As Juventus took on against Tottenham Hotspur last week, it was a change out wide that eventually swung the Champions League last-16 tie in their favour. Despite needing to win at Wembley to stand any hope of reaching the quarterfinals, Max Allegri had been cautious with his starting XI, naming Andrea Barzagli at right-back as he looked to contain the various attacking threats at Spurs’ disposal.
Yet when they fell behind to Son Heung-Min’s first-half goal, the Juve boss sent on Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah, then watched as the drive and energy they brought helped the Bianconeri to a 2-1 victory. The Swiss defender’s contribution was obvious as it was his cross that directly led to Gonzalo Higuain’s equaliser, but while the impact of those substitutes was key, it is clear that the Old Lady needs more than just gritty determination from her full-backs.
Indeed, while Asamoah has proven himself to be a quality deputy for first-choice left-back Alex Sandro – a matter discussed at length in this previous column – and that cross from Lichtsteiner was crucial to Juve’s European progression, neither man provides enough quality on a week-to-week basis at this stage of their respective careers.
Enter Mattia De Sciglio. Signed from AC Milan back in the summer at a cost of €12 million, it was hoped that the 25-year-old would make the right-back slot his own just as Sandro has on the opposite flank. Rotation, injuries and a heavy amount of tactical tinkering from Allegri have stalled his integration, but against Udinese on Sunday, the Italy international provided a complete showcase of his talent.
Playing from the outset, he delivered a superb performance in the pouring rain at Juventus Stadium, with the graphic in the tweet above highlighting his contribution in detail. De Sciglio was a constant outlet in attack and his understanding with Douglas Costa is beginning to become a dangerous partnership for any opposition they come up against. With the Brazilian able to cut inside at pace onto his favoured left foot, the full-back’s overlapping runs and crossing ability stretch defences and open up gaps the duo can then exploit.
Without the ball, De Sciglio was diligent and effective, allowing Udinese little room to manoeuvre on his side of the pitch and helping Juve keep their 19th clean sheet in their last 22 outings. That is in keeping with his contributions throughout the campaign, the Bianconeri conceding just four goals in the 13 matches he has started as he adds to the attack without compromising any of their trademark defensive solidity.
The Udinese match was a feature-length version of what Lichtsteiner had done in a 29-minute cameo against Tottenham, the 34-year-old no longer able to sustain that standard for a full game. De Sciglio can however, and the team looks much sharper and more well-balanced when he does, while the man himself insists his clean-cut appearance is no indicator of the toughness he regularly displays on the field.
"Just because I have a ‘baby face’ doesn't mean that I don't have an edge to my game and play with personality." he told Juventus' official website back in December. "I just think about letting my performances on the pitch do the talking. I have always stayed calm knowing that I needed to do a lot of work to get back to my best. That combined with the confidence shown in me by my coaches and team-mates have done the rest.”
With his development seemingly stalled at Milan, it should really be no surprise that playing under Allegri once again has seen a return to the form he displayed during their time together with the Rossoneri. “He had two good years with me but then got a bit lost,” the Juve boss told a press conference last August, while his protege has readily admitted he is happy to be back playing for the 50-year-old Coach.
"Mister Allegri has been important from the beginning of my career,” De Sciglio said in an interview with Sky Italia. “He has shown that he believes in me, as he had done while I was in Milan. It makes me work with a lot of calmness and confidence. When you're given confidence in your ability, you play your best.”
During his time so far with the Bianconeri, Mattia De Sciglio has done just that, and fans of Juventus will be hoping his “best” just keeps on getting better.