Opening up a nine-point gap at the top of Serie A with a resounding 4-0 victory over Palermo should have been cause for celebration at Juventus. Instead, there was little to cheer last Sunday as Claudio Marchisio was stretchered from the field with what was later confirmed to be a serious knee injury.
The worst fears were realised when it was announced to be an anterior cruciate ligament injury, ending Marchisio’s season and his involvement in Euro 2016. The club stated he won’t be back in training until September. “I’m sorry for him,” Alessandro Del Piero stated, after speaking to Marchisio, “but he mustn’t forget that he’s young and - even if it sounds like a cliché - you come back stronger from injuries like this.”
Marchisio took over the role at the base of Massimiliano Allegri’s midfield trio vacated by Andrea Pirlo. While not an exact copy of the Maestro he has proved an important cog in the Bianconeri machine. According to WhoScored.com, only Leonardo Bonucci has made more passes, but nobody with as many games under their belt as Marchisio had his sort of accuracy – 88.5%. He may not have Pirlo’s range, but Marchisio was vital. Juve flowed through the Turin native.
The question for Juventus is, who fills the hole? Allegri proposed two names. “[Mario] Lemina and Hernanes are both in contention for the role in front of the defence,” he said on Tuesday. It was a position Juve had a tough time filling at the start of the term as Marchisio sat out with injury. Simone Padoin and Hernanes were utilised, neither to great effect. But Allegri has no qualms about giving the Brazilian another chance.
Hernanes started against Lazio on Wednesday, as the Old Lady cruised to a 3-0 success. It was just his eighth Serie A start of the campaign. The Brazilian looked assured, was readily involved and kept possession ticking over. In a match where Juve looked to dominate proceedings, the influence of Hernanes shone through.
Whereas this Sunday when the Bianconeri go to Fiorentina – a potential Scudetto decider depending on Napoli’s result at Roma a day later – the defensive steel of Lemina could sway Allegri. The Coach remarked only on Tuesday that Lemina was growing, but had to “improve his defensive game from a tactical point of view.”
Yet there can be no arguing against his ability to win the ball. His 2.3 tackles per game is the highest in the squad – not forgetting he’s made only eight League appearances. Against a Viola side normally so vibrant and determined in what will be their biggest match of the campaign, Lemina’s defensive ability will come into play, in addition to his tidiness on the ball.
Juventus had high hopes for the midfield trio of Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba this term. For one reason or another, mostly fitness related, the trident featured just 15 times in all competitions. Without the presence of Marchisio there will be greater responsibility for Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba. And both are brimming with confidence.
They each played a part in the goals on Wednesday. It was Pogba who fired the ball across for Mario Mandzukic to open the scoring. Then, Khedira centred for Paulo Dybala to finish it off past the hour mark. The pair both scored against Palermo last Sunday. Pogba has four goals and five assists in his last six matches, Khedira a goal and assist since returning from a two-match ban.
Rather than feel shackled by the weight of expectation as at the start of the season, Pogba is enjoying his football and the results are evident. Meanwhile, Khedira has shaken off the fitness concerns which dogged his early months. He has played his way into form as the season has progressed. The pair must continue in this vein over the final month.
Rumours have linked Juventus with a Marchisio replacement for next term, somebody who can help fill the gap until the No 8 is fit and firing. That may not be until 2017. For now, while losing Marchisio is a big blow, Allegri does have options in reserve and two players in fine form.