If Juventus want to contend for the Champions League, they need to unlock Miralem Pjanic
Juventus limped to a 1-1 draw with Olympique Lyon on Wednesday, and their performance was poor at best, shameful at worst. They often looked disjointed, were rarely dangerous in possession, and conceded a late equalizer to drop two vital Champions League points. Juventus are cruising in Serie A, but if they're going to make a real push for the trophy with the big ears, Massimiliano Allegri has to figure out how to get the best out of Miralem Pjanic.
The Bianconeri are four points clear at the top of Serie A, despite two losses already in the young season. They're clearly the class of the league, and barring any catastrophic drops in form, they're likely to walk away with a record sixth title in a row.
In Europe, it's been a different prospect. While they're still in prime position to qualify from the group, they sit two points behind Sevilla in second place, and they've only put in one truly convincing performance so far in Europe; a 4-0 win against lowly Dinamo Zagreb. Up against stouter opposition, Juventus just haven't put in the dominating performances you'd expect from a team hoping to go deep in the tournament.
Part of this is the absence of Juventus' glue, Claudio Marchisio, absent for the bulk of the season with an ACL injury. In large part though, it's been Allegri's inability to find Pjanic's best role in this team. Already this year he's been tried in front of the defense, in Paul Pogba's former role as a wider central midfielder, and as a trequartista, tucked in behind the attackers. He's managed a couple strong performances, but hasn't been the dominating force Juventus need him to be.
It's still unclear what Pjanic's best role is. For Roma, he thrived in an advanced role closer to goal, but he's yet to find success in any one area of the pitch in Juventus' 3-5-2. Allegri even tried his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation against Lyon, with Pjanic in the hole behind the strikers, but with two fairly immobile attackers ahead of him in Mario Mandzukic and Higuain, Pjanic still struggled to find a foothold, and was substituted in the 68th minute.
Without Pjanic at his best, Juventus simply don't have the requisite creativity to be a true contender in Champions League. While Marchisio is a fantastic midfielder, he isn't the type of Pirlo-esque midfielder who can be counted on to create something out of nothing on a regular basis. Paulo Dybala is capable of such magic, but for Juventus to really be successful, they can't just lean on the 22-year-old Argentine. The creativity has to come from another source. That was meant to be Pjanic, but things haven't worked out that way so far.
Juventus aren't in dire straights, by any means, but if they're going to go on and be a real force in Champions League, they need to find a way to get the very best out of Pjanic.
Until then, we can't truly count them as contenders.
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