Player Analysis: The Learning Curve of Weston McKennie at Juventus

After previously being linked to the likes of Southampton and Newcastle United, it was rather surprising to see Juventus seal a move for USA international Weston McKennie. The young midfielder arrives in Turin as one of the brightest young talents in American football – pardon, soccer.

However, the move does seem to be a little surprising given that McKennie is far from the finished product. In a transfer window that has been packed with quite a lot of interesting and perhaps expected announcement, we were admittedly taken aback by Juventus moving for the youngster.

McKennie joined Schalke 04’s academy in the summer of 2016 and it did not take him long to break into the first team.

The move made by Juventus does seem very interesting since La Vecchia Signora has signed the American on loan and have the option to make a permanent move only if they choose to. This means that Andrea Pirlo has taken a punt at a talented player who is yet to realize his true potential. If it works, amazing. If it doesn’t, he can always be sent back to the Veltins Arena.

McKennie arrives at Juventus from a team that likes to press. Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation the 22-year-old can be often seen positioned on the right of a double pivot. The youngster is great at pressurizing opponents and intercepting, boasting a rate of 2.2 interceptions per 90 minutes which is a pretty good number for a player in his position.

When we talk about McKennie, we talk about a player who is very intelligent and understands how different systems work. Due to his strong awareness, the player can place himself in the midfield in such a way that it makes it easier for him to block all passing routes while also supporting his team’s pressing.

Due to a strong ability to read situations, McKennie can press the opponent quickly and make interceptions. Moreover, the fact that he lacks great speed allows McKennie to hold his own when his team is under pressure.

McKennie is quite a lurker on the pitch in a sense that he tends to stay in behind opponents looking to be a passing option. The youngster doesn’t try to cut off passing lanes all the time. In many cases, he tends to force the other player into thinking of something else which allows his teammates to press higher up the pitch.

Before moving to Juventus, Weston McKennie joined the Schalke 04 youth academy in 2016 and has been playing in Gelsenkirchen ever since

The Downside of McKennie at Juventus

While he is an intelligent player, there are certain things about McKennie that need to be worked on. For instance, the US international is not very comfortable in one on one situations, especially against quick opponents.

Due to his lack of pace, dribbling past McKennie isn’t that difficult. Moreover, since he does not boast great acceleration, it makes it hard for him to recover once he is beaten due to overcommitting or rushing an opponent way too early.

However, at Juventus, it might be rare for him to come across such situations week in week out and we expect Pirlo to play him against smaller teams initially to help him adjust to a different league.

While he may not be the quickest off the ball, McKennie’s best attributed is that he is good at breaking up counters and deals with long balls very well. A physically well-built player, McKennie more than holds his own but it is a lack of technique that can let him down at times.

Uncomfortable In Possession

McKennie is definitely a very hard-working player, typically when his team doesn’t have possession. However, the 22-year-old tends to become rather anonymous when his team is on the ball. If you look at the following map from the 2019-20 Bundesliga season, it is clear that McKennie isn’t a very forward-thinking player.

As you can see from this image (from a league encounter against Augsburg), most of his passing is sideways and very few progressive passes find the teammate. In fact, the player’s lack of vision means that any progressive pass (more than 20 yards), mostly ends up in his team losing possession.

And this is going to be somewhat concerning for Pirlo who might have to spend some extra time with the youngster in training.

McKennie tends to make simple passes far too often and perhaps it is because he isn’t confident in his passing ability that consequently forces him into quickly finding someone to bail him out.

Moreover, when he has the ball, the American tends to take too much time which slows down the offensive buildup drastically. However, now that he would be training with the likes of Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur at Juventus, McKennie is likely to pick up new things.

The Cult of Calcio Says

Well, McKennie is definitely a unique player in the sense that he isn’t the flashiest one around and neither has the elegance when carrying the ball forward. His passing isn’t that great and it doesn’t seem as if he is that great at creating chances.

However, McKennie is one of those hard-working players who would constantly run for the team’s cause, especially when his teammates are being starved of possession. The youngster tends to make the right off the ball decisions and opponents usually don’t enjoy it when he’s blocking their passing lanes and forcing players to seek out other options.

For Juventus, this attribute would come in very handy when the Old Lady plays the likes of Inter, Napoli, Milan, and Atalanta.

McKennie isn’t the sort of player who would earn plaudits on a regular basis but in all honesty, he’s one of those players who would gladly do all the dirty work and let the rest of their teammates shine. The youngster is perhaps the best option for teams that don’t rely on possessing the ball all the time.

The loan spell at Juventus might not result in McKennie playing regularly but it would prove to be a great learning curve. And who knows? He might finally be known for being good at a particular role rather than being a midfielder who can fill in a wide variety of roles.