Juventus announced its first signing of the January transfer window on January 22, confirming the arrival of Tiago Djaló from Lille. The 23-year-old Portuguese defender has joined on a contract through June 2026, and he arrives in the midst of a title race. La Vecchia Signora sit four points behind Inter, who have a game in hand, as well as four above Milan, and whilst Inter have are in the driver’s seat following their 1-0 victory against Juve at the weekend, the Bianconeri still have 15 matches to make up the distance on Simone Inzaghi’s side.
Juventus has been firing on all cylinders since the turn of the new year, finding the back of the net on 18 occasions in their first five matches of 2024 before falling to 10 men early on and stumbling to a 1-1 draw to Empoli, whilst the following match saw Federico Gatti’s own goal prove decisive in Inter’s victory. Although Massimiliano Allegri has his offence humming, the veteran tactician is aware that, as the old adage goes: offence wins you games, but defence wins you championships. In fact, the team with the best defensive record in Italy has won the Scudetto in each of the last three seasons.
The Turin-based giants have nonetheless recorded an impressive defensive record until now, registering 13 clean sheets in all competitions, including three in a row prior to the Empoli draw, and they have conceded just 14 league goals — 4 of those coming in a 4-2 defeat to Sassuolo in September. They have the joint-third best defense in Europe’s top 5 leagues alongside Bayer Leverkusen and Lille, whilst only Inter (10) and Nice (11) have let in fewer.
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 31, 2024
Whilst deadline day arrival Carlos Alcaraz will be looking to stake out a place in Juve’s midfield, Djaló is now tasked with integrating himself seamlessly into Allegri’s back three and solidifying the Bianconeri’s title push. But who exactly is the Amadora native and how will he fit into Juventus’ plans in the second-half of this season and beyond?
Short-lived Italian adventure
Born to Bissau-Guinean parents in Amadora, Portugal, a small suburb outside Lisbon, Djaló quickly joined Sporting CP’s famed youth academy. The defender spent five years in his hometown before Italian giants AC Milan took advantage of his expiring contract and signed him on a free transfer in 2019.
Djaló had shown initial promise in Sporting CP’s academy and was now ready to take the next step in his career – albeit as a largely unproven 19-year-old. His Italian adventure, however, would not turn out to be a successful one.
“He is ready to help Juventus’ defence. I respect his decision to live his first real adventure in Italy, because when he lived in Milan he was still very young. He has grown a lot as a player and as a man. Now he also has much more experience than before, he already knows the language and I think that can help him adapt sooner than expected in a team as important as Juventus,” said Lille manager Paulo Fonseca.
The future is bright at Juventus:
-Dušan Vlahović (23)
-Kenan Yildiz (18)
-Fabio Miretti (20)
-Andrea Cambiaso (23)
-Samuel Iling-Junior (20)
-Timothy Weah (23)
-Nicolò Fagioli (22)
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 16, 2024
Indeed, Djaló was never able to breakthrough in the first team, making just one pre-season appearance for the Rossoneri in a friendly against Novara. Just six months later, the young defender would be on the move again – this time joining Lille on a five-year deal, a second bite of the proverbial apple.
Redemption in Northern France
The French side made the most of Djaló’s inability to break through in Milan, snapping up the promising defender for just under €5 million euros. Djaló quickly established himself as a regular under the leadership of Christophe Galtier, following indifferent spells with Patrick Vieira and Adrian Ursea at the helm.
The Portuguese defender later formed an uncompromising partnership at the back with Sven Botman, compatriot José Fonte, and the excellent Mike Maignan, leading his side to an unlikely title charge. In fact, Lille had previously not won Ligue 1 since 2011, emerging victorious three times in their entire history.
Lille conceded just 23 goals with Djaló at the heart of defence in the 2020-2021 season, beating perennial French giants Paris Saint-Germain to the league title by a single point. The title confirmed what was largely evident throughout Djaló’s young career. Under the right circumstances, the 23-year-old can be a crucial piece in a title charge.
Matías Soulé vs. Milan:
-24/32 passes completed
-1/1 successful dribbles completed
-2 fouls won
-3/4 ground duels won@Ben_Mattinson_ on the 20-year-old Argentine who’s making a name for himself on loan at Frosinone:https://t.co/OSQZnz4Rns pic.twitter.com/YvRbeIeBZU
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) February 3, 2024
Unfortunately, Djaló’s rise to prominence was halted in March of last year when he tore his ACL in the Derby du Nord vs. Lens. The defender is yet to feature since being sidelined, a prospect Djaló is unfazed by.
