Two. That’s the number of goals Juventus conceded over the course of six matches in last year’s Champions League group stage.
One. That’s the number of goals Juventus conceded over the six matches in the playoffs on their way to the final, where they succumbed to an awe-inspiring Real Madrid side by a score of 4-1. Prior to the final, Juve’s defense had conceded .25 goals per game on average – which is absurd. So far this season, over the course of three games (including their Supercoppa loss to Lazio), that average has risen to 1.6 goals per game. While this is arguably too small of a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions, the most straight forward explanation for this decline has to be the Bianconeri’s loss of the iconic Leonardo Bonucci.
Breaking up the “BBC”
It was never supposed to end this way; Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini – three men destined to slam the door shut on opposing attackers the world over, “fino alla fine”, until the end.
Unfortunately for Juventini, that end came on July 14th of this summer, when Bonucci’s €42 million transfer to AC Milan was made official. Lost in the fallout of vitriol from Juventini labeling Bonucci a traitor, was how consequential this move would actually be for the Bianconeri’s backline. Having assembled one of the most dominant three-man defenses of the 21st century, Juventini have grown accustomed to seeing their opposition struggle to even sniff at their goal, much less beat the legendary Gianluigi Buffon. However, with the loss of “il Lione”, Juventus must now plan for a future that may not include a back line of three.
With the loss of Dani Alves on a free transfer to PSG, many suspected that Juventus would have to adjust their defensive setup. The transfer of Bonucci to Milan has made this a virtual certitude. Juventus moved this summer to bring in Mattia De Sciglio from Milan for a fee of €12 million.
The former Milan youth product was brought in to replace Alves at the right wing-back position, however, he has yet to make his first start for the Bianconeri. With the aging Barzagli growing ever-more incapable of reigning in speedy wingers, Allegri would presumably hope to integrate De Sciglio on the wing as soon as possible. Why he has yet to start the young Italian is anyone’s best guess.
However, given Allegri’s reluctance to start Stephan Lichtsteiner throughout the previous season, it should not be taken as a positive sign that he is now starting over De Sciglio. With the inclusion of recent signing Benedikt Howedes from Schalke, the former Milan youth product faces even more competition. How Allegri chooses to deploy this assemblage of denizens of defense in the long term, remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the absence of Bonucci should drastically increase the playing time of players who were previously operating on the periphery of the Bianconeri’s starting lineup.
Stepping Up Their Game
Now armed with a bevy of defensive options including the aforementioned Chiellini and Barzagi, the likes of Daniele Rugani and Medhi Benatia must step up their game in order to count themselves among the potential heirs to Bonucci’s starting position. While much has been expected of the young Rugani, he has arguably not been afforded the playing time required to develop as a consistent Serie A back.
If the three games played thus far are any indication, Rugani will need to quickly learn on the job how to cope with the tactical rigors of Italian calcio. Regardless of how Juventus choose to line up this season, the loss of Bonucci is seemingly one that may be insurmountable – the loss of an Italian international-caliber defender rarely is, particularly when talking about a defender with the prowess and leadership of il Lione. Juventini can find solace in the fact that Chiellini and Barzagli are still healthy and active enough to carry on for the foreseeable future. The real question, then, is who’s next?