Abject disappointment: Juventus once renowned for their effective defence have incurred repeated failure because of the ineptitude at the back for the past few years. Poor full-backs, lacking in authority and void of chemistry, new Coach Antonio Conte is devoting his time to improving Juve’s weakest area.
Conte’s football is based on the notion of continuous passing and attacking movements that must be initiated from the back. Long balls that the Bianconeri often reverted to last season, especially when Fabio Grosso was playing, go against everything Conte believes in. He wants his defenders to develop an affinity with the ball, passing it to one another with ease for extended periods of time. Demanding the players possess great technique and good timing, Leonardo Bonucci is the ideal player for Conte’s fearsome tactics.
This was a defender who shot to stardom at Bari and under Giampiero Ventura – the Coach who inspired Conte to replicate his footballing ideals. Ventura worshipped the quick paced attacking football that demanded players develop their overall skill as footballers to contribute effectively and not solely focus on their individual duties. Such a tactical set-up allowed Bonucci to thrive and flourish as a footballer.
A natural ball-player who started his career as quick passing midfielder, the man can excel when under pressure and is renowned for his ability to carefully pass the ball out of danger instead of succumbing to urgency. Boasting a talent for instigating offensive movements, Bonucci confessed in an interview with La Stampa that Luigi Del Neri was constantly looking to strangle him for his attacking personality. However, his technical skill and comfortable relationship with the ball are precisely the reasons why he should and will remain with Juventus.
More than that, he possesses the hunger and aggressive spirit required for a Conte team. Much has been said about his partnership with Giorgio Chiellini and their lack of chemistry. However, one could argue it was Del Neri’s insistence on restricting Bonucci’s natural style of play that effectively left him disoriented and unable to adapt. That is not to imply that Bonucci himself was perfect. A player who always prefers the hard option, he can be frustrating and his misinterpretation of his duties last season created a few nervous moments.
However, alongside two effective full-backs, things are set to improve. Another player that appears to be a perfect fit for the 4-2-4 formation is Reto Ziegler. The ideal man to have when looking to attack space with speed, Ziegler is a counter-attacking team’s dream. Tactically aware and one who reads the game well, his ability to deliver a pin-point cross will make him a vital cog of the offensive unit Juventus are looking to create.
As someone who helps elongate a side that will look to always pass the ball, he adds a new dimension to the attack. Possessing two good feet and a natural understanding of the role, his defensive skills are good but they are not great. Hence Giorgio Chiellini’s presence will be greatly welcomed alongside him – a stalwart who will be asked to cover up the holes Ziegler can leave behind.
As for Stefan Lichtsteiner, it is obvious we are talking about one of the best defenders in Italy and his statistics make him an even more exciting purchase. In terms of total number of balls played last season, Lichtsteiner managed 2016, making him the second best ball player at Lazio with Cristian Ledesma – the director of the midfield – claiming first place.
In terms of defence, Juve fans should rest assured – they might have just gotten it right this time.