35-year-old Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has been out since tearing his ACL in late August just one game into the Serie A campaign.
Just over five months later, the Juventus captain could be set for a return to the field in the coming weeks, with Juve confirming that Chiellini has returned to partial training and reports claiming he has his eye on a few significant matches later this month for his possible comeback.
Ahead of Juventus’s weekend match against Chievo Verona, manager Maurizio Sarri said during his Friday press conference, “We are on schedule after his surgery, at the moment he is training with the group.”
That follows Wednesday’s edition of Gazzetta dello Sport that stated Chiellini is hoping to be back for the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 matchup against Lyon on February 26. That would mean theoretically he would be available for the critical game against Inter that weekend on March 1 and the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal against AC Milan the following Wednesday, March 4.
In Chiellini’s absence, young Matthijs de Ligt has partnered in defense with stand-in captain Leonardo Bonucci to moderate success, with Merih Demiral occasionally standing in as well. However, should Chiellini return to full fitness, it’s likely he would regain his place in the starting lineup. De Ligt has occasionally had to answer for costly mistakes, saying back in late January, “If I had been in their [fans’] shoes, I would also be angry at such mistakes. But as a player these are problems that shouldn’t interest me. I just have to think about working to improve myself, understand if I’m making progress or not.”
With that in mind, and given that de Ligt is still just 20 years old and has plenty of time to continue developing at Juventus, Chiellini is likely to see the field again after returning. However, on the flip side, the Italian is at an advanced age that may require a slower reintegration to full appearances, making just the simple fact of his imminent return impressive to begin with, and fans might need to be patient as he regains the ability to consistently pump out 90-minute performances at the highest level.