Bonucci survives Juventus cull to establish first-team place for club and country

Signing from Bari in the summer of 2010 Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci seemed like a player who was going to live up to the hype surrounding him and go on to do great things. He was coming off the back of a solid debut campaign in Serie A that helped keep the newly promoted side up and they even had the best defensive record in the league mid-way through the season.
He impressed then national team Coach Marcello Lippi and his performances earned himself a ticket on the plane to South Africa for the World Cup. His move to Juventus seemed like a likely progression for the solid defender often praised for his calmness in bringing the ball out from the back.
A year later, after Juventus’ terrible season in which they could not even finish in a Europa League place, players were to be sold. Felipe Melo, Zdenek Grygera and Momo Sissoko all went while ageing players such as Vincenzo Iaquinta, Fabio Grosso and Amauri were to be put in their own group of outcasts after La Vecchia Signora was unable to attract buyers.
It looked like Bonucci was off too, to join fellow countrymen Domenico Criscito, Alessandro Rosina and Luciano Spalletti at Zenit St Petersburg. The ex Bari defender had lost his place to January signing Andrea Barzagli, and the World Cup winner was seen as a more reliable alternative. The move was muted to be part of swap deal which would see Portugal defender Bruno Alves turning up in Turin as his replacement. The outcome of negotiations meant the move did not happen and it looked like Bonucci would have to settle for a place in the comfy seats of Juventus’ new stadium.
Juve started the season with Paolo De Ceglie at left-back but he was sent off in the first game against Parma at home. By the time of Milan’s visit to Turin Coach Antonio Conte decided to return Chiellini to left-back which opened up a space in central defence which Bonucci filled.
Juventus turned in their best performance of the season so far against the Milanese club while the defence remained solid and kept concentration throughout, benefitting from having three centre-backs in defence. The line-up in defence meant that Bonucci was flanked on either side by experienced defenders and you could see the positives by his performance, looking much more assured and commanding than he did last season. It was definitely a turning point for Bonucci, who whilst still getting called up to the national team, was becoming less and less of a fixture in the Juve first XI.
The defender was a starter in both of Italy’s last two qualifiers maintaining his club partnership with Barzagli in the middle while national team boss Cesare Prandelli kept with Conte’s tactic of putting Chiellini at left-back. The move could be a key one for the national team next summer as the familiarity of fielding players who play together for both club and country often is beneficial to national sides, notably Spain and Germany in recent times.
There are reports again that the Bianconeri are after a central defender, but if Bonucci keeps up the same form that saw him return to the first XI for both club and country, the new defender, if one is signed, might well find himself with his own comfy seat in the stands come 2012.

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