Last weekend was a good one for the midfielders of Juventus. In the course of a 3-0 win at Sassuolo which inflicted on the Italian champions only momentary alarms, a trio of them made significant contributions.
It was almost as if they sensed their places in the club’s hierarchy are soon to come under fresh scrutiny.
First, Sami Khedira scored his first goal since mid-August in what has been a season interrupted by injuries. It was a simple finish. But once again it highlighted his virtue of being in the right place at the right time to pick up a loose ball.
It is a quality that Khedira, 31, has developed in the past three years.
There was an assist for Miralem Pjanic, a reminder of his excellence with a dead-ball, his corner inviting Cristiano Ronaldo to head the second goal. It brought Pjanic to a small landmark: his combined total of Juve assists and goals is now at 50, midway through his third season in Juventus.
That is an impressive figure for a deeper-lying midfielder, although Pjanic has not been at his most productive this season. He has just the one goal and three goal-making passes in the league so far.
Juventus’s third goal came from Emre Can, a nicely angled shot across the goalkeeper with his left foot for his second of the campaign. It is a statistic that surprisingly makes the former Liverpool player the club’s joint most prolific midfielder in the league for 2018/19, along with Khedira, Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur.
A moderate proportion of goals from midfield – the percentage is down from previous seasons – is hardly a crisis when Ronaldo is mastering Serie A as he used to master the Primera Liga, and when the club's lead over second place in the table stands at 11 points.
But it does explain why Juventus feel triumphant at the deal they have clinched with Aaron Ramsey, who will leave Arsenal and join them on a free transfer and a handsome salary in July.
Some reports of Ramsey's salary have been exaggerated but he will become the best rewarded midfield player at the club. In exchange for that, Juventus will want the 28-year-old Wales international to show he can offer assets they do not already have.
The transfer is intriguing, not least because because there are six months to anticipate his role and ponder his value. Ramsey has let his Arsenal contract run down, meaning he was allowed to negotiate with clubs across Europe as of last month.
Juventus decided they needed to pounce before others did.
Fabio Paratici, the club’s sports director, heightened the anticipation by suggesting “Arsenal have not played Ramsey in his best position”. Among the arguments that persuaded the player Juve would suit him were that his role should be at the attacking point of a midfield three.
In his 11 years at Arsenal, the Welshman has been used in a variety of positions – often deeper on the pitch than he would regard as ideal. But he has always been a footballer eager to make use of his accomplished technical flourishes as well as his admirable energy.
He also feels confident that Juventus is an environment in which he can improve. Precedent tells him so.
Under Massimiliano Allegri, the manager who has guided Juve to four successive league titles and a pair of Uefa Champions League finals, Pjanic’s midfield game has developed even if the goals have dried up a little lately.
The Bosnian, signed from Roma in 2015, was encouraged to command a position at the base of midfield, making more interceptions and exploiting his passing excellence over long range.
Khedira, by contrast, has become a more attacking player than he had been at Real Madrid, Juve exploiting his athleticism and strength in the opposition penalty area. In five seasons at Madrid, Khedira scored nine times; in three and half at Juventus, he has 21 goals.
Ramsey, whose well-timed runs into the box are a trademark, will certainly imagine he can more than match that rate.