2. Arthur Melo replaces Rodrigo Bentancur
Manuel Locatelli’s ‘best’ position has been a hot topic in Bianconeri quarters this season, and Sunday’s game may have provided a definitive answer.
The Italian has performed admirably as Juve’s deep-lying midfielder this term, but there’s a sense that the function is restricting the elegant midfielder somewhat. Against Roma, Locatelli, as he did against Napoli on Thursday, started at the base of Allegri’s 4-3-3 with Weston McKennie and Rodrigo Bentancur functioning as the midfield interiors.
The configuration became a narrow 4-4-2 out of possession and Roma’s midfield had their way with Juve’s pivot of Locatelli and Bentancur. For example, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s deflected goal came about thanks to Lorenzo Pellegrini picking up space between Juve’s lines. The pivot were in no man’s land, unsure whether to press Roma’s pivot or sit off, and, in the end, they did neither.
Thus, a change in midfield was paramount and by introducing Arthur for the ineffective Bentancur, Allegri facilitated the advancement of Locatelli. From the 65th minute, Locatelli operated alongside McKennie as a number eight with Arthur at the base. The Brazilian brought stability and control that Juve desperately lacked, while Locatelli found himself in the positions that saw him emerge as a genuine scoring threat during his time at Sassuolo and for Italy at Euro 2020.
The Italian scored his first goal since October four minutes after the tactical switch. Locatelli clinically headed home after picking up a dangerous position in the Roma box. Then, for the equaliser, it was Locatelli’s deft ball in behind for Juan Cuadrado that brought about panic in the Roma box before Dejan Kulusevski struck.
Overall, we saw the very best of Locatelli during Juve’s seven minutes of heaven. Many will clamour for his permanent use as a number eight, but this change is only possible if Arthur proves a reliable option at the base of midfield.
The alteration proved game-changing on Sunday evening, but will it change the outlook of Juve’s season? Only time will tell.