Juventus 2011-12 Pagelle – DEFENDERS (Center-Backs)

In recent years, Juventus fans have watched disastrous defenses anchored by great players like Chiellini and Legrottaglie surrounded by rubbish like Dario Knezevic, Jorge Andrade, Leandro Rinaudo, or post-2006 Fabio Cannavaro. After years of loans and cheap buys under Alessio Secco, Giuseppe Marotta has invested in the defense: the first piece of the puzzle was Leonardo Bonucci, whose €8m transfer represented the first major defensive buy since Andrade’s overpriced epic fail from Deportivo La Coruña. By contrast in January 2011, Marotta showed quality does not always cost a fortune, picking up Andrea Barzagli from Wolfsburg for only €300k. In the meantime, the season-ending injury of the aforementioned Andrade had shifted Giorgio Chiellini from his original left-back role to the center, progressively turning him into an insurmountable defensive wall.

At the start of this year, the trio wasn’t even seen as the best in Serie A, and yet by the end of it, they represented the best in Europe! With Conte’s tactical shift to the 3-5-2 formation, all three players became untouchable elements of Juve’s starting XI, as well as irreplaceable pillars of La Vecchia Signora‘s record-breaking undefeated campaign. The fact Juventus conceded only 20 goals this season can in large part be attributed to these three men.

    Andrea BARZAGLI
PANINI Juventus-2011-12 - #15 Andrea Barzagli
Aaron:   8.5 Adam:   7.5

Match Reports AVG.
  Lars:   8.0 John:   7.5
Marco:   8.0 Mike:   8.0

Aaron: 8.5 – Flash-back to Euro 2008: Roberto Donadoni starts out his campaign with Andrea Barzagli and Marco Materazzi in defense. The duo was torn apart by Netherlands, and their reputation ruined. Materazzi was seen as too old, Barzagli simply not cut for the top level. Sold to Wolfsburg for €13m, Andrea was nonetheless seen merely as a decent reserve when he left Italy. In reality, he turned to be one of the German team’s most valuable assets and went on the win the Bundesliga that same year. Since his return, Barzagli has transformed into the best center-back in Serie A: calm and composed, never out of position, the Fiesole-born defender held his own against pace, brawn, and skill. Like Nicola Legrottaglie, he’s not flashy and thus has not earned the plaudits he deserves. A great display at Euro 2012 could restore his name on the international scene as well.

Adam: 7.5 – Since arriving from Wolfsburg, the 2006 World Cup winner has arguably been in the best form of his career. His calm demenour and ability to play as part of a back three or four – a trait he shares with both Bonucci and Chiellini – have made him the ideal foil for the latter, who usually plays a more robust game. Barzagli reads the game well which usually enables him to cover for his own lack of pace and knows his limitations – as his short but accurate passes highlight – he is a vital cog in Antonio Conte’s machine.

Lars: 8.0 – Big Andrea has been a pillar of calm and collectedness if the heart of defence this season, and in terms of value for money has been one of the club’s greatest signings in recent years. Whether in a back three or a back four, Barzagli delivered consistently throughout the campaign, including many ‘last man’-tackles revealing his superior reading of the game and excellent tackling ability. Unsung, but absolutely vital, both for his own contribution and his ability to bring out the best of the defence as a whole.

John: 7.5 – Signed on the cheap for being allegedly “past his prime,” yet turned back the clock to 2005-06 levels. He was everything we had all hoped Fabio Cannavaro would, only better. Arguably one of the best defenders in Serie A minus the accolades that a past Ballon d’Or could conjure.

Marco: 8.0 – Simply put, THE reason why Juventus conceded only 20 goals in Serie A this season. When Barzagli was brought over from Wolfsburg in January 2011 (for a mere €300k transfer fee, a likely collateral for the very cheap price Juve sold Diego for), many people laughed. An aging defender that had come from two great seasons in Germany but who never really impressed in the peninsula, was certainly NOT going to be answer to Juve’s defensive problems. Those people aren’t laughing much now. An absolute rock of calm & reliability.

