For some time now Miralem Pjanic has been among the very best midfielders in world football, providing Juventus a creative base point which has been coveted by clubs throughout Europe since his breakthrough season at Roma in 2015/16.
Pjanic's game has never relied on pace or strength, and he's never been renowned for his athleticism, so it would be fair to assume that, much like Andrea Pirlo before him, he'd not be effected by age the way that other dynamic central midfielders can often be. However, if his 2019/20 season is anything to go by, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Pjanic was signed by Juventus in July 2016 for a hefty €32m fee from Serie A rivals Roma. He'd finished the previous season with ten goals and 12 assists in the league; an assist return that was only matched by the man he was signed to replace, Paul Pogba. He adapted quite well to a more withdrawn role in the Juve side, notching five goals and nine assists as his club only missed out on a historic treble after losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid.
This sort of form would seem the exact reason he's currently being linked with moves to the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, but the problem is, he's not currently in this sort of form - and hasn't been for a while.
His recent form can be summed up by his lacklustre display away to Lyon in the Champions League last 16 defeat, just before the COVID-19 suspension. Pjanic offered nothing going forward, was completely outplayed by Houssem Auoar in the middle, and failed to pick up the runner who scored Lyon's goal. That was enough for Sarri, who withdrew him after 50 minutes.
Pjanic hasn't been as sharp this season and his decision making isn't up to his normal standard either. You'd think a deep-lying playmaker who is famed for his assists would have figures which were off the charts in a team which boasts a free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo up front, but that couldn't be further from the case.
If you take a look at Pjanic's stats for this season, there's been a significant drop in his figures. His expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) have been steadily declining every season since he joined Juventus, but there is an especially big difference from last season. While his xG has only dropped from 1.17 to 0.75, his xA - arguably Pjanic's most important figure - has taken a tumble from 5.36 in 2018/19, to 1.58 this season. That drop is further backed up by his actual difference. Last season he registered six assists in Serie A, a difference of -0.64, while this season, he sits on two, a difference of -0.42, suggesting that while he is outperforming his xA, his overall form has dipped enough to justify such a huge decline in his projection.
Pjanic has long been described as the brain of Juve's midfield, but this season he is being outperformed. Rodrigo Bentancur's creative statistics are superior to Pjanic in both xA and key passes per 90.
And It's not just Juventus where Pjanic is lagging behind though. Taking the Old Lady's closest title rivals, Luis Alberto plays the same role for Lazio. Alberto is currently operating at an xA of 7.79, and registered a staggering 12 assists, which is equal to Pjanic's best season ever. His key passes per 90 is also over double that of his Bosnian opponents, sitting at 3.13.
So, if Pjanic is declining, what are Juventus' options?
90min have reported in recent months that he's had concrete links and as far as agreed personal terms with Chelsea and Barcelona respectively. What are these links though? Well, they seem to be more about Juve being interested in signing a midfielder from another clubs and offering Pjanic in return. Both Jorginho and Arthur Melo are being touted, players who play in Pjanic's position, are younger than him and - most importantly - are outperforming him.
So this is what the great Miralem Pjanic has been reduced to, a makeweight in the transfer for his own replacement.
This is quite a fall from grace for one of the finest playmakers of his generation, but it isn't all over for him just yet. His form at the beginning of 2020 was simply dire, there's no escaping that, however he's had a break and now has 12 games to prove he's still a great player.
If he can inspire his club to overturn the deficit against Lyon in the Champions League, then perform to his best for the remainder of the tournament, he could quite easily play his way into Barcelona's side or show he's the key experienced figure needed in that youthful Chelsea squad. Either way, it is crunch time for Pjanic. At 30 years old, this summer may be his last chance to secure a move to one of Europe's top clubs and prove he's still world class.
If he carries on the way he has so far this season though, it wouldn't be a shock to hear Barcelona say "nah, just give us the money" when Pjanic is thrown onto the table in the Arthur transfer.