Serie A Transfer Analysis: Emanuele Giaccherini and Miralem Pjanic

​​​​The awakening of the new football season is nearly upon us “Commuters” of the footballing society and as always, there is a sense of optimism, and scepticism regarding the widely renowned annual transfer window. Considering the wide variety of transfers already completed during the summer of 2016, a minute collection of chosen key transfer deriving from the five preeminent leagues of European football have been carefully selected to be analysed within this series of upcoming articles. The selected signings will be assessed on the following;

– How the signings attributes (talents, tactical tendencies) will benefit their new respective outfits.

– How the player will be deployed within the teams system/formation.

Part Two: Serie A

Struck by a lightning transfer window regarding the activity of current champions Juventus, the Serie A has already overseen a great sense of change following Paul Pogba’s World record transfer, resigning for Manchester United as well as Gonzalo Higuain, the revival of the traditional #9, shockingly switching Naples for Turin. 

One transfer deal though not expensive nor extravagant, yet rather intriguing however is S.S.C Napoli’s recruiting of Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini. Bought from Premier League outfit Sunderland for an approximate fee of €1.5m, Giaccherini was never able to fulfill expectations on a consistent basis in England’s top flight, however his versatility will arguably prove to be very beneficial for last season’s Serie A runners up.  

Moreover, a particular quality already taken note of is the versatility immersed by Giaccherini; though a left or right sided Winger by trade, the Italian International is capable of functioning in a central midfield role. The ability to perform admirably within a secondary position was exemplified by Giaccherini during the 2016 UEFA European Championships, playing a key part in the Antonio Conte’s tactical mastermind. Even though the then Italian National team coach idolises and preaches the ways of attacking football, the newly appointed Chelsea FC manager deployed a side that maintained defensive structure and broke effectively on the counter attack, spearheaded by the work rate and continuative pressurising of the five-man midfield. 

The counter attack deployed within the Italia’s gameplay comprised of progressive buildup from defence which was exemplified by the vision and composure of Leonardo Bonucci, as well as the high press and positional play of the midfield. The combination of both aspects was effective as a result of interchanges between defence and midfield which was made possible by the productive movement of Giaccherini. Another quality displayed by Napoli’s summer signing, the movement and perfectly timed runs of Giaccherini exposed spaces between defensive lines, creating space and at times goalscoring opportunities. One crowning example of Giaccherini’s productive movement, was the winger’s only goal of the 15th European Championships coming against Dark Horses Belgium during Italy’s first group stage encounter. A well timed and executed long pass from Bonucci was met by an equally timed run made by Giaccherini, which triggered the space left exposed by the Belgium defence. The high press of the Belgium defence proved to be no match for Giaccherini’s movement. The buildup to the goal itself also exemplified the significance of Bonucci tactically; Bonucci drifted into a midfield position while maintaining possession, dominanting creative impact in the process. 

The short bursts from midfield areas offered by Giaccherini offer a direct option when deploying the counter attack, The making of runs between defensive lines could be put to good use by Napoli. For example, Napoli do have deep-lying Playmaker Jorginho at their disposal; interchanges between Jorginho and Giaccherini within midfield areas would prove effective on the break, or even during possessive buildup play. 

Returning to Emanuele Giaccherini’s sense of versatility, this specific quality means that in order to fit Giaccherini within the starting XI, Napoli do not have to change the preferred 4-3-3 formation; Giaccherini could be deployed as either a right of left sided Winger, or as the left third of a central midfield trio. What Napoli can also benefit from by deploying Emanuele Giaccherini, is the subsequent tactical variations enabled; Giaccherini is a drastic contrast in comparison with Napoli’s first choice wingers during the 2015-16 campaign. José  Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne are wide midfielders/forwards who maintain posession while grounded within Napoli’s style and are expertly adept in 1 versus 1 duels. However, Giaccherini instead is more adequate without possession, making diagonal runs, as well as creating space between and through defensive lines. The unorthodox outlook to wing-play offered by the new signing was shown in glimpses while featuring for Sunderland in the Premier League. One example of this, deriving from the 2013-14 campaign oversaw a Sunderland counter attack, in which Giaccherini, making a forward run from out wide and then evading a poor Cardiff City defensive line, before meeting a clinical pass from Fabio Borini. 

