Juan Cuadrado successfully replacing Joao Cancelo at Juventus
Background image: Baseidenis, CC BY-SA 3.0
When Juventus sold Joao Cancelo in the summer, they received heavy criticism. With one hand, they revealed Champions League ambitions by signing Cristiano Ronaldo and Matthijs de Ligt. With the other, they sold the best right-back in the country for a song. Danilo, who arrived in Italy as a part of the deal from Manchester City hardly improves the Bianconeri backline. Nor does Mattia De Sciglio make the cut in Mauricio Sarri's tactics.
The Old Lady was not at fault in replacing the Portuguese international. Finding decent full-backs in this market is not an easy thing to pull off even for a club as big as Juventus. Danilo and De Sciglio started the first couple of games. After their injuries, Sarri found his right-back versus Fiorentina. With Danilo forced off the pitch, Juan Cuadrado dropped back to assume the role and shone like a sun parting clouds. There might even have been an angelic choir. He scored in the following match against Atletico Madrid but also showed he could handle the other responsibilities the role demands.
Against Inter in a 2-1 win, the 31-year-old was the best player in black and white. Along with Alex Sandro, he forced the Nerazzurri to defend wider than Antonio Conte would have liked. Miralem Pjanic then exploited the gaps created by their marauding.
Forwards are allowed to get into the box more often in Sarri's 4-3-1-2 narrow setup. Cuadrado follows the modern trend of full-backs by helping in ball progression. His natural attacking instinct comes in handy when Juventus have the ball. He can dribble past defenders, execute quick layoffs and dip crosses into the box. With an 89% successful passing rate, Cuadrado's composure is just what Sarri needed.
The 31-year-old's decision-making in the final third is strictly average but his knack for showing himself in open space keeps him heavily involved. He's also adept at creating chances.
Defensively, he is not an Aaron Wan-Bissaka but his neat lunges, frightening pace and acute positioning allow him to avoid most mistakes. Under Andrea Barzagli's tutelage, he has improved massively in a short period. He acknowledged as much when accepting a Man of the Match award against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
"I tried to change my mentality and be fully concentrated as I know that I can do better but Barzagli is on me constantly, so I can’t relax for a second!”
His weakness is a tendency to do too much with the ball at his feet. This is a winger's routine but, as a fullback, it kills off too many chances and exposes the Zebras to the counterattack.
The Colombian remained a true professional even after being benched following Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival. He happily gave away the #7 shirt to the Portuguese talisman. No fuss, no muss. This is exactly the type of player any club wants.
The future remains uncertain for Cuadrado. After clashing with Ronaldo, Sarri might leave the Juventus Stadium as quickly as he departed Stamford Bridge. As well, Juventus may seek a younger option at right-back in the summer window. On the flip side, he is pipped for a two-year contract extension. At 31, this is the beginning of the end of his career, not dissimilar to Antonio Valencia at Manchester United. But you cannot deny the hard work and results Cuadrado produced when opportunity knocked on his door.