Juventus youngster Koni De Winter received plenty of praise from Massimiliano Allegri after the teenager made his first senior start in Juve’s 1-0 win over Malmo on Wednesday evening.
At 19 years and 179 days, De Winter became the youngest ever Juventus starter in Champions League history. He would play 71 minutes before being substituted for the returning Mattia De Sciglio.
While the Bianconeri’s performance in Turin was rather drab and laden with missed opportunities in front of goal, the slender victory was enough to see them top Group H after Zenit pegged back Chelsea late on to draw 3-3.
After the game, manager Allegri said he was pleased with the Juve history-maker on his first start.
Allegri “very happy” with Koni De Winter’s display against Malmo
Speaking post-match, the manager told Romeo Agresti: “De Winter is more of a central defender, but he can also play full-back. He played a game with personality. I’m very happy with his performance.”
The Belgian defender was certainly very assured on his first Juventus start. In the first half, he functioned as a marauding right centre-back in possession with Juve deploying a 3-2-5 possession structure that allowed left-back Alex Sandro to advance. De Winter saw a lot of the ball in the opening period with Juve focusing their attacks down the right – where Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi operated.
Out of possession, he performed a traditional right-back function and this became more apparent in the second half when Allegri switched to a 4-4-2. His role became less adventurous, with Allegri instructing both full-backs to limit their attacking forays. Thus, the teenager barely entered the Malmo half after the restart and he was substituted for the steady De Sciglio with 20 minutes remaining.
Overall, De Winter was cool, calm and collected on his first Juventus start. Only three players touched the ball more than him on Wednesday as he completed 64 of his intended 70 passes (91.4% success rate). The young defender was happy to receive possession under pressure in his own third with his pass selection safe and smart – hence the high pass completion %. He was rarely tested from a defensive perspective against a tame Malmo attack, but his performance on Wednesday suggested we could be seeing a lot more of him before the season’s up.
Leonardo Bonucci weighs in
Allegri wasn’t the only one who was complimentary of De Winter after the game. Stalwart centre-back Leonardo Bonucci also weighed in, offering the kid some advice moving forward.
“Koni had a good game, he played with personality; we had already seen him in London against Chelsea. He has no fear and this will be an advantage for his career,” said the veteran Italian defender (via Tribal Football).
“He must remain humble now, he has enormous room for improvement, he has a whole career ahead of him.”
Before the game, Juventus vice-president Pavel Nedved appeared to have high hopes for the teenager: “De Winter? He’s relaxed, I think he can become a really strong player,” he told Juventus TV (via @JuveFC).
Seeing the teenager start on Wednesday was a breath of fresh air. Amid a difficult rebuilding period in a financially tough climate, Juventus will have to lean on their academy to help them through. There’s certainly youth talent at the Bianconeri’s disposal, and it’s been great to see Allegri offer them chances to shine for the senior side.