Juventus confirmed the signing of Barcelona’s midfielder Arthur Melo as part of a deal for releasing Miralem Pjanić to the Catalan club. The Bosnian international who had a key role for Juventus since his arrival four years ago turned out to be unneeded under the new coach Maurizio Sarri.
The signing of Arthur raised a lot of questions on how he could replace Pjanić and what his role is going to be, especially keeping in mind that the Brazilian has played in a slightly different position thus far.
In this tactical analysis in the form of scout report, we are going to examine whether Arthur could fit Juventus tactically and if his qualities are enough to replace Pjanić properly. The analysis will also explain how his arrival could affect the team’s tactics and what changes in the structure might happen with his arrival.
In this first section, we are going to compare both players’ data in an aim to help us underline the difference in their style of play and approach. Later, we will analyse Arthur’s performance and see if the data is matching what he shows on the pitch and how he contributes to the team’s strategy.
Based on Pjanić’s strengths and style of play, we have picked different metrics that will show us Arthur could be compared to the Bosnian, or if he will bring completely different options for Juventus in the different phases. It is unlikely that Sarri will look for the same qualities in Arthur as he aims to be able to implement his tactical approach better and will most probably assign Arthur a slightly different role. That’s why we will use data to point out the differences between the players while, of course, keeping in mind that their performance is highly connected to their current teams’ tactics.
With the graphic line above, we compared both players’ average results in a few metrics that are considered important for the central midfield positions.
Firstly, we compared their average pass accuracy percentage since being able to provide accurate passes and distribute the ball all over the pitch is key for a central midfield role. As you can see, both Arthur and Pjanić have outstanding numbers with 91.67% and 91.13% respectively. That means that Arthur’s presence in midfield is unlikely to have a negative effect on their possession.
With the next metrics, we wanted to underline their contribution to the ball progression. That’s why we compared their forward passes’ frequency. It turned out that Pjanić provides a higher number of forward passes per game (21.32) than Arthur (15.67). That, however, could be affected by how direct the team’s approach is and doesn’t necessarily mean that Pjanić has a better impact on the build-up. What gives a clearer picture of their ball progression abilities and attacking contribution is the final third passes’ frequency. As you could see, despite Arthur sending way fewer forward passes, their passing numbers to the more advanced areas are similar: Arthur provides 9.97 passes to the final third, while Pjanić provides 10.73.
This shows that despite the difference in their approach and in their build-up efforts, the outcome of their actions is quite similar – they both are used to deliver the ball to the attacking areas.
What makes a difference in their style of play is Arthur’s creativity and freedom with the ball. He makes keeping the possession and advancing the ball look effortless and the way he takes on his markers is impressive. That’s underlined by both players’ dribble attempts per 90 minutes – Arthur attempts 3.11 dribbles on average compared to Pjanić’s 1.34. Arthur is also using long balls more rarely than the 30-year-old which additionally underlines the difference in their style of play. The Brazilian is way more confident on carrying the ball, while Pjanić is more direct in his actions.
Arthur’s creativity and contribution to the attacking ventures are underlined by his through ball and smart pass frequency. He has higher numbers in these metrics. However, we should consider that Pjanić’s lower number of through balls on average could be affected by Juventus’ forward line who often drop deeper to pick up the ball and break through defences with the ball.
Finally, we looked into their defensive contribution and their aim to gain back possession. Pjanić’s ability to intercept the ball is shown in his 4.67 interceptions per 90 compared to Arthur’s 1.81. These numbers are not clearly showing their impact though since the 23-year-old is often in a more advanced position with a different role. Looking into their defensive duels success rate, they both have 63% which shows Arthur has been as equally successful in his defensive efforts.
Style of play and could he fit the Sarri-ball?
Arthur’s style of play is more creative, dynamic, and confident. His abilities on the ball are well-fitting to a team that want to dominate possession, advance the ball quickly with short pass combinations, and be creative.
His confidence on the ball helps him move it further effectively and help the teams in their build-up and attacking strategies. He maintains possession both through his abilities to hold on to the ball and through his pass accuracy which helps the team in spreading the ball all over the pitch.
Arthur’s places well between the lines and helps in the penetration efforts, while keeping the structure the team try to employ. His technical skills and confidence on the ball help him to draw attention and then exploit free spaces. His movement is often important for ball protection but also for finding more passing options.
There is a lot of controversy on whether Arthur is going to be used as a direct replacement of the Bosnian or if Sarri is going to find a more advanced and more suitable position for him. With his favoured 4-3-3 formation, the 23-year-old could be used either as a deep-lying playmaker or as a left central-midfielder which is where he plays for Barcelona.
Due to the lack of options in midfield, it is very likely that the coach will try to assign him a deep-lying pivotal role and use his abilities on the ball to employ an even more dynamic style of play. Having Arthur in the midfield could be the key to better fluidity during the build-up and a more aggressive attacking approach. This is especially the case when Aaron Ramsey is fully fit and Sarri opts up for more of a 4-3-1-2 set-up.
