When Miralem Pjanic joined Juventus from Roma in the summer of 2016, he used to be a central midfielder who thrived in creating. In his last two seasons at Roma, he had evolved into a more complete player. He could do a bit of everything. That formed the basis for what he is today.
Pjanic was known to be a creative force around the striker during his time at Lyon. He often played a wide playmaker too at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, hardly playing deeper. The move to the giallorossi in 2011 also saw him initially be used in a similar position, assisting nine times in his first season.
Over time, Pjanic became part of a consistent midfield trio at Roma. It saw Daniele de Rossi play in front of the back four, Kevin Strootman or Radja Nainggolan play as the box-to-box midfielder and the Bosnian playing as the most advanced midfielder.
It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season that Pjanic began to operate a bit deeper. His positional intelligence, ability to hold onto the ball and link-up play saw Luciano Spalletti use him as a second choice defensive midfielder to De Rossi. The Italian veteran wasn’t helped by his fitness issues, allowing Nainggolan to play further forward.
The move to Turin saw Pjanic play all across the midfield. And he did a very good job everywhere.
But as Claudio Marchisio’s influence faded and Sami Khedira’s injury issues cropped up, Pjanic role had to change. Towards the end of the 2017-18 season specifically, Pjanic became more of a dictator from deep than he ever was.
This has followed on since now, but Pjanic has been the foundation of Maurizio Sarri’s system at Juve.
Like many expected, the former Roma man has played as the deepest midfielder in Sarri’s 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond shape. His abilities are always reminiscent of the job Jorginho did for Sarri at Napoli and Chelsea.
Pjanic holds the ball exceptionally and allows the players in front of him to move about in the final third. These are the qualities that a defensive midfielder usually needs. But for Sarri, the ability on the ball carries the highest priority.
Indeed, 29-year-old has fit right in. This season, the Bosnian has played the most passes in total than any other Juve player- 525. He has also played the second-highest number of passes in the whole league (as per Whoscored).
That is 75 passes per game. Jorginho played 95 passes per game in the 2017-18 season under Sarri. While the Bosnian is still some way off that, he is only growing into the role.
Pjanic has helped Juve play the third-highest number of passes this season- 3761. These are key aspects of Sarri’s possession approach. At Napoli, he had players who had grown into the style over three years.
At Juve so far, there has been an imbalance in midfield. Pjanic’s technical abilities haven’t really been complimented by that. Khedira and Blaise Matuidi aren’t the most technically gifted midfielders, even though they started the season well.
Adrien Rabiot has look out of shape and will take a while to get to grips with the system. Amidst all that, Pjanic and Ramsey has managed to come up with good performances in their positions. They keep the play ticking by doing their jobs very well.
The game against SPAL saw Pjanic score a stunner. But it wasn’t just about that. He also made the most amount of passes than anyone else on the pitch- 114. Juan Cuadrado was second at 78. The only midfielder in the top five was Matuidi, with just 67 passes (via Whoscored)
Against Brescia too, Pjanic played 115 passes. That was again, more than anyone else. No other midfielder featured in the top five passers of that game.
This just shows that while Pjanic is tailor-made for Sarri’s system, the rest of the midfield is not. That is exactly why Juve continue to pursue players like Christian Eriksen and Sandro Tonali.
Juve do dealing with some issues to get the system play in a fluid manner when the opposition sits deep. Sarri has rotated the front three of Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain very well. But the injury sustained by Douglas Costa has led to a lack of pace in attack, leading to sluggishness in attack.
All in all, there might be some problems despite Juve being at the top of the table. But Pjanic is having no problems whatsoever.