So, can one rationalise this deal?
Well, possibly. Throughout his career, Pjanić has played in a plethora of roles, from being an attacking midfielder in his Lyon and Roma days to a regista under Maurizio Sarri. This trend has one consequence, however, which is that Pjanić has constantly become a deeper presence. This has been especially evident this season, where Sarri has deployed Pjanić as the sole holding midfielder in a three. He hasn’t been afforded much positional freedom either, and as a consequence, his numbers have suffered across the board.
Pjanić has never been one to rack up a high volume of defensive actions and being a sole pivot role comes to the detriment of the player and the team. Have a look at his key passes number, for reference. They have dropped from 2.96 to 1.24, as have other creative metrics.
In short, Pjanić is not having the best of seasons. That is understandable, however, considering the state of Sarri’s Juventus and the misguided deployment of Pjanić himself. He was far better last season in a less defined role (ironically, that was under a “defensive” manager). There is nothing to say that he couldn’t return to that level of output at Barça.
Speaking of Barça, the question naturally arises. Where does Pjanić play? Wherever, really. He could very easily slot alongside de Jong and Puig in a midfield three, or alongside Busquets in a sort of faux pivot. Setién could use Pjanić as a sort of attacking conduit (as he was before) or as a line-breaker. Considering the dearth of meaningful progressive passers within the Barça midfield, Pjanić’s more direct passing could come in handy. For all his press-resistance, Arthur never did possess the ability to meaningfully rack up vertical passing volume.
In fact, on paper, a midfield three of Pjanić, Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig is almost mouth-watering, especially if De Jong is allowed to slot into the defensive line and dictate play, in Setién’s 3-2-5. In such a set-up, it’s entirely possible that Pjanić will thrive, even if he doesn’t quite reach the heights of his younger days. With Sergio Busquets in the equation, Barça could look to play Pjanić as an advanced presence, although he would undoubtedly be rusty in that role.
In short, there are options. There is promise. Is the deal mind-numbingly short sighted? Perhaps. However, that does not matter very much right now. As it stands, Barça have a new player coming in and culés should rightfully be excited. Times are tough, and who knows, he may be a diamond in the rough.