He might have joined Manchester United in January, but Turin boy Claudio Marchisio was never going to leave Juventus easily. Adam Digby on the renaissance of the Juventus midfielder...
He was ready. Andrea Pirlo fizzed a free-kick over the wall and Chievo goalkeeper Michael Agazzi could only parry the shot. That’s when Claudio Marchisio pounced. Reacting quicker than anyone around him, the Juventus midfielder hit the ball first time into the opposite corner, and gave his side a two-goal cushion they would never relinquish.
That it came in his first appearance in over three weeks showed that being ready is a hallmark of his character, and has been since he broke into the senior side back in the 2006/07 season. While a number of youth team players made their debuts in that season spent in Serie B, Marchisio had spent the previous campaign on the fringes of Fabio Capello’s all-conquering squad and maximised his opportunity.
While fellow graduates Sebastian Giovinco and Paolo De Ceglie have failed to secure regular playing time, the now 28-year-old has amassed almost 240 appearances. To do so, he has seen off expensive acquisitions like Thiago, Christian Poulsen and Felipe Melo, establishing himself as a key figure at post-Calciopoli Juventus.
As the Antonio Conte era began, the man wearing his old No.8 shirt was – like the former captain himself – one of very few players who understood what it meant to pull on the famous black and white stripes. The coach seized upon that, distilling the Juventus spirit into each and every player, and galvanising a team which had limped to successive seventh-place finishes into undefeated champions.
Forming a three-man midfield alongside Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, Marchisio lifted the team beyond some defensive errors, and a lack of attacking firepower, to seal their first title of this bright new era. They would repeat the feat a year later, with the Turin native netting 18 goals in 79 games over that two-season span. The blend of that trio provided the perfect poise, passing and attacking intent, looking like one of the most well-constructed midfield units anywhere on the continent and helping them to Champions League quarter-finals.
Enter Pogba… exit Marchisio?
However, as 2012/13 progressed, Paul Pogba emerged as a supremely talented player. Quickly realising the talent Manchester United had identified but failed to properly nurture, Juventus capitalised on his potential, and by the end of the season he had made a huge impression in his 18 league starts.
Four into three won't go. Pirlo had rightly become untouchable, perhaps even surpassing the form he had displayed at Milan, while Vidal was on his way to become the best all-round player in the world: leading the league in tackles this season, the Chilean is one strike shy of the goalscoring record for a Serie A midfielder. Their form left Marchisio as the one vulnerable member of the side, as Pogba continued to develop, and by November the French youngster had taken his place in the line-up.
Close to Christmas, Marchisio had made only nine league starts and, most importantly, had failed to get on the scoresheet at all during the first half of the season. For a player who had become synonymous with big goals, it was a glaring hole in performances that felt somewhat below par. Yet to those watching him on a regular basis, the 28-year-old is as valuable as he has ever been.
Like his goal against Chievo this past weekend, his game is based on immaculate timing, allowing him to appear to be in the right place whenever and wherever he is needed. Countless times he has made goal-line clearances to save the blushes of La Madama, keen to put his on-field intelligence to use at both ends of the pitch. Despite his reduced role, he is still averaging 2.5 tackles per game and 1.6 interceptions, the latter figure higher than any other midfielder at the club.
Marchisio's lack of playing time led to speculation he may move on from the Old Lady, talk which intensified during the January transfer window as rumours grew of interest from Manchester United. It's easy to see why the Old Trafford outfit admire him: he would perfectly fit the void left by the second retirement of Paul Scholes, another midfielder who consistently arrived in the box at the right moment.
Indeed, a move to the Premier League champions made perfect sense in some ways. Marchisio had become a reserve in Turin, he was a perfect fit for United and would have filled a desperate need in their squad. He even scored his first goal of the season in front of David Moyes during the United manager's scouting trip to Cagliari. But that simple transfer arithmetic didn't quite add up for the player or his current club. Juventus know just how important the relationship is between the player and the club he joined when he was just seven years old.
It has been interesting to watch Marchisio this season as he seeks an edge on his rivals in the squad, developing extra facets to his game in order to make an impression on Conte. After an injury to Pirlo’s medial ligament ruled out the playmaker for an extended period, the coach surprisingly opted against using Pogba in the centre of midfield, instead placing Marchisio there for the first time. He didn't disappoint, adhering to the defensive responsibilities of the role while putting on a passing display worthy of l'architetto himself.
A 4-2 win over Sampdoria showcased this newfound ability perfectly, as he led the team in tackles (5), also making an interception and blocking a shot. Once on the ball, his distribution was superb, completing 56 of 62 total passes, including 8/10 long balls, which is more than double his usual efforts of 37.2 passes and 3.4 long balls per game.
Rather than an anomaly, this was a continuation of a season-long effort which has taken his pass completion rate up to 87.3% from last term's 83.8%. To still be seeking ways to improve at his age shows a determination to remain at the top, and he can certainly expect to earn a place at the World Cup this summer.
With Pirlo turning 35 before the end of the season and Juventus still competing for domestic and Europa League honours, injury and suspension means there is likely to be plenty of playing time to be shared around.
Claudio Marchisio is ready.