Similarly to Barcelona’s revived style of play, Sarri tries to implement attack-minded, possession-based football with fluid and quick movement of the ball. That’s why the young midfielder could be a good option for the team and help them play the “Sarri-ball” method more effectively.
Arthur’s quick movement, spatial awareness, and football intelligence could fit different build-up strategies and allow the team to employ a higher position in order to quickly transition to the more advanced areas and create more goalscoring opportunities.
What could change in midfield?
The Brazillian’s presence will probably be most noticeable during Juventus’ build-up. Something that Pjanić was blamed for is that he couldn’t implement the manager’s style of play properly, which was affecting their ball progression and attacking actions respectively.
Arthur’s more creative approach could help the team in building up from the back and retaining possession in the key areas, which will have an immediate effect on their efficiency in front of the goal. He often stays on a deeper position serving as a passing outlet for when the team build up from the back.
He could be used for breaking the opposition lines through the middle and quickly finding the forward players who often drop back to pick up the ball. The good news though is that, unlike Pjanić, he could use his dribbling abilities and spatial awareness to carry the ball further which would decrease the need of the attacking players staying in deeper positions. This means that Cristiano Ronaldo and Dybala would spend more time in and around the box, giving them more time to focus on creating chances in front of the goal.
Due to his left-sided experience, the 23-year-old could also be helpful for the team in advancing the ball through the wide areas. Using him as a passing outlet in the half-spaces partnering with Alex Sandro on the left could facilitate their ball progression in the wide areas and give them more chances to reach the final third and cross.
His positioning isn’t always perfect but he has the ability to draw attention while still being able to hold on to the ball and exploit the freed-up spaces afterwards. That’s why his movement with the ball looks effortless and makes advancing the ball look easy. Not only he can exploit spaces himself, but his spatial awareness allows him to allocate the best areas for a pass.
Speaking about his passing, that’s certainly one of his best attributes. As mentioned, his average pass accuracy is 91.67% which makes him a good fit for the dynamic short-pass football that the manager tries to implicate. He is currently among the top three players with the highest pass frequency in La Liga.
Using his abilities for an eventual partnership with Ramsey could increase the team’s creativity in the final third drastically.
There are cases when he is assigned an individual marker in an aim to intensely press him and trouble the team’s build-up. That’s when Arthur would put a lot of effort into holding on to the ball and rely on a long ball in order to bypass the press. The impressive thing is that even when under pressure, he finds a way to retain possession and advance the ball.
His partnership with the other midfielders should be strong in order to open passing lanes even though he doesn’t always seek free spaces for his off-the-ball movements. His strategy is to stay closer to the opposition players, receive the ball, and then rely on his press resistance to deliver the ball to his teammates while keeping his markers engaged.
Will the attack benefit from his qualities?
Juventus’ attacking performance could also benefit from Arthur’s arrival. While Pjanić is a bigger threat when taking set-pieces, the Brazillian could have an impact on the team’s attacking actions from open play. Thanks to his creativity and passing skills, he could provide through balls and smart passes, creating chances for his teammates, which increases the team’s efficiency in front of the goal.
If he is used in a central-midfield position he might not be that efficient in the half-spaces anymore, but his presence should allow the team more options on the edge of the final third and help them with the ball delivery to the box.
His average of 9.97 passes to the final third are executed with precision and could be beneficial for Juventus’ actions, offering the attackers more quality passes. As mentioned above, his often-advanced movement could both cooperate well with the forwards’ movement back but also give them the freedom to stay in the box and try to sneak behind defences.
He is rarely seen as a direct threat, due to his lack of good finishing and positioning off-the-ball, but he does occasionally shoot from distance.
What is his defensive contribution?
Arthur’s defensive contribution is rather mediocre. He doesn’t dive into many defensive challenges and his defensive positioning isn’t always well measured. This could be a problem for Juventus since the whole team are usually positioned higher up. With the full-backs’ movement forward and Arthur’s attack-minded approach, they might become more vulnerable on a counter or against teams that employ more direct play. His heatmap clearly underlines the point that he focuses his movement and actions on and past the central line. If we compare his movement to Pjanić’s, we could see that the Bosnian international was way more active on the edge of Juventus’ defensive third.
He doesn’t intercept the ball very often but does contribute with 3.61 recoveries on average per game. Most of his ball recoveries are a result of his counter-pressing efforts.
His tendency of not dropping too deep in his defensive third could leave the team exposed in many cases, but it could also be beneficial for their counter-attacking actions. Staying in a more advanced position could help the team in quickly distributing the ball further despite the opposition’s efforts. He is more likely to contribute with movement on the ball rather than with positioning in the advanced areas and acting as a threat.
Arthur could fit well Sarri’s playing style in Serie A, using his ball control and dribbling abilities to support the fast-driven build-up. His presence could also allow the team to quickly establish themselves higher up the pitch and retain possession in the opposition half. This attack-minded approach though could affect Juve’s defensive efforts though, even if the 23-year-old is used as a deep-lying playmaker.
The manager needs to find the most suitable position for him as the connection with his teammates would prove crucial. For that matter, he shouldn’t get him and the other players out of his comfort zone too much since the fluidity could be lost.