For two players who are strikingly similar, their transfer sagas could not have been any more different. Paul Pogba’s drawn out, glitzy and tabloid filled move to Manchester United captured the attention of the world, especially considering the rumored £112m pound price tag. Meanwhile, Miralem Pjanic’s move to Pogba’s former club, Juventus, was anything but. Quiet as a church mouse, Giuseppe Marotta’s wheeling and dealing brought the Bosnian midfielder into Juve’s fold for a mere €32 million, a fraction of Pogba’s hefty price tag.
For casual observers, the loss of Pogba certainly seems like a gross dip in quality, considering his production rate in the middle of the pitch. However, if there ever were a player that could make a replacement seamless, it would be Miralem Pjanic. From a distant look, the two players have had unbelievably similar production rates during their time in Serie A. Pogba played a total of 178 matches for Juventus, scoring 34 goals and assisting 43 more. Meanwhile, in Pjanic’s 185 matches for Roma, he scored 30 goals and assisted 46 times.
This past season, Pogba scored 8 goals and assisted 13 in league play. Pjanic numbers? 9 goals and 12 assists. But what about defensive production? One of the big knocks on Pjanic has been his supposed lack of defensive ability or effort. According to WhoScored.com, he averaged 1.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions in 33 league appearances. Meanwhile, Pogba’s numbers are only slightly better with an average of 2.2 tackles and 1.3 interceptions in 33 league appearances. The same website gave the players similar defensive ratings overall and placed both players in the Serie A team of the year along with UEFA.com.
Miralem Pjanic is perhaps best known for his flair-filled set-piece goals, having apprenticed under the great Juninho during his time at Lyon. However, the player has come a long way since his arrival at Roma. His pure technical and creative ability was never at issue, but since his move to Serie A, Pjanic’s defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds. He has learned to balance his role as a creative and attack minded player with one who remembers his defensive assignments. In terms of the leadership and experience side of the game, Pjanic has also grown despite still only being 26 years old. For the Bosnian national team, Pjanic has grown into a veteran leader, replacing Zvjezdan Misimovic as the team’s primary playmaker and midfield general. For Roma, he was always a player that provided calm and whom the players actively looked for in the passing game.
Despite Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri exclaiming that the signings of Gonzalo Higauin, Dani Alves, and Miralem Pjanic offer “no guarantee of success,” they are certainly encouraging. While Paul Pogba certainly had a decent stable of forwards in front of him, the arrival of Higauin is a significant boost, and something that Pjanic will relish. Despite Edin Dzeko’s woeful first season at Roma, Pjanic has always excelled with a powerful center forward like Higauin in front of him during his career, especially evidenced by the Bosnian national team where he has provided the assists for many of Dzeko’s goals for the country. There is also evidence Pjanic will have strong chemistry with Paulo Dybala who has whole heartedly welcomed Miralem to Juventus and actively seeked him out in order to cement a strong relationship that could translate to results on the pitch. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Higauin and Dybala were consistently rated as the best forwards in Serie A this past season and will likely play in tandem in front of Pjanic and company. If Pjanic can stay healthy, as he has been able to do for the most part, his assist numbers should take a significant bump.
In terms of the passing game, Pjanic is also ranked one of the best in Italy. His numbers are also slightly better than Pogba’s according to WhoScored. Pjanic’s passing accuracy percentage was 84.9 compared to Pogba’s 83.4. He also averaged 2.4 key passes while Pogba averaged 1.5. Pjanic’s numbers are especially impressive considering he was 10th in the league for pass attempts per game, at 65.5, compared to Pogba’s 48.5. Pjanic was also able to create chances via the wings, averaging 1.3 crosses compared to Pogba’s 0.3.
Beyond pure statistics, the addition of Miralem Pjanic has heralded a fluid transition at Juventus, and perhaps even an upgrade on the offensive front with Gonzalo Higauin joining the mix. Pjanic’s calm passing ability, improved defensive work rate, creative potential and flashy free-kick repetoir are a serious arsenal for a club with high ambitions. Perhaps, this, above all is what attracted players like Pjanic. It also offers an insight into the mind of players like Pjanic, ever ready to elevate their game, and to win. Pjanic has made a move that will likely result not just in an elevation of his personal level, but perhaps in an evolution in Juventus’ ability to win on numerous fronts.
Pogba may be the past, but Juve fans shouldn’t panic with Pjanic around.