By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
There were some in the international media who took one look at Juventus’ teamsheet and expected the rot to continue. The Bianconeri had seen their eight-point lead at the winter break reduced to just three with back-to-back disappointments, and with a massively weakened first-team squad needing to be supplemented by unrecognised names, the no-nothings believed that they’d find it hard, but eventually turn around their recent form. However, they reckoned without Paul Pogba.
Udinese visited an Old Lady lacking the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah, Claudio Marchisio and Fabio Quagliarella, but the Frenchman proved yet again why Sir Alex Ferguson holds such a bitter grudge over his departure from Manchester United.
Even before he found the net to break the deadlock, Pogba had the game in his pocket. Dictating the pace and the flow of the match from the middle, he was able to completely bypass a normally obdurate Udinese midfield to the extent that they were never really in the encounter. The magnificent vision, strength, composure, anticipation and positioning he used to display in the youth ranks for both United and France were all on show, only now they are being amplified to such a degree that nobody can claim he’s not worthy of a first-team shirt.
|MATCH FACTS | Juve 4-0 Udinese
Pirlo’s absence should have made a massive difference. The Italy midfielder has had such a monumental effect on Juventus since arriving on a free transfer from AC Milan in 2011 that he should have been in the three-man shortlist for the 2012 Ballon d’Or. It should be as difficult to replace him as it would be for Barcelona to account for the loss of Lionel Messi, or Real Madrid to be without their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet Pogba slotted in as though the role was made for him, and not for the first time this season.
At the heart of the midfield, he is simply at home. Whenever the Zebrette attempted to put pressure on him, he dealt with it like an old pro. Like a Pirlo, in fact. At 19 years of age, he is already threatening to become one of the next great central midfielders, and right now he is arguably the greatest teenager in football. His composure, work rate and intuition are all taylor-made for a club as huge as Juventus, and he has fitted in perfectly whenever called upon.
To add to that, his two wonderful strikes against Udinese came right out of the top drawer. He may not be in the team to add goals, but he has chipped in, in that regard all the same. He now has four to his name in Serie A this season at a rate of one every 198 minutes. To put that into perspective, last term’s top scorer for the Bianconeri was Alessandro Matri, who picked off his goals at an average of 192.4 minutes per strike, a rate only negligibly superior to Pogba’s.
The Frenchman has taken to the demands of the top flight like a duck to water, and Antonio Conte needs to find a place in his first team for him sooner rather than later. He has proven once already in his departure from Manchester that he is hungry for games now, and to alienate Pogba by not giving him the first-team slot he deserves would be to make the same mistake Ferguson made. Yes, the midfield of Arturo Vidal, Pirlo and Marchisio have been key to Juve’s revival, but football is about staying ahead of the game, not lingering on the past.
Conte has won many plaudits for his work at Vinovo so far, but now he has to somehow fit four into three in his star-studded midfield in recognition of the Frenchman’s growing stature both at the club and in the modern game. Pogba’s time has well and truly arrived.Follow Kris Voakes on