90min
Juventus

Manuel Locatelli masterclass proves he is the answer to Juventus' midfield prayers

Max Cooper
Locatelli is the man Juve have been missing
Locatelli is the man Juve have been missing / Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
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Juventus' days of watching teams cut them open down the middle and embarrassingly dominate the midfield battle are finally over.

For two years, Bianconeri fans have watched on in horror as unbalanced, inconsistent plodders surrendered possession and allowed hungrier stars to charge beyond them in pursuit of glory, ultimately culminating in last season's disastrous fourth-place finish.

The slow, uninspiring additions of Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey and to some extent, Weston McKennie, have left Juventini scratching their heads over who should start in the midfield, and if any of their current options would have made any sort of impact in previous Juve sides.

The answer to the latter is obviously no. But finally, there is hope on the horizon.

Supporters have been crying out for a couple of midfielders who can win them matches, protect the defence, contribute goals and assists and generally fit the mould of a Juventus player. As it turns out, they've got one who can do the lot.

Manuel Locatelli has been made to wait patiently for his chance in the midfield, but he grasped his opportunity with both hands on Sunday afternoon. Juve scraped to a narrow 3-2 win over Sampdoria - their second success by that scoreline in two matches - with their new midfield heartthrob serving up the winning goal.

Manuel Locatelli
The first goal in Juve colours / Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

It was far from a vintage display from Massimiliano Allegri's side, and the home crowd were forced to sweat out the final minutes after allowing the visitors back into the game, but it was job done in the end - largely thanks to their new midfield maestro.

Locatelli was involved from the off, first sweeping a delicious cross-field ball out to the left flank, and then following up to smash Alex Sandro's repelled cross back towards goal. His goalbound effort was bravely blocked back to Locatelli, but he coolly teed up Paulo Dybala, and he did the rest.

Locatelli remained involved throughout, demanding the ball from the defence and giving midfield colleague Rodrigo Bentancur an option to share the load. The 23-year-old showed throughout exactly why Juve went all out to get their man in the summer, and even chipped in with a goal of his own - his first in black and white.

The move began with Locatelli almost teeing up a teammate, scooping a beautiful pass over the defence and into the onrushing Dejan Kulusevski. The Swede mis-controlled, but he pounced on a poor pass out from a Samp centre-back and hit the byline, before cutting the ball back to the edge of the six-yard box.

Juve's very own Action Man, Locatelli was in place and ready to profit, tucking the ball home without fuss. He wheeled away in delight, showing off the celebration which made Sassuolo fans fall in love with him, and caused the whole of Italy to swoon during the group stages of Euro 2020.

The Italian demonstrated in the summer that he has what it takes to thrive at the top tier, even if he hadn't been given that chance with an elite club at domestic level. Well, Locatelli stepped up when the Old Lady needed him most on Sunday, carrying his teammates to victory and setting Juve back on the right path.

He's fully bedded into this midfield now, and there can be no doubting that he's instantly the most important figure in the previously faltering engine room. It's going to be Locatelli's season, and we cannot wait for him to flourish.

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