Mike: 8.0 – Chiellini might be a bigger beast when it comes to dominating opposition forwards, pushing up the pitch, or grabbing a match by the scruff of the neck, but Barzagli was the best defender of the team this season. Most consistent, fewest mistakes, and even scored a goal. What a season for BEARzagli! Plus he enabled Conte to be flexible with the backline formation. My runner-up for MVP, after Pirlo but before Vidal.

    Leonardo BONUCCI
PANINI Juventus-2011-12 - #19 Leonardo Bonucci
Aaron:   7.0 Adam:   7.0

Match Reports AVG.
  Lars:   7.0 John:   6.5
Marco:   7.0 Mike:   7.0

Aaron: 7.0 – In reality, the only truly poor performances Leonardo Bonucci’s had this year have been big away matches in hostile environments (like vs. Napoli at San Paolo or against AC Milan at San Siro). That’s understandable given his young age and levels of experience, something his detractors often forget: this is only Bonucci’s third season in Serie A. By mid-winter a number of mistakes saw Leo out of favor, as the 4-man backline saw Chiellini move back to center and De Ceglie on the left. The 3-5-2 allowed both players to play, and Bonucci was integrated back into the first team as the central man keeping the defense tight. His qualities showed in the heart of defense, as his last-man stopper role and ball-playing characteristics served nicely for Conte’s tactics.

Adam: 7.0 – Personally I would’ve loved to split his rating between poor games (5) and those where his true ability showed (8.5). His inconsistency seemed to mirror that of the team, as his March-madness coincided with the team’s poor run of draws, but that only served to highlight how good he was at other times. He led the defence when it was a three-man backline, playing the key central role from which he posted club highs in blocked shots and offsides won whilst launching countless attacks with his excellent range of passing.

Lars: 7.0 – Bonucci is probably the defender to have evolved the most over the season. While he is still prone to the occasional error – in part also due to him being the more expansive of our three centre backs – he has upped his game in every aspect, particularly impressing when playing alongside his more experienced colleagues in a back three, but in general, ‘Leo’ has become a defender to be trusted in any formation, adding much more defensive security to his already considerable ball-playing and passing skills.

John: 6.5 – Will unfortunately be remembered more for his few missteps than his role in solidifying the best defense in Serie A. Fluctuating from maddeningly mistaken-prone to brilliant at the drop of a hat, his good far outweighed the bad and Leo deserves a solidly above-average rating. After losing his starting spot early, the best backline-‘regista’ we have reemerged as an integral cog in Conte’s possession-heavy machine. Unlike some of the older defenders (or defender), he only has room to grow.

Marco: 7.0 – Boy did Leonardo have a rollercoaster year. The words “solid” and “brainfart” were often used not too far apart in our match reviews, and Bonucci certainly accustomed us to bouts of true defensive leadership interspersed with agonizing hairpulling moments. There was actually a period in March where, following the AC Milan draw, bad luck seemed to persecute him relentlessly as he was often turned into a scapegoat by fans and blamed for Juve’s draw-itis. Since mid-March however, Leo has never gotten less than a 6.5 rating and truly stepped into higher gear with dominating, reliable performances coupled with demonstrations of character. The best Prandelli could hope for at Euro 2012 is a man truly coming into his own, and that is what Bonucci has done.

Mike: 7.0 – Given Serie A’s lack of patience in player development and the attitude of defenders being “only as good as their last match”, there was little hope that Leo would have the chance to make mistakes or, as we human beings like to call it, grow into the great potential he has shown. And make mistakes he did, just look at this hell week month: a) February 26th, Milan: gift pass to Nocerino who shoots it off Leo’s body to score. 1-1; b) March 4th, Chievo: scores an own goal. 1-1; c) March 8th, Bologna: two fouls on Ramirez = two yellow cards = an early shower. 1-1. And Bonucci also had some poor appearances earlier in the season (most notably against Napoli) yet Conte kept throwing him into the battle and the trial-by-fire-method has paid off; Bonucci not only ended the season on high with some terrific performances and a Scudetto, but is also set to make a big splash in this Summer’s EuroCup. The future looks bright for this scudetto-winning 25 year-old CB who’s been through the good and the bad, and I’m excited to see what he can do next season.

