Since 2006, Juventus have rarely invested in strengthening their defense. They have spent even lesser to bolster the full-back positions. Unsurprisingly, weakness on the flanks has plagued Juventus in last 4 seasons. Positions once graced by the likes of Zambrotta, Thuram, Torricelli and Cabrini have seen Molinaro aiming for Milan with his crosses and Zebina’s chicken runs. This season, at last Juve has made a much needed purchase by bringing in Lazio’s Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner on a four year deal.
Lichtsteiner started his career at Swiss club Grasshopper in 2001. After performing consistently for four seasons he joined French club Lille in 2005. He was in and out of the squad that season as he sat on the bench watching Lille defeat Manchester United 1-0 in Champion’s League Group stages. In Ligue-1 he came into his element, gradually cementing his spot in first XI. He found his best form in 2007/08 season when he became one of the mainstays of Lille and scored a personal best of four goals that season. He was strongly linked to clubs like Everton in the period but opted to sign for Lazio on 16th July, 2008.
Lichtsteiner continued his impressive run of form at the Roman club and replaced Valeron Behrami effortlessly. With time he transformed into one of the most consistent right-backs in Serie A – forming a lethal combination with Kolarov at left-back. He also became a fan favourite for his never-say-die attitude and incessant forays along the touch-line. Popular Lazio commentator Guido De Angelis nicknamed his “Forrest Gump” for his sprints. He also scored a stunning goal in a Rome derby – further endearing himself to Laziales. Lazio won that match 4-2 after a typically chaotic Roman derby.
In 2010/11 season he was one of the regular starters for Aquile as the club challenged for the Scudetto for a considerable period of time. Lichtsteiner started 33 out of 38 Serie A games and made two assists as Lazio eventually finished 5th.
Lichtsteiner is a regular starter with Swiss National Team. He has worked his way up from under age levels having participated in U17 Euro (1999) and U21 Euro (2004). By 2008 Lichtsteiner had established himself as the starting right-back for Switzerland – playing every game in Euro 2008. He has been a regular under Ottmar Hitzefeld and played a memorable game in world cup 2010 as Switzerland stunned eventual champions Spain 1-0 in a Group Game.
Lichtsteiner is blessed with quick pace and an untiring fitness – two qualities which are essential for modern full-backs. He is an ever present figure in both attack and defence and has shown leadership abilities. He is a pretty good crosser and delivered 193 crosses towards the strikers last season, more than most right-backs in Serie A.
Lichtsteiner is good when going on his trademark overlaps but his defensive ability is not top class as he is at times caught out of position. Under Hitzfeld, his defending has improved but it still remains to be seen how well he’d cope with top class wingers. He is also prone to rash challenges at times. Last season he registered eight yellow cards in Serie A – highest among Lazio players.
Possible Impact at Juventus
Stephan Lichtsteiner will be a significant improvement over the right-backs who have sported the Bianconeri jersey in last 4 seasons. One of the major reasons behind Milos Krasic’s loss of form in second half of the season was lack of support from right-backs. Young Sorensen rarely ventured forward while Marco Motta was always a disaster in the making when he went up. With Lichtsteiner in place Krasic will have a right-back who will assist him properly with his overlaps. How well he links with Krasic might determine Juve’s performance graph for 2011/12 season.
Lichtsteiner has ethe xperience of playing together with Reto Ziegler for the Swiss National Team. Paolo De Ceglie showed impressive form before getting injured in 2010/11 season. De Ceglie will probably be the first choice at left-back but if he fails to recapture his form then Juve already have a full-back pair which is comfortable playing with each other.
Still 27, Lichtsteiner has a few good seasons left in him and with him the Juventus defence looks secure for future. If players like Grygera and Grosso are shown the door then Andrea Barzagli, at 29 years old, will be the oldest defender in the team. Current Juve team lacks a leader – a role the Swiss can perform. His crossing can be important for a player like Alessandro Matri, who possesses a goal poacher’s instincts. Conte’s tactics place emphasis on overlapping full-backs and Lichtsteiner will be a perfect addition to his team.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is the type of player Juventus has needed in every season since 2006. Finally the club has splashed some cash to rope in a competent full-back. Along with the likes of Isla and Cassani, Lichtsteiner is one of the best full-backs in the Serie A right now. For 9.8 million Euros and 2 million Euros annual salary this is certainly a good move financially. This is a good signing for the Old Lady and considerably strengthens the squad.
Rating – 8/10