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Monday, June 5, 2023

Weston McKennie is a Juventus player, but how will Andrea Pirlo use the USMNT star?

Weston McKennie Juventus position
Weston McKennie’s move to Juventus is another major move for a USMNT player. Alessandro Di Marco/EPA.

There were no shortage of clubs reportedly interested in Weston McKennie this summer, but none of the stature and repute of Juventus. The American found himself at something of a career crossroads after finishing the 2019/20 season with Schalke. A move to the Premier League had been mooted, with Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Southampton all mentioned as potential destinations. Monaco also took a look at the midfielder, but it was the Italian champions that made the strongest sales pitch.

Of course, it rarely takes much to sell a player on a move to Juventus. They are Italian soccer’s predominant force and a true giant of the European game. The Bianconeri defined themselves not by how many matches they win, but how many trophies they lift.

McKennie has joined one of the biggest clubs in the world.

That Juve were interested in the American in the first place was a surprise to some. McKennie is undoubtedly a young player of promise, but the 22-year-old will have to lift his performance levels significantly to prove his worth in Turin. The competition for a starting spot in the Juventus midfielder will be extremely stiff. Nothing will come for free.

As a group of players, Juventus are going through something of a transition and as a result, there will be opportunities for McKennie to grasp. Miralem Pjanic has left Turin for Barcelona and Blaise Matuidi is now an Inter Miami player in MLS. Speculation continues to swirl around the futures of Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey with both players reportedly available for sale this summer.

What formation will Pirlo favour?

Andrea Pirlo is an unknown quantity as Juve’s new head coach, taking over from the fired Maurizio Sarri, but many expect the former Italian international to favour a 4-3-3 shape. Alternatively, Pirlo could deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation and this is where McKennie could thrust himself into the starting lineup as a double pivot. This is a role he performed for Schalke.

“I want to bring back the enthusiasm, with proactive football and domination of the play,” Pirlo explained in his first press conference as Juventus boss, hinting at what supporters should expect of him in the dugout. “I said two things to the lads: ‘you must always have the ball’ and ‘when you lose it, you must get it back quickly’.”

McKennie fits Pirlo’s plans

This offers an insight into why Juventus moved so quickly to sign McKennie. The American is impressive on both sides of the ball, bringing a great deal of energy to the centre of the pitch. In his own words, McKennie has previously described his individual outlook on the game as: “win the ball back and look to play it.” That will fit in nicely with what Pirlo is supposedly looking for.

As a high presser, McKennie was one of the best in the Bundesliga. He is a nuisance on the defensive side of the ball and is rarely beaten in a one-on-one duel. While McKennie still has some refinements to make on the technical side of his game, his tenacity cannot be doubted and that will give Juventus a dimension they previously lacked in midfield.

The 22-year-old’s versatility will also make him a useful figure for the Italian champions. McKennie can play in front of the back four as a midfield barrier or in a more advanced position behind a central striker. The American has even been used as a right back and as a central defender in a back three, charged with bringing the ball up through the lines of transition.

Juventus’ squad is one of the most illustrious in the sport right now, but it is an aging group of players. This is likely another reason McKennie was targeted, with the €4 million loan fee and €18 million purchase option representing genuine value for a player of the American’s potential. Sarri’s Juve side were frequently criticised for being too sluggish through the centre of the pitch and many put this down to the advancing years of their midfielders. McKennie will help address this.

Make no mistake: the young American has much to prove. He must earn the trust of his new coach, Pirlo, and a Juventus dressing room which has proven they can win without him. Few USMNT fans will doubt that McKennie can remain confident in his own ability. He’s the type of player that will be motivated to justify the faith from such a storied club. Juventus have signed him for a reason. More than one reason, in truth. McKennie could come to embody Pirlo’s Juve, highlighting the difference between the Old Lady and the New.

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