Claudio Marchisio's return a major boost for Juventus and Max Allegri
Claudio Marchisio is back from injury and could well be included in the squad set to face Udinese on Saturday as the midfielder prepares to begin his 10th season.
Born in Turin and a Juventino since he was a child, Marchisio is the anchor in Juve's midfield. An Italian who combines tactical intelligence with a winning mentality, his absence has been keenly felt, for few boast the vision of Juve's most understated player.
A man who provides direction, he tackles with conviction, releases forwards and times his runs to perfection. Quick thinking and dynamic, Marchisio provided stability to Juve's midfield, securing the backline while regularly contributing to the attack. Without him, Massimiliano Allegri has struggled to solve the imbalance.
At first Mario Lemina was tasked with playing just in front of the defence, but judging by how easy it was to dispossess him and his bizarre positioning on occasion, it was clear his particular set of skills were wasted in that role. Played on the inside right, Lemina was able to show off his acceleration and stamina, combining beautifully with Dani Alves beside him.
Instead, Allegri looked to Hernanes in recent games. The Brazilian is always capable of performing his duties and his no frills approach provided the security necessary to release the likes of Miralem Pjanic ahead of him. Yet Hernanes is two dimensional, cumbersome and slow -- he simply lacks Marchisio's confidence and dynamism.
Il Principino may not have been the man who scored the goals or performed the heroic tackles, but he is invaluable to Juventus and a protagonist in their story of success. Tactically flexible, the player has played out wide, in front of defence and in central midfield. He can steal possession, score goals, exploit gaps and deliver assists. Renowned for how quickly he thinks on the ball, perhaps Marchisio's greatest asset is his sense of responsibility. When the team looks down, he's happy to assume control and try to find a way through.
In truth, Andrea Pirlo's departure forced him to take on a role that essentially robs him of the ability to demonstrate his full range of skills. Forced to sit deeper and rely on his vision, Marchisio rarely makes those timely runs forward to score the important goals like he once managed under Antonio Conte.
Yet his intelligence and excellent reading of the game allowed him to settle into his new position well, offering different qualities to the midfield. Energetic and intense, Marchisio provides the defensive shield that facilitates Juve's attacking game and with him back on the pitch, Pjanic and Sami Khedira can run free and participate in Juve's attack without feeling burdened by their defensive duties. By playing further forward, the duo will also provide support for Paulo Dybala, perhaps stopping him from having to drop deep to recover the ball.
Moreover, Marchisio's return from injury will also help Allegri indulge in a little tactical tinkering. Perhaps now the coach can look at ways of playing a different formation, eventually incorporating Marko Pjaca to help provide even more creativity and attacking brilliance to an already capable squad.
However, against Udinese on Saturday, Marchisio may only be fit enough for the bench. It remains to be seen who will be allowed to play his role but it seems likely both Khedira and Pjanic will start. Considering how well each performed for their country during International Week, their confidence should be riding high.
Udinese, in manager Luigi Del Neri's words, are young and lacking in confidence. A side boasting players from all corners in the world, it's been difficult to create cohesion and fluidity but in time, Del Neri should be able to exploit the hunger of the youngsters he has in his grasp. Yet despite the glaring deficiencies, it's vital Juve do not underestimate their young opponents as every team seems to raise their level of play against the champions of Italy, especially when they are being coached by a man who failed during his stint with the Old Lady.
Set to start with a trident attack, at least according to TuttoUdinese.it, Del Neri refuses to play a defensive game and wants his players to attack Juventus as equals, hoping it will help his squad gain confidence.
Considering Mario Mandzukic scored four goals in two games for Croatia, Allegri will look to start him alongside Dybala up front in a 3-5-2 formation. With Champions League games coming up, a win at home on Saturday will help Juventus head to the European stage with confidence high.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.