“I’m ready. Thank you to Juve for the opportunity. My knee is fine now, I’m working everyday and I’m happy,” said the defender. “When Juve calls you, you don’t need advice from anyone. You just have to accept the call and play for one of the best clubs in the world.”
According to reports, Juventus boss Allegri has already been impressed by the 23-year-old’s conditioning in the early goings of training, putting aside recent injury concerns.
Style of Play
Equally pacey as he is versatile, Djaló has all the tools to become a regular in Allegri’s Juventus. The former Lille man, while a natural centre-back, can deputize on either wing, slotting in seamlessly across the entire backline. Standing in at 6’3, Djaló is an imposing defender, capable of marking Serie A’s biggest target men.
Despite his size, the defender’s aerial prowess leaves a little to be desired, averaging just under one aerial battle won per game. With the physical Bremer slotting in at central defence, however, the Bianconeri will be relying more so on Djaló’s pace and ball-playing ability out from the back. The defender offers a calming presence when in possession, completing nearly 90% of his passes over his career.
“His main virtue is his speed, he is a very, very quick player, but also good with the ball at his feet, in the build-up phase. He knows how to play simple, in an essential way. And he is also good at defensive positioning. I repeat, however, the quality where he excels above all is speed,” said Fonseca, when asked about the 23-year-old ahead of his move to Juventus.
While Djaló still has room for improvement, the young defender will offer some much-needed pace and solidity at the back – particularly as the Bianconeri embark on a crucial run of games in the coming weeks.
How he fits into Allegri’s Juventus
Juventus’ backline has undergone significant transformation in recent years. The Bianconeri have since entrusted their defensive rebuild to Gleison Bremer, signing the Brazilian international for just under €45 million following Matthijs de Ligt’s departure to Bayern Munich. Bremer has gone from strength to strength under Allegri, showing exactly why he was awarded Serie A Defender of the Season in 2021/22 and named in the Serie A Team of the Season in each of the last two years.
From William Saliba to Raphael Varane, few countries can compare to France when it comes to producing center backs.
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) December 20, 2023
The former Torino man shoulders much of the defensive responsibility at the club alongside Federico Gatti and club captain Danilo at the heart of Allegri’s 3-5-2. Longtime club servant Daniele Rugani has also featured this season, making seven starts in the face of an early injury crisis and has hardly put a foot wrong.
Djaló will have ample opportunities to stake his claim for a spot in the starting XI, with Juve looking to bounce back on Monday with a home match against Udinese before travelling to Hellas Verona. After all, outside of perhaps Bremer, none of Juventus’ defenders can offer both his pace and calmness in possession.
“He is someone who knows how to command respect. The thing I like most about him, however, is his simplicity, he never looks for dramatic plays, he always plays clean. He has now acquired the right experience from this point of view too,” said Fonseca.
At Juventus, Djaló will find himself around defenders that, much like him, will be looking to take the next step in their careers. As a result, the 23-year-old should slot in seamlessly on the left-hand side of Allegri’s back three, returning Danilo to his natural position. Crucially, Djaló will also benefit immensely from playing under one of the great defensive tacticians of Italian football in Allegri, continuing his development as a young defender.
The tricky part, however, will be shaking off the rust and hitting the ground running following his lengthy injury layoff. Luckily for him, Djaló can take his time to adapt to his new surroundings, falling back on Juventus’ impressive defensive depth.
The Missing Piece to the Title Charge?
Djaló’s arrival signals a return to an opportunistic transfer strategy that has brought Juventus so much success in the past, securing the defender for a €3.6 million transfer fee, which could rise to €5.1 million with add-ons.. At just 23 years old, the former AC Milan man has all the makings to become a regular in Turin for years to come and establish himself as a crucial piece of this newlook Juventus side.
With Euro 2024 fast approaching, Djaló will be keen to impress at Juventus and secure his first senior national team appearance. After all, the 23-year-old has demonstrated time and time again that he has the talent and resilience to thrive in the face of adversity – a prospect Juventus will be eagerly anticipating, hoping Djaló emerges as the missing piece to their Scudetto challenge.
By: Gregory Caltabanis / @GCaltabanis
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC