After a woeful first two months, this past week saw Juventus register two hugely positive results as they notched wins over both Sevilla and Bologna. While the first of those games saw the Bianconeri take a commanding position at the top of Champions League Group D, the latter marked their first home win of the Serie A campaign and saw a substantial improvement on previous domestic outings this term.
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Looking like a much more cohesive unit than in the shocking run which saw Juve drop points against the likes of Chievo, Frosinone and Udinese, Max Allegri certainly reaped the benefit of being able to name an unchanged line-up for the first time in 2015-16. Perhaps the most important inclusion in the Juve XI was the returning Sami Khedira.
The Germany midfielder has now recovered from the thigh injury he suffered pre-season, seemingly putting the latest in a succession of fitness problems fully behind him. The 28-year-old had seen his two previous campaigns ruined as a series of knee and back issues plagued the end of his time with Real Madrid. His performances became so hampered, Franz Beckenbauer felt compelled to claim that “Khedira would not help any team.”
That he managed just five La Liga starts last term appeared to support the stance of the Bayern Munich legend, but it did not deter Juventus from handing Khedira a four-year deal back in June. The knowledge that the departure of Andrea Pirlo would leave a huge void in midfield undoubtedly played a role in their decision, but so too did the contribution of the Italian star over the previous four years.
Cast aside by AC Milan in similar circumstances, Pirlo brought intelligent leadership and much-needed experience to Antonio Conte’s newly assembled side in 2011, helping transform them into four-time league champions. Allegri clearly sees those same qualities in his own World Cup-winning midfielder, telling reporters that “Sami is an important player for us” shortly after Sunday’s meeting with Bologna.
“He gives us international experience and hasn’t regressed in the last six months,” the Juve boss continued, adding that Khedira “is a generous guy and a great pro.” His debut against Sevilla would certainly showcase those attributes, Khedira controlling the game from the centre of the pitch and ensuring his new team-mates remained alert to the few attacks mounted by the Andalusian side.
Leaving the field to a standing ovation when Allegri substituted him in the 75th minute, his next appearance was arguably even better. Battling hard against the Bologna midfield just four days later, he shielded the Juventus defence perfectly.
Khedira also chose the right moments to break forward, delivering a superb pass for Alvaro Morata’s first-half equaliser before the Spanish star returned the favour after the break. Making a well-timed run into the opposition penalty area, the Stuttgart native headed Morata’s cross past helpless goalkeeper Antonio Mirante to seal all three points for Juve.
That he completed the entire game was also a significant milestone, marking the first time he had played 90 minutes since February.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 4, 2015
Around that same time, Khedira admitted to Marca that “it hurt to be accused of lacking professionalism” by Madrid, insisting that he had actually been fit to play for some time only to find himself frozen out by the club. Clearly much happier with his early outings for Juventus, he spoke on Sunday of the “great rapport” that has already been established with the players, coaching staff and medical team in Turin.
In an interview with the Italian club’s official website, Khedira has also praised the “amazing atmosphere at Juventus Stadium” and insisted he is looking forward to contributing at an even higher level in the future. “I feel very good,” he went on to say, “so after the international break and two weeks without games, I can train more and improve my condition further still.”
That certainly bodes well for Allegri, Juventus and indeed for Sami Khedira, the experienced and established performer already excelling in his role at the heart of the Old Lady’s new-look midfield.
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