In the last knockings of the transfer window, Juventus picked up Federico Chiesa after years of rumour and speculation. Adam Thornton looks at what he will add to Andrea Pirlo new-look team.
It wasn't so long ago that Fiorentina had one of the more interesting young forward lines in Europe, with Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone and Dusan Vlahović all on their books.
As always seems to be the case with La Viola, it didn’t quite work out. Simeone headed to to Cagliari last summer and, last week, it was announced that Chiesa had finally left his boyhood club to join Juventus after what seems like an eternity of transfer speculation. The deal to take him to Turin is typical of Serie A: Juventus will pay €3 million now with a further €7 million payment next summer for the inital loan period, and a final €40 million is due in the summer of 2022 to make the deal permanent. There are further associated bonuses reported to reach €10 million over the course of his contract.
Chiesa was born in Genoa in late 1997 at a time when his father, Enrico, was starring for the great Parma team of that era alongside Gianluigi Buffon, who just so happens to be one of Federico's new team-mates.
He joined Fiorentina as a 10-year-old in 2007, signed his first professional contract in 2016 and, made his competitive debut later that year aged just 18. His debut was a baptism of fire away at Juventus – one of Fiorentina’s most bitter rivals following decades of hatred, peaking in 1990 when Roberto Baggio made the move from Tuscany to Turin. Fiorentina lost on Chiesa’s debut that day but, whilst he was substituted at half-time, enough was seen to know that they had a high-level prospect on their hands.
Chiesa’s career since has unfortunately ran in parallel with Fiorentina’s misfortunes in the intervening years. From the highs of Champions League qualification in 2015 under Vincenzo Montella, they have lurched from the unspectacular to disastrous and back again during the subsequent managerial stints of Stefano Pioli, Montella again, and now Guisepe Iachini.
In the summer of 2019, a club takeover by Italian-American billionaire Rocco Commisso also resulted in the appointment of a new sporting director. Daniele Prade oversaw a seemingly new transfer strategy, with signings such as Franck Ribéry, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Martin Cáceres displaying a noticeable shift from his predecessor Pantaleo Corvino’s preference for younger players from lesser-known leagues.
Fiorentina fans will be sorry to see Chiesa leave, particulatly to Juve. However, this may be balanced by an impressive fee for a player that, while undoubtedly talented, has frustrated more often than not during his short career so far.
Chiesa is a typical modern attacker capable of playing a number of different roles. It's this flexibility that has perhaps been his downfall on occasions, with Fiorentina's numerous coaches constantly shifting him around without really finding him a consistent function.
His strongest attributes are explosive speed allied with promising dribbling skills which he utilises fairly well when facing up defenders to burst past them on either side. He's not a traditional winger tasked with launching crosses into the box; when he does beat his man, his preference is to vary his delivery into the box by attempting cut-backs or through balls into dangerous areas. You would be forgiven for thinking he was taller than his recorded height of 5'9" too. He's a powerful athlete able to use this physique and pace to create a number of problems for defences.
While Fiorentina aren't a team who adopt an aggressive pressing structure, Chiesa is adept at pressuring on his own and recovers impressive numbers of balls back in the oppositions half. This is good for Juventus, with Andrea Pirlo signalling since his arrival as head coach that he wants his team to press aggressively to win the ball back as quickly as possible. Chiesa's work rate and energy is a key aspect of his game. They will be important at Juve, where he is apparently being lined up to play as their right-sided wing-back.
He can be criticised for poor decision-making in the final third and a lack of end product. Both are more than valid criticisms, but he did finish last season with 17 goal contributions in the league. Dejan Kulusevski – who also joined Juventus this summer – was the only player aged 23-or-under to trump that tally. Nevertheless, taking shots from bad locations has been a constant negative, routinely placing him amongst the lowest average xG per shot numbers in Serie A.
Chiesa and Kulusevski finished last season with 11 and 10 league goals respectively, but Chiesa tends to find himself in the better goalscoring positions with an xG of 11.2 compared to Kulusevki’s 6.7 from a similar number of games. This can be partly explained by the sheer volume of shots Chiesa attempts – 3.7 per 90 compared to Kulusevski's 1.8 – which shows how much of an attacking force Chiesa likes to be. As mentioned earlier, Chiesa is able to act from all areas of the pitch and is a consistent threat with shots and deliveries into the box from all angles.
When you consider Chiesa spent a sizeable portion of last season – the post-lockdown period in particular – as a right wing-back in Iachini’s 3-5-2 formation, this bodes very well for Juventus and Pirlo, who will hope he can have an even stronger attacking from wing-back output in Turin.
With the signings of Chiesa and Kulusevski supplementing last season’s big money signing Matthijs de Ligt, there does appear to be a rebuild taking place at Juventus. Fabio Paratici and Andrea Pirlo have placed a lot of faith in Chiesa with a fee that could reach north of €50 million. He represents a costly outlay given his relatively modest success in the league to date.
Chiesa’s initial route into the team will likely be as a wing-back, particularly with Pirlo’s predilection for attacking wing-backs in this 3-4-1-2 formation. As the wing-backs will be responsible for the majority of the width in the team and tasked with progressing up the pitch where possible, it would be prudent to have good ball-carriers in those positions. Chiesa's comfort close to goal and his massive engine is also a major benefit.
Last season, Kulusevski attempted 4.6 dribbles per 90 minutes with 2.6 successful compared to Chiesa’s tally of 3.1 attempted dribbles and 2 successful, which would indicate that he actually dribbles less than Kulusevski but is just as proficient at it. Both Chiesa and Kulusevksi ranked among the more prolific dribblers in Serie A last season. The duo will add a direct and dangerous attacking outlet down a Juventus right-side that lacked such threat under Maurizio Sarri.
Cheisa will of course face compeition from the incumbent Juan Cuadrado, but, with a packed schedule ahead, he will get his fair share of opportunities to contest for the starting role. Cuadrado is a reliable option at wing-back but has lost a lot of the attacking explosiveness that defined the early part of his career as a winger. Chiesa will have to demonstrate that he can provide the same level of defensive cover.
Whilst Juventus will always expect to attack every opponent, there will be times where Chiesa’s defensive capabilities will be under the microscope so he needs to show a level of concentration and awareness that can be lacking at times in a team like Fiorentina where there is not the same level of pressure to win every game.