Before the clock had even reached the hour mark, a red number eight flickered alight on the fourth official’s board. As so often has been the case this season, Aaron Ramsey’s night ended prematurely as the Welshman trotted off against Lazio.
In his first start since football resumed in Italy, Ramsey produced a sluggish performance while Juventus took one step closer to the Serie A title with a 2-1 win.
Ramsey’s debut campaign at Juve – during a time when the club is undergoing a cultural facelift by attempting to make their relentless winning more aesthetically pleasing – has been peppered with highs and lows.
Before this post-pandemic plummet in form and rumours of a move away, Ramsey had just begun to find his feet in a black and white shirt after taking some time to settle in to his new surroundings.
Ian Rush mustered 17 touches on his Serie A debut for Juventus as the Old Lady slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Empoli. More than two decades later the next Welshman to don those famous stripes (or halves) enjoyed a better first league outing by opening his goalscoring account.
After a frustrating start to life in Turin, sidelined for his first few months at the club with injury, Ramsey’s deflected finish would prove to be one bright spot in a testing period of integration. Ramsey delivered this somewhat fortuitous leveller from central midfield in a 4-3-3 formation manager Maurizio Sarri used at both Napoli and Chelsea.
However, Sarri swiftly dismissed his favoured formation for a 4-4-2 diamond after this narrow September win. Ramsey has always been a player (sometimes too) keen to join the attack. Although, he struggled as the side’s attacking midfielder, often looking awkward receiving the ball with his back to goal – that is, when he got on the pitch.
Between October and the winter break Ramsey started just one Serie A game as he was tentatively eased back from yet another injury. Following a limp defeat to Napoli at the end of January, Sarri reverted to his 4-3-3, thus reinstating Ramsey to the position which matches the figure on his back, the number eight role.
This tactical tweak prompted Ramsey’s best form since his summer arrival and the former Arsenal man clearly appreciated the switch. “That’s the position I came here to play,” Ramsey told The Athletic during the coronavirus-induced hiatus. “And that’s where I feel most comfortable on the pitch. I’ve said it many times over the years. That’s my position. That’s where I play the best football.”
By starting from a deeper position, Ramsey is able to have a clear view of the opposition’s defensive set up and pick precisely where he can make one of his signature runs into the box.
Shortly after the system change, Ramsey netted Juve’s second against SPAL with that exact move, charging beyond the front line to collect Paulo Dybala’s pass and scoop the winner over the on-rushing goalkeeper.
The following week brought the best performance from Ramsey – and arguably the entire team – of the season as the defending champions faced off with Inter at the start of March. Another run into the penalty area earned Ramsey a goal as he snaffled up the loose ball to open the scoring.
The 29-year-old’s connection with Dybala also continued as Ramsey teed up his Argentine teammate to make it 2-0.
Less than 24 hours later and all domestic sport in Italy was suspended in light of the coronavirus outbreak. As Ramsey reflected on the turn of events, this interruption ‘happened at the worst time’, putting an emphatic halt to his progression.
Monday’s visit from Lazio was the first time Ramsey – with more fitness woes during the break – had been risked for more than 25 minutes of football following the resumption. In the limited opportunities he has been afforded since the restart, Ramsey has looked (perhaps understandably) out of sync with his teammates.
His most significant contribution against the capital side was the discouraging – if efficient – feat of conceding a foul in the process of mis-controlling a pass.
While Juve have already added Arthur Melo to their midfield this summer, links with a move away for Ramsey in the upcoming window have surfaced, which would bring an end to his Italian adventure all too soon.
Rush’s Serie A sojourn finished after 12 months and his spell at Juventus is largely remembered for a quote he never uttered. Ramsey’s debut campaign is at threat of being similarly overshadowed by some clumsy displays of late instead of his crucial contributions on the cusp of the pandemic – of which there could be many more to come if he stays.