Blog by: Arjun
Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s most iconic midfielder, is looked upon as a liability of late rather than as an invaluable asset.
The maestro is ageing and the recent performances of Paul Pogba have cast a doubt on the future of the former Milan player. Pirlo is undoubtedly one of the best visionaries of the modern football, however he has failed to put an impression on most of the Juve tifosi of late.
Pirlo, no matter how old and liable he is to the team, is still the most important midfielder in this Juve team.
Let’s rewind a little. Milan have won the league, Berlusconi is throwing a big “bunga- bunga” party to the Rossoneri. Galliani seems to be an enforcer in the mercato by publicly announcing the target of winning in Europe.
Allegri is given massive amount of appreciation heading into the next season. But they didn’t know that they lost even before the season began; lost out their best player in recent years, a player they cast out.
Galliani was brave enough to announce that Pirlo is no longer good enough to play for a team that competes for trophies. There started the decline of a club that has Sulley Muntari as one of their important midfielders at present.
The player who missed most of the 2010 world Cup moved to direct rivals, Juventus, a team that finished 7th on two consecutive occasions in the Italian Serie-A.
Little did the team that survived the Calciopoli scandal know of the team that was sent down to hell, rebuilding brick by brick with Pirlo at the heart of team.
Fast forward into the future, Juventus never lost a single game that entire season in the league, going on to win the Scudetto after 9 years and reaching the final of the Italian Cup.
Pirlo was one of the best players for the Old Lady to reclaim the throne back. He gave the first assist in the new Juventus Sports Arena to Lichtsteiner, who opened the scoring. Milan got rid of their experience in the forthcoming season and two important players while Juve were beginning an assault to take over Italy.
The team from Turin retained their Scudetto successfully, unchallenged for most of the season with Pirlo at the heart of the team.
Will Pirlo continue to play at a top level?
Pirlo is one of the most ambitious footballers in the world at present. He will continue to impress whether he is a part of Italy’s most coveted team or anywhere else.
He has a heart not to stop growing and continue to win which is very important for a team that has lacked this mentality post the infamous scandal. There are many clubs, one of which led by Don Carlo could well exploit his ambition to strive for success and look to succeed eventually.
On winning the World Cup and the Champions League, most of the world-class players show a deterioration in ambition, if not form. Pirlo on the other hand, has been able to use them to inspire himself to become better over the years.
A magician never reveals his tricks and this is Pirlo’s biggest trick. He is by far, the most under recognized player and an under-achieving player on personal accolades.
This may be one of the reasons he is playing for, an award that belongs only to him and differentiates him from the rest, a reason that ensures he is beneficial to the club than the club is to him, a reason that makes him better and the club grow.
Where does Pirlo play?
The architect started as a trequartista but dropped deeper to a regista by Carlo Mazzone – the role of a deep lying playmaker exploited to maximum use by the likes of Ancelotti, Lippi and Antonio Conte. The first of its kind perhaps!
Pirlo by nature lacks pace and abilities such as work-rate and defending. He over compensates for it by “passing”. “Passing”, a term often used by any critic to evaluate the final performance of any team.
While others look to create chances beyond the midfield, Pirlo drops deeper and creates chances at the midfield, if not between the defence and the midfield. The most versatile passer in the world, Pirlo participates in collecting the ball from the defence and distributing them to the other areas of the field.
Given a free role by Antonio Conte, Pirlo looks to dictate play from anywhere between the trequartista to the regista, moving to the flanks on certain intervals or sticking to the centre to receive the ball and dictate the play.
He’s the greatest dictator the modern world has ever seen, a dictator hailed by most and loved by all. Operating at the heart of the team, Pirlo is responsible for maintaining possession while drawing as much as stamina from the opponent.
Being adept with both the feet coupled with great ball control, Pirlo does it with ease. It’s a role that is not easy to step into, not overnight at least.
Why is Pirlo important to this team tactically?
Long gone are the days with Aquilani and Melo in the team, both struggling to find consistency in their performances for the Black and White.
While the former lacked the physicality and the latter being a hot head, the Bianconeri found the right man to replace two players. Pirlo is a formidable member of the Juventus team, a player whose name is first on the team sheet after the custodian captain.
Playing his usual role of a deep lying playmaker, the use of Pirlo’s position is maximized in a 3-5-2 system that Conte employs. Composure on the ball that he provides is just fabulous.
However, he is responsible for losing the ball in deadly position due to this over-calmness, one of which saw Alaba’s deflected shot go in against Bayern. But it is hardly his mistake if the receiver that he looks to find cannot be found because of tight marking at time by the rivalling teams.
