win that has been drilled into them over the last three years.
With the new Serie A season just three games old, Juventus have already affirmed their place as the League’s benchmark, alongside Roma.
Wins against Chievo and Udinese eased the early pressure on Allegri, while Saturday’s 1-0 defeat of Milan highlighted Juventus’ strength and showed there to be a significant gap between them and a side who had been built up as Scudetto outsiders before the contest.
Such a run of results had become the norm under Conte and it would be understandable to assume Allegri has simply retained his methods and succeeded with continuity. To surmise the Livorno native’s work in such a way would, however, be unfair. Allegri has admittedly retained Conte’s blueprint, but has made notable tweaks that are giving Juventus a new outlook.
The desire to free up Carlos Tevez is the most notable alteration, but the reinvention of Claudio Marchisio is perhaps more intriguing. With Andrea Pirlo out injured for the opening weeks of season, Allegri has turned to the 28-year-old to fill in.
Marchisio had always been a more offensive midfielder for Juventus - usually from the left, but has embraced this new role, with his energy, positional sense and smart use of the ball has made the midfield more fluid. With Pirlo in the side, the build up would always go through him and he would play the decisive passes. Now, with Allegri preferring a more patient approach, Marchisio’s less ambitious, but neat passing has proven to be an excellent fit.
This season, he is averaging 99.3 passes at an accuracy of 89.9 per cent per game in Serie A, compared to just 37.2 [with 86.7 percent accuracy] last term. Those stats look even more impressive when put alongside Pirlo’s output of 69 passes per game at an 88.5 per cent accuracy last season.
Admittedly, Marchisio’s stats are drawn from a much smaller pool and are a reflection of Allegri’s desire for greater possession, but do suggest that he can be a worthy alternative to Pirlo. Perhaps, the most notable advantage of having Marchisio deep is reflected in his defensive output. This season, he has made 2.7 tackles per game - only Arturo Vidal’s made more.
One of the downsides of having Pirlo as a deep playmaker is his lack of defensive work and need for cover. With Marchisio, that isn't necessary and allows the two central midfielders alongside him to push higher, as Roberto Pereyra and Paul Pogba did to good effect against Milan. Marchisio's recovery rate also means he can support the attack, as he did to score in the win over Udinese and when he hit the post at San Siro.
Having Marchisio, a player who had an uncertain future 12 months ago and an uneventful 2013-14 season, coming to the fore gives Allegri another option, but also a potential dilemma.
With Pirlo set to return in the coming weeks, there is no guarantee that he will go straight into the side. Allegri, let’s not forget, felt Pirlo was unsuitable to the role at Milan and though he has since been proven wrong, Marchisio may be a better fit for his system, particularly in Europe where Juventus need to be more dynamic.
Whether Marchisio can displace Pirlo is unclear, but to have a worthy alternative to the great man is a nice headache for Allegri.