There has been a lot going on involving Juventus and Manchester United over the last few months. Players from both clubs are getting linked to the opposite side, but nothing of note has really happened yet. The latest link between the two clubs though happens to be that of Matthijs de Ligt.
It is certainly a shock that just months after sealing a big move to the Bianconeri from Ajax, De Ligt is being eyed by another big club in Europe. As much as a potential sale could allow Juventus the chance to sign Paul Pogba in a separate or in a swap deal, going ahead with a deal like this will only harm Juve.
That doesn’t mean that De Ligt has had an exceptional first season in Serie A. It has been a one full of ups and downs in equal measure. No one knows if the Dutchman was expected to go straight to the first-team, but the serious knee injury sustained by Giorgio Chiellini saw him get drafted beside Leonardo Bonucci in Maurizio Sarri’s technical system.
The early part of the season was rather disappointing. There was a feeling at the club that De Ligt will be a perfect fit for Sarri’s system and that is very much still the case. Early on, he struggled with the tactical and structural demands of the new league. Games against the likes of Fiorentina, Inter, Brescia and Bologna saw De Ligt fail to put his qualities out in the best way.
Juve themselves struggled, as the players found it tough to gel into Sarri’s complex 4-3-1-2 system. The ball wouldn’t move quickly from deep and from midfield, as Leonardo Bonucci thrived. Amidst discontent surrounding De Ligt, the Old Lady’s clash against Verona saw Merih Demiral start and while he did give away a penalty, the rest of the performance was very good.
De Ligt did come back into the side, but was later dropped for a good few games. Demiral was handed a chance in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen. The former neroverdi man grabbed it with both hands and carved out a place in the side. His ability to play out from the back and the Serie A experience was vital.
Just when it seemed as though De Ligt would have to sit out for more games, an ACL injury in a win over Roma ended Demiral’s season. Around that time onwards, De Ligt has certainly improved. Coincidentally or not, the improvement has come when he’s started playing at the right of the defence. Chiellini came back to playing regularly before COVID-19 stopped the game, as De Ligt has now settled into a right centre-back role.
It would be unfair to put Juve’s struggles down to De Ligt. On the ball, he has been very good. As per Wyscout, the former Ajax man has completed 58.92 passes per 90 minutes with an impressive accuracy of 91.3 percent. But he’s become known as a ‘handball magnet’ for his tendency to somehow attract the ball to his hands. He has made only 0.87 interceptions per 90 minutes– which is a less than average stat.
A lot of it is down either concentration or how his positioning on the pitch has been awry. But that is something many young defenders struggle with a league like Serie A, which relies on advanced tactical setups and structures. That comes with maturity- something De Ligt will only acquire with age.
Demiral will come back next season, with Chiellini not getting any younger- like Bonucci himself. Daniele Rugani’s future remains uncertain as he’s falling short of time on the pitch. In that sense, there is uncertainly around every other defender bar De Ligt. If Juve decide to sell him, it will be another transfer failure for Fabio Paratici.