The differentiation between Giaccherini and Callejon/Insigne means that if the Italian was to be deployed ahead of either, a sense of balance would be implemented into wide areas, which offers a plausible tactical variation. 

In addition, the effectiveness regarding movement without possession of the ball may convey the ability to hassle opposition defenders directly, perhaps when pressurising from the front line. Yet would this suit the style of football already tried and tested by Napoli? The combination of Giaccherini and Napoli intertwine efficiently, in the sense that the Serie A side do play swift and exciting attacking football, with wide players involved considerably. However, Napoli’s chosen style is possession orientated which means that if Giaccherini was to play conistently, the quality of movement that was very effective for Italy may not be utilised, due to the lack of long passes and counter attacks. In sheer retrospect, Giaccherini’s passing statistics indicate otherwise. An acute passer, Emanuele Giaccherini boasts a rather high success rate during the European Championships (82% pass success), the tendancy to play short passes on Giaccherini’s behalf will be beneficial for Napoli, as the ability to play short passes is necessary for maintaining possessional structure, and allows interchanges which consequently enable the ability to control the tempo of a game. 

While on loan at Bologna from Sunderland, Giaccherini played a pivotal role in the sides survival from Relegation to Serie B, helping the “rossoblu” cement a 14th place finish. The diminutive midfielders importance to Bologna was emphasised by being their second top goalscorer, scoring on 7 occasions. Most of the goals scored by the Italian International occurred within the 18-yard box, linking to the ability to find space in dangerous areas through well timed runs. One goal to remember however was a swerving free kick. Could Giaccherini take the role of primary free kick take away from Marek Hamsik? 

Most likely to be deployed in his conventional role as a Winger,  Giaccherini could be deployed however in a slightly deeper role as a result of positive performances during the European Championships. If Giaccherini is to be deployed as a central midfielder, the midfield itself will need to be compact, and cover the space left exposed between midfield and defence following the making of advancing runs. This is primarily due to the lack of defensive quality on Giaccherini’s behalf. In addition, because of the overall fee paid to secure the wingers services and the age of the respective player, it can be argued that Giaccherini is unlikely to be ahead of either José Callejon or Lorenzo Insigne in the Napoli pecking order. Both Callejon and Insigne made more assists with 13 and 11 respectively. Regardless of this possibility, Emanuele Giaccherini is an admirable squad player who boasts a excellent amount of experience having played in England, Italy and also featuring in the FIFA World Cup.

S.S.C Napoli are obviously not the only Serie A side to have acquired new talent from the coveted transfer market; reigning champions Juventus have made many an addition following the departures of both Alvaro Morata to Real Madrid, and Paul Pogba, signing for Manchester United in a World record deal worth £95.3m. One of The Old Lady’s preeminent signings was Miralem Pjanic, transfering from A.S Roma for a justifiable fee of €34m. 

Within a new look side, can Pjanic help guide Juventus to securing a 6th consecutive title? 

An excellent passer of the ball, Miralem Pjanic possesses vision of the highest regard, which enables the ability to execute accurate and productive passes, either short or long; while starring for a youthful Roma side, Pjanic was the creative cog, displaying tactical prowess through passes between defensive lines, diagonal passes allowing wide players to influence attacking build up, or long passes over the top of the opposition defence. This “knack” of creating goalscoring opportunities through undeniably superb passes was exemplified through arguably the pass of the 2014-15 Serie A season; during an encounter in which Roma faced Cesena, Pjanic though surrounded by a clog of opposition players, played a magnificent pass which seared through the defensive line into the path of Mattia Destro who was ironically unable to score. Many of the key passes made by Pjanic do result in goals however; Pjanic was the joint highest maker of assists during the 2015-16 campaign with 12. 

The ability to play passes of such magnitude theorises the arguable possibility of Juventus deploying quick, direct interchanges which would be orchestrated by Miralem Pjanic. Offering a different dimension to fellow Juventus midfielders regarding decision making and passing range, Pjanic could control the tempo and speed in which Juventus play, subsequently connoting that Juventus’s build up in general could revolve around the creativity of Pjanic. For example, one possible interchange could be a direct one-two passing interchange between Pjanic and a respective full back, allowing the raiding full back (Dani Alves or Alex Sandro) time to find space in offensive wide areas while Pjanic would be attracting large amounts of pressure. This example would function effectively within a counter attack emphasised by the impact of the exposing of wide spaces. Juventus’s playing style could become much quicker and direct under the creative influence of Pjanic and arguably even more so if Pjanic were to be deployed in a deeper central midfield role.

