Bentancur rise continues as Higuain looks to remain Juve's main man
The season has barely started and Juventus are suffering. Both Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio will be unavailable against Chievo Verona on Saturday and the defender may even miss the big clash against Barcelona in the Camp Nou in the Champions League. With Sami Khedira still struggling with his knee and Andrea Barzagli in need of a rest, it appears Juve will not be fielding their best players in Serie A over the weekend, preferring to save what little energy they have in the tank for the big Champions League clash.
With Blaise Matuidi likely to line up alongside Miralem Pjanic on Saturday afternoon, it seems it won't be long before Massimiliano Allegri will be looking to 20-year-old midfielder, Rodrigo Bentancur.
The youngster came on as a substitute against Genoa and was afforded only 14 minutes yet that was all the time needed to impress the critics. Despite admitting to being nervous and arriving from a continent where football is played at a different pace, Bentancur showed maturity and character, understanding quickly how to make an impact in the game.
Playing with his head up as he eyed spaces and his teammates' movements, Bentancur always looked to play the clever pass forward while his movement off the ball proved equally good. Boasting vision and desire, Juventus never fully committed to bringing in another midfielder once realising the jewel they boasted on the bench.
While new players are often forced to wait and observe before Allegri deems them ready enough to participate, it appears Bentancur may not have to wait as long. While he almost always appears terrified and shy when taking part in interviews or gearing up to enter the field, he comes across as remarkably confident and determined with his ball at his feet, managing to press effectively when Genoa had the ball. It's as if the ball reminds him of his competitive edge.
With Marchisio out for a month and Khedira struggling, Juventus may need to rely on Bentancur quickly, especially as a two-man midfield is not strong enough to cope with the current lack of balance within the side. The defence still looks fragile while the absence of Leonardo Bonucci is forcing Pjanic and at times, even Dybala to drop deep in search of the ball. As such, it makes sense to play with three in midfield to provide strength in the middle until the Bianconeri can recover their fluidity and thus Bentancur could play a rather important role rather soon into his new adventure. In the words of Gianluigi Buffon: "Calm down, you have nothing to prove."
While Bentancur may have nothing to prove, Juventus and Gonzalo Higuain certainly do. With Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli dropping Higuain in favour of Mauro Icardi in the recent World Cup qualifiers and Dybala looking like the key player the Turin giants need to rely on to make another Champions League push, Higuain feels forgotten.
Scoring a hat trick against Chieri as Juventus prepared for the match against Chievo Verona, Higuain looked determined. As several pundits commented, the striker is keen to prove he is still the man Juventus paid millions for and the one deserving of all the compliments. He may never have the technique of his compatriots or be the perfectly rounded player Icardi is often thought to be but few really see how much Higuain brings to the table.
His movements and sacrifice against Genoa demonstrated how hard the striker works for the team and while he'll always squander a few chances, he'll also worker harder than many others on the field to ensure success.
Against Barcelona, both he and Dybala will need to be at the top of their game to ensure a win as it's clear the defence may not be strong enough to halt the Catalan attack in the way they managed in the quarterfinals last season.
With Dybala in red hot form since taking the No. 10 jersey and Higuain keen to prove he is still one of the best strikers in the world, Juventus should make an impact, both domestically and in Europe.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.