    Giorgio CHIELLINI
PANINI Juventus-2011-12 - #3 Giorgio Chiellini
Aaron:   7.5 Adam:   7.5

Match Reports AVG.
  Lars:   7.5 John:   8.0
Marco:   7.5 Mike:   8.0

Aaron: 7.5 – Last Fall, Lars asked if Chiellini had a point to prove. Coming off a disappointing season, it seemed Keyser Giorgio wasn’t enough of a leader to keep the defense together. While the jury is still out on that [Bonucci and Barzagli had bigger “leadership” roles in defense this year] there’s no doubt he’s A leader of the team. It was a fantastic season for Chiellini who showed all of his great defensive characteristics: tackling, grinta, physical presence at the back. Unquestionably one of Italy’s best defenders from the last few years, he looks to finally crown himself in glory in the coming years.

Adam: 7.5 They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in Chiellini’s case that is most certainly true. I could wax on about how he allies grinta, effort and determination to a brilliant ability to shackle Serie A’s best attackers completely (yes Zlatan, we’re looking at you!) whilst making a small aside about his lack of leadership but frankly why should I when this brilliant TeamGREASE creation – subsequently re-posted by Giorgio himself on Facebook – does all that and more?

Lars: 7.5 – Few – if any – players can rival Chiellini’s contributions to Juventus in terms of attitude and grinta, and there is no question that he is the beating heart of a superb defence. With Barzagli and Bonucci adding that last bit of calm and leadership, the only areas where Keyser Giorgio has sometimes left something to be desired, he has been allowed to express himself majestically over the season. His stints at left back have been solid but is no longer where he thrives – but my oh my does he thrive in the centre!

John: 8.0 – Last season was widely regarded as a “bad” one for Giorgio. The entire time, I had a good hunch that it wasn’t “bad,” for Giorgio per se, but the team and defense, specifically. True the team had a huge problem leaking goals, but it all seemed as if it was just one of many problems symptomatic of the entire team — tactics, personnel and all — not just Chiellini himself. It turns out that I was right. A complete beast, Keyser Giorgio proved that the disparity between his fine form with Italy (when paired up with real fullbacks) juxtaposed to the poor which he displayed on a subpar Juventus was no coincidence.

Marco: 7.5 – After Juve’s 3-0 victory against Napoli, Mazzarri declared to the press: “Chiellini is from another planet. Alone, he can man-mark three players”. That is a pretty good summary of our dear Keyser Giorgio. Started off as a center-back, then shifted to the left-back position when defensive solidity was more paramount than offensive wing contribution, “Chiello” eventually and definitively returned to a center position when Conte switched to a 3-5-2. With Bonucci & Barzagli that three-man backline would go on to become the most feared defense of the Italian Serie A by opposing strikers, and for good reason. Relentless in man-marking, grinta personified with his tackles, Chiellini stands today as one of THE best center-backs in Europe.

Mike: 8.0 – The best season I’ve ever seen from Giorgio Chiellini. A monster… A beast… A HULK. The list of strikers in Serie A that fear him includes every name not on the Juve roster, and I cringe whenever an opponent foolishly tries to leave his half of the field and meets the anvil of pain that is Giorgio. I loved those moments this season when, as Juventus become frustrated and can’t make a dent into the opposition’s defensive wall, out of nowhere comes Chiellini the giant hammer that throws himself into the fray and scatters the defence. Just… awesome. I’m really glad he’s ok and not missing the EuroCup.


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