As a result of his superb passing range, as well as extrodinary vision, Pjanic is able to take up a variety of midfield roles. For example, playing as a “Regista”, or “6” in front of the defensive three of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chellini would enable Pjanic to control possessional build up from deeper areas, linking to the possible interchanges with respective fullbacks. Positioned in a deeper area of midfield would allow Pjanic to oversee the whole of the pitch, which would give more time for Pjanic to pick the greater pass to make. The signing of Pjanic in itself has brought comparisons between the Bosnian playmaker and Andrea Pirlo. The Italian deep-lying midfielder was instrumental to the success of Juventus, featuring in a star studded midfield alongside, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, who Pjanic has perhaps replaced in an unorthodox fashion. The lack of defensive competence on behalf of Pjanic may become a cause for concern, yet alongside two energetic midfielders who are able to do the following; cover ground well, tackle and break down opposition play as well as make advancing runs to offer further options during chance creation, Pjanic would have licence to orchestrate from deep with ease.  

Furthermore, because Massimo Allegri typically deploys a 3-5-2 formation, Pjanic could be deployed as a left sided central midfielder, similarly to when playing with Roma. Playing further forward as an “8” could increase the amount of goals Pjanic may score, but would not allow the midfielder to dictate buildup as effectively, due to the requirement that is increase of movement without possession of the ball. 

Or could Pjanic shine brightly as a “Trequartista”/”Enganche”? Pjanic certainly possesses the credentials in terms of creating chances, admirable close control of the ball, and the decrease in overall covering of ground would suit Pjanic. If he was to play as a “10”, Pjanic would be the focal point of all counter attacks, maintaining a fixed position slightly behind the main strikers, receiving the ball convinenetly to play direct passes from midfield. Also, being fixated within the “10” space would mean further passing options in dangerous areas of the pitch, a lack of space congestion in deeper midfield areas, as well as forcing the defence to play a high press in order to close down spaces between attack and defence, which would allow passes to be played “in behind” the defensive block. It can be said that Pjanic does offer Allegri an array of tactical experimentations.

As mentioned previously, Miralem Pjanic has been credited as the replacement for Paul Pogba’s, following the French prodigy’s transfer to Manchester United. Though an unorthodox replacement, Pjanic offers qualities that arguably suit the style of Juventus more so than qualities displayed by Pogba during his four-year spell with the Italian giants; whereas Paul Pogba would drive forward, carrying the ball from midfield into attack, Pjanic is more inclined on playing a quick, direct pass, or deploying short dribbles influenced by deft touches. Though Pogba is dynamic, and complemented the like of Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Sami Khedira, Pjanic could have a greater effect on the team, through maintaining his position and  assisting teammates making valid runs rather than aiming to win the game by himself. Both Pogba and Pjanic topped the assist charts in the Serie A last season, with 12 apiece, yet Pjanic is a constant threat from set pieces and will likely be the primary free kick and corner kick taker, which may allow the midfielder to expand on the total of assists made for Roma last season. What has brought criticism towards Pogba, is that Pogba does not behold a specialised midfield role. Though versatile, it is in my opinion, very difficult to define the Frenchman’s perfect position; is Pogba tactically disciplined enough to play as a “Trequartista”? Will playing as one half of a pivot relinquish Pogba’s ability to break down opposition structure through dribbling?

However, though Pjanic is an excellent buy, Pre-season fixtures have shown that Pjanic cannot lead the team on his own. With Marchisio injured, and Khedira prone to injury, Juventus need to  

Once again, venture into the transfer market, in order to secure the services of an energetic midfield dynamo. Pjanic would intertwine excellently with a physical presence in midfield. Who could the next potential acquisition be? The Old Lady had been linked with Hector Herrera of FC Porto; a Mexican international with notions of a box-to-box style, Leandro Parades who plays for A.S Roma and the experienced Luis Gustavo. 

It is possible for Pjanic to be deployed as either a “6”, “8”, or even as a “10”. But wherever he plays, Pjanic offers quality to be reckoned with, and as a result, Pjanic could become the fulcrum of a new look Juventus. 


Author: Ryan Quinn

A freelance football journalist, focusing on the historical and tactical sides of the beautiful game.