He cannot be blamed for a tactic employed by the challenging team to be over-marked or constantly marked by one with continuous pressure.
It is a tactic to be combated against by devising a plan to deal with such a circumstance. It was done supremely when Conte pulled Oscar out of the game completely in the second leg against Chelsea in last year’s group stage game.
Oscar marked Pirlo brilliantly in the first leg and was the man of the match, but in the second leg he was required for mostly defensive duties which for a player of his calibre is wasteful. Similarly, against Celtic, the 34-year-old midfielder took 3 players out of the game, creating spaces for Juventus to penetrate.
The most important of Pirlo’s abilities is his movement. Yes, his off the ball movement. Not the movement that is similar to the striker that will get him goals, but the movement that he portrays in and around the midfield.
It is far from simple! He is the tip of any triangle of players formed in the Juventus team. From playing in triangles with Bonucci and Barzagli, to starring in those of Marchisio or Pogba and Vidal is very important to the team structurally.
He brings players into the game, thereby ensuring the best from players who may even seem absent. Apart from this, his usual killer “dink” passes that he provides are unmatched.
Another notable point is his ability to take set pieces. Since axing Del Piero out, Pirlo is the only experienced set piece taker in the starting line-up. The only other one being Giovinco, with the likes of Vidal and Tevez providing no assurance.
The professor has completed over 4,500 accurate passes since joining Juve, which is close to a significant 2000 passes per season in his 2 seasons.
With an average of 90 successful passes per game with a passing accuracy of over 85%, precision at passing, passing under pressure is what makes him different.
Composure on the ball that he provides is just fabulous. When Pirlo has a bad game, Juventus fail to perform to their best. Such is the dependence of Pirlo to this team and make no mistake, it is going to take a toll on any coach’s mind to find a replacement.
Why is Pirlo important to this team psychologically?
The #21 fame! A number previously worn by Zidane at Juventus, now worn by the Mozart is the number behind most of the Italian supporters whether it is for country or club.
Pirlo is a player that induces fear into any opposing team, a player that is targeted first by Juve’s opponents to break down the team that has won the most number of Scudetti.
He relieves the tension that is present in the outfield. Pirlo is the only player in this Juventus team apart from Carlos Tevez to have won the Champions League before, so it should be the primary goal for Juventus to retain him if they are to challenge for the European Cup.
Pirlo is also the most experienced player in Europe with the most number of Champions League appearances in this present team. The Maestro is no newcomer to the nerves that the Champions League provides since he has played in 3 Champions League finals, 1 Euro final and a World Cup final.
Pirlo and Buffon are the most inspiring members of the Bianconeri. With Buffon at goal, the players in the dressing room will look to Pirlo for motivation.
Provided Marrone comes back from loan, Pirlo can groom him and Pogba to be successful midfielders for the reigning Italian champions.
Who can play in Pirlo’s role?
None. There is no player in the present Juve team that can fit into Pirlo’s shoes. Pirlo cannot be emulated or replaced in his position.
That being said, with the system that Conte employs, Pogba, Marchisio and Vidal cannot co-exist in the same midfield. Vidal is a versatile player and looks to be the best to slot into a defensive midfielder role because of his range in passing.
Vidal is beyond that, he is a complete midfielder whose presence is more vital to Conte’s team when he is looking to win back possession with half a chance to break every now and then.
It is a perfectly balanced, stable system that has beautiful understanding between Pirlo, Vidal and either of Marchisio or Pogba. Vidal’s shooting and finishing apart from his passing is another factor why he is such a dangerous player when he is playing as a workhorse alongside Pirlo.
Same applies to Pogba as well, who is far superior to anyone in the team when it comes to skill. He is very good in running past men with pace and power to either score or lay a pass. Pogba is going to be wasted if he is employed deeper.
Marchisio lacks that distribution of spreading play from one end to another, switching flanks. Marchisio is more beneficial when he has that room to strike the ball from long range or penetrate through a tight defence.
Asamoah on the other hand has played on the left flank for over a season; switching him back to the central midfield is a transition that will take time.
Asamoah is the only reliable option on the left flank at the moment, switching him from the left flank to the centre will require either of Peluso or De Ceglie to be drafted in.
None of the Juventinos would want any of them to start ahead of Asamoah.
The team that wins in Europe gets rid of its dead-weight and adds depth to the squad.
Pirlo is not dead-weight by any means and he is still a player of high quality who needs to be present when the team is adding depth to the squad, not as a squad player but as a starting player.
He is an ambitious player and he will continue to play well which is vital for the growth of the team. He still has it for at least two years to give a lot to the team that only last year lost its greatest legend.