Sunday afternoon began so well for Juventus, the Turin giants taking on a struggling Palermo but already aware that closest rivals Napoli had dropped points against Inter the previous evening. When Sami Khedira handed the Bianconeri an early lead it seemed they were set to stroll to victory and open up an almost unassailable lead at the top of the Serie A standings.
Then Claudio Marchisio’s knee collapsed.
Hometown hero and vice-captain of the side, the midfielder has played an integral role in Juve’s success this season, but his injury immediately appeared a devastating one and that would indeed prove to be the case. Needing surgery on a ruptured cruciate ligament, losing Marchisio is expected to have a major impact on their performances, something that became apparent from the moment he was stretchered off the field.
His team-mates struggled to cope without his calming influence, remaining somewhat nervous even after Paul Pogba doubled their advantage. While Palermo barely mustered anything resembling a scoring chance of their own, it wasn’t until Juan Cuadrado produced a moment of magic in the 78th minute that the home side finally relaxed.
Picking up the ball deep in Rosanero territory, he flicked the ball over one hapless defender before faking a pass to leave another flat-footed and open up space in the penalty area. From there, slotting beyond Palermo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino was a mere formality, the strike capping a superb solo effort and prompting yet another laughter-filled celebration from the Colombian international.
It also marked his fifth goal for the club, having also netted vital strikes against cross-town rivals Torino, former club Fiorentina and even giving the Italian side hope in their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich last month. Eventually they would be overwhelmed by Pep Guardiola’s side, but Cuadrado’s performances in the black and white stripes of Juventus have brought his future into the spotlight and the identity of Chelsea’s manager continually appears to be the decisive factor.
The 27-year-old originally moved to Stamford Bridge in January 2015, the London club handing Fiorentina an initial fee of £23.3 million. Yet Jose Mourinho never appeared convinced of his abilities, giving him just four Premier League starts before allowing him to move away on loan at the start of the current campaign.
Having failed to register a single goal for Chelsea, the switch would see Cuadrado instantly return to form, just as Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have all done in recent seasons. Juventus have repeatedly stated their desire to make his move permanent, and last week the player gave an interview to the club’s in-house TV channel which showed he shared that desire and wanted to stay.
“It’s like a family here. We’re also a tight-knit group off the pitch. All of us are pulling in the same direction and this is especially clear when it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do battle on the field,” Cuadrado told JTV. “Nobody drags us back and everyone looks to give their all. We’ve individual qualities of course but it’s our togetherness that makes us the great side we are.”
Yet the arrival of Antonio Conte at Chelsea – a matter discussed at length in this previous column – has now thrown that into doubt. Still boss of the Italian national team, his desire to bring Cuadrado to Juventus was well-known on the peninsula, and his imminent switch to the Premier League has seen the player linked with a return.
There is little doubt that he suits Conte’s approach perfectly, appearing to be an ideal fit in both the 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 formations he has tended to favour during his time on the bench. Able to beat defenders with ease and possessing both a strong work ethic and superb tactical awareness, the Colombian flyer would be both a vital component for Conte’s new-look Chelsea and a major loss for Juventus.
“I’m happy here but it’s not up to me,” Cuadrado told Mediaset Premium as he left the field on Sunday. “I want to finish the season and then we'll see.“ It will be interesting to discover whether Conte’s reported desire to keep the player holds firm this summer, or whether Juventus have the leverage to negotiate a deal to keep the pacey winger.
Having their former boss rob them of a key figure like Cuadrado would leave the Old Lady feeling very blue indeed, particularly after he has played such a vital role in winning what looks like yet another Serie A title.
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