While Juve’s shinier stars have been hogging the limelight this season where a treble is a very real target, Sami Khedira has been the club’s unsung hero
Gonzalo Higuain makes all the headlines when Juventus is brought up as a topic of conversation. If it isn’t him, then it’s players like Gianluigi Buffon and Paulo Dybala who are centre of attention. But since his arrival in the summer of 2015, there is one footballer who has been Juve’s silent and secret weapon, a synonym for balance and solidity: Sami Khedira.
The German World Champion was chosen by the Bianconeri to replace Arturo Vidal, sold to Bayern Munich for around 30 million euros. Khedira was brought in as a free agent from Real Madrid and soon became part of the ideal starting eleven, for good reason. Vidal is a much more explosive player, but Khedira’s tactical knowledge is second to none and has paired perfectly with Massimiliano Allegri’s key footballing belief: that balance is central.
Khedira is able to guide his team-mates in midfield, as well as guaranteeing protection and scoring decisive goals, as the 1-0 against Napoli at the San Paolo last weekend shows. In his first season playing with the Bianconeri he picked up the position next to Claudio Marchisio, with Paul Pogba being the other member of the midfield trio. With a total of 25 games, Khedira contributed substantially to Juve’s double (Serie A and Coppa Italia victories) with five goals and four assists, but was held back in the mid part of the campaign with too many injuries.
This season, Allegri moved to a more attacking 4-2-3-1, a system common to many teams across Europe, and Khedira’s positioning has been one of the reasons behind the change. Without the German it might not have happened. His contribution this year is well beyond last season’s, with 37 games already played and five goals scored, and becoming the mind of the team, with Marchisio’s long absence and Morale Pjanic’s adaptation time.
Khedira is enabling Allegri to play a system that entails three pure strikers – Higuain, Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, with the Croatian confined to the wing – and two very attacking players in Juan Cuadrado and Pjanic. Khedira covers for them and takes his chances when he can. His physical strength and newlyfound agility enable him to cover large portions of the pitch and essentially do the work that two midfielders take on in other teams.
It’s not that we discovered him now: Khedira has won a World Cup and a Champions League trophy. But without a doubt his ability to adapt to a new league so well and his intelligence in playing just as well in a midfield duo or trio are incredible, combined with his charisma that make him one of the key figures in the Juve changing room.
— Sami Khedira (@SamiKhedira) April 5, 2017
Juventus’ ambitions are his ambitions: to win everything. With the Bianconeri in the third consecutive Coppa Italia final (having won the previous two) and six points clear of Roma at the top of Serie A, it is evident that the main objective is to lift the Champions League. Khedira is one of the few in Juve’s squad who has done it already, with Dani Alves and Mandzukic and has the leadership to help the others reach the final.
The next obstacle is Barcelona. To go through to the Champions League semi-finals seems impossible. Juve’s midfield will be the key. Protecting the defenders, helping them against Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, and guaranteeing a quick transition will be necessary to beat Barcelona. Khedira will be one of the fundamental players: Juve’s secret weapon is ready to strike again.