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Nicolò Fagioli finds place in Juventus side refreshed by fountain of youth

Juventus should have listened to Nicolò Fagioli a little sooner. “Young players need to play,” said the 21-year-old midfielder in May, as he prepared to return to the Bianconeri after a season on loan at Cremonese. He was talking in broad terms, citing call-ups by the Italy manager Roberto Mancini as evidence of shifting national attitudes, but also about his personal development at the same time.

“I have supported Juve since I was a boy and for me it would be a dream to wear that shirt, but I need to understand what their intentions are for me,” Fagioli said. “If they have a journey in mind for us to take together, then I could not be more up for that … I repeat, though, if they are good enough, young players need to play.”

For much of the summer, another loan deal appeared the most likely scenario. Several top-flight clubs made enquiries, Sampdoria and Empoli the most concrete among them. Promoted Monza tried to sign Fagioli outright. Instead, the player stayed and extended his contract to 2026.

Massimiliano Allegri is a long-term admirer. Already in 2018, during his previous stint at the club, the manager highlighted Fagioli’s promise, saying: “We have a kid, born in 2001, and watching him play football is a pleasure because he understands the game. He has the timing, he knows how to lose a marker, when and where to pass the ball.”

Fagioli was supposed to to make his senior debut that season, but a cardiac arrhythmia diagnosis put everything on hold. He underwent surgery and made a gradual return with Juventus Under-23s, competing in Italian football’s third tier. He finally made his Serie A debut under Andrea Pirlo in February 2021 before his season-long switch to Cremonese, for whom he chipped in three goals and seven assists to help secure promotion to the top flight.

Despite that, he started this season far down the pecking order at Juventus. In interviews, Allegri said he envisioned a starting midfield of Adrien Rabiot, Leandro Paredes and Paul Pogba, with Manuel Locatelli as the first change off the bench. Even as injuries derailed that plan, Weston McKennie and a different youth team graduate, Fabio Miretti, plugged the gaps.

Nicolo Fagioli (fourth from right), Samuel Iling-Junior (fifth from right) and Fabio Miretti (second right) pictured in Juventus training. Photograph: Daniele Badolato/Juventus FC/Getty Images

Fagioli had played a total of 39 minutes in Serie A this season before Juventus went away to Lecce on 29 October. He replaced McKennie at half-time with the game goalless and went on to score a sensational winner, pivoting to bend a shot in off the post. Allegri rewarded him with a Champions League start against Paris Saint-Germain.

Juventus lost – their fifth defeat in six group games – but Fagioli impressed with his confidence, enjoying a viral moment when he evaded Leo Messi in midfield. He kept his place in the lineup for Sunday’s Derby d’Italia against Inter. A show of faith, or simply a reflection of the scarce options available, with Pogba, Paredes and McKennie all injured and Miretti required to fill in as the No 10 due to further absences up front.

In theory, Juventus’s formation was a 3-5-1-1, but in practice it looked more like a 4-5-1 during a grim first half in which the Bianconeri showed little ambition beyond protecting their goal. They didn’t do a flawless job of that, either. Inter might have taken the lead with better finishing from Lautaro Martínez or Denzel Dumfries. But in the second half, everything changed.

Inter started on the front foot again, Hakan Çalhanoglu forcing Wojciech Szczesny to tip the ball onto his crossbar, but Juventus took the lead with a counterattack from a corner just four minutes later. Filip Kostic showed impressive strength to hold off Nicolò Barella before spinning away and sprinting 60 yards down the left flank. He cut the ball inside for Adrien Rabiot, who opened up his body for a first-time finish across goal.

Juventus thought they had extended their lead when defender Danilo bundled home from a corner, only for the VAR booth to intervene, alerting the referee to a handball. No matter. In the 84th, Gleison Bremer made a brilliant challenge to take the ball off the toes of Marcelo Brozovic as the Inter player bore down on goal.

Once again, Juventus broke forward, and once again the ball found its way to Kostic. His square ball found Fagioli, who took a touch before firing back across goal. The shot deflected off Robin Gosens and wrong-footed Inter’s goalkeeper, Andre Onana, on its way to the back of the net.

It was a less spectacular goal than Fagioli’s previous effort, but just as decisive. Juventus held on for a 2-0 win that lifts them above their rivals in the table. No small landmark for a team that began this season with two wins from its first seven games. Inter were supposed to be the form team coming into this matchup, with six wins and a draw from their last seven games in all competitions.

This is not a moment for hyperbole. Juventus did not have a shot on goal in the first half of Sunday and are fifth, 10 points off the top of Serie Aand badly bruised by their Champions League humiliation. Allegri dampened down any attempt to define this as a “turning point”, even if he did also hint that he still believes his team can compete for the Scudetto.

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Few might share that conviction, yet the role of young players in Juve’s recent uptick is allowing at least a measure of optimism to return. Before Fagioli, it was the English winger Samuel Iling-Junior making headlines as he came off the bench to transform the game away to Benfica, setting up one goal and helping to make another as Allegri’s team rallied from 4-1 down to almost steal a draw.

Miretti, meanwhile, has already played 17 times for Juventus this season. These stories represent a triumph for Juventus’s decision to relaunch the Under-23 side, recently rebranded as Juventus Next Gen, into the senior divisions after it became legal to do so four years ago.

On Sunday, Fagioli helped bring structure to the midfield, quietly constructing from his deep-lying position, playing the simple passes that allowed moves to begin. Allegri sees this as the player’s natural home, sitting in front of the defence, and has expressed frustration before now at the fact his previous coaches rarely used him here.

More than anything, though, what these academy graduates have brought is a fresh, wholehearted commitment. It was only a few weeks ago that Juventus’s president, Andrea Agnelli, accused his team of being afraid to make a tackle. Now they have kept four consecutive league clean sheets.

Quick Guide Serie A results Show

Friday: Udinese 1-1 Lecce. Sat: Atalanta 1-2 Napoli, Empoli 1-0 Sassuolo, Milan 2-1 Spezia, Salernitana 2-2 Cremonese. Sun: Bologna 2-1 Torino, Juventus 2-0 Inter, Monza 2-0 Verona, Roma 0-1 Lazio, Sampdoria 0-2 Fiorentina.

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“I remember Phil Foden when I was at Manchester City,” said Danilo last week. “He was 17 years old, I could see in his eyes that he had that desire to learn, to improve. Here at Juventus now I see players like Miretti, like Fagioli, who have that same desire. For those of us who are more experienced, it can give us that extra push.

“I try to talk to them often, to give them some advice, but it’s something that helps me first of all, that motivates me. I get something extra from being with them.”

Allegri will be wary of overburdening these young players, of the pressure that a few good performances can bring. Yet they themselves do not crave protection. Fagioli was explicit in that interview back in May: “Yes,” he told Sportweek magazine. “I feel ready for Serie A.” 

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