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Juventus 2011-2012 Season in Review: The Defenders

I’m a firm believer in the phrase "great teams are built from the back". It is old, it is cliché and I am most definitely biased to it due to my affinity for playing as a defender for most of my life while being a defensivist, counter-attacking bastard of whom Nereo Rocco would be proud of, as the dozens of tactics I’ve employed in my Football Manager files prove (currently playing a 2 DM 4-2-3-1 in my FM12 PSG save). The truth in it is well-documented throughout the Old Lady’s history and as far as the Juventino in me can recall, every successful Juventus side was characterized by an excellent defense.

The 2011-2012 season was wonderful, highly successful and without a doubt made possible by the solid consistent and efficient defensive efforts displayed by the men who lined up in front of Buffon and Storari.

Defensive report cards after the jump.

Giorgio Chiellini: 7.5

You’ve probably noticed my love for Chiellini the athlete, Chiellini the center back and Chiellini the defensive leader of the post-Calciopoli Juventus around here. Not only did the completefuckingmess that were the previous two seasons hamper his further development as a player, but they made a number of fans and pundits believe he had regressed into nothing more than a decent, expendable center back and not the indisputable defensive pillar Juventus needed. As of May 20th, these same individuals have last been seen on milk cartons in the dairy aisle of your local neighborhood grocer, if you or anyone you know have any news in regards to their thereabouts, please contact 1-800-GOT-NEWS immediately. After a short period of adjustment at the beginning of the season, Giorgio returned the one we all know and love. He played in 37 season games, instilled confidence and serenity in Conte, his teammates and fans alike, all while playing a crucial role at the heart of Juventus’ defense. The importance of his presence is displayed in not only the impressive numbers he put up: 34 Serie A games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 4 Man of the Match performances, 7.55 average rating, but also in the sheer volume of work he was responsible for: 3.1 tackles/game, 2.4 headers won/game, 3.6 interceptions/game, 6.5 clearances/game, 65.5 completed passes/game. Remember Chiellini the center back with mediocre offense? Giorgio completed an average of 87.4% of his passes, and my favorite stat of them all: completed 17 successful dribbles, while being dribbled by opponents 16 times.

Andrea Barzagli: 8

The best defender in Italy. The most consistent performer of the Marotta era since his purchase. If it weren’t for Pirlo joining Juventus on a free last summer, Andrea Barzagli would be the best purchase Marotta has done, period. They should remake the Lupin III tv cartoon series into a full-length feature with Beppe Marotta playing Arsene Lupin for what he did to Hoeness. I can’t think of a measure as to how much Barzagli has impressed me since his arrival. There’s really not much of a need to go to great lengths with numbers to analyze his season, the man was a breathing wall. His performances simply fantastic, his presence in Juve’s defense pivotal in both ensuring the great season Chiellini played and helping with Leo Bonucci’s development as a central defender.

Leonardo Bonucci: 7.5

I’ve always liked Bonucci, but as you’ll probably recall from the hundreds of sentences I’ve written about him both on the Juve Offside and here, his performances from time to time have brought me grief. In his first season with Juventus from Bari, he seemed like a good, promising defender with one unfortunate vice: always making sure to find a way, no matter how silly the former might be, to fuck things up. In his second year, he showed the full spectrum of his game during the earlier part of the season. Leonardo offered generally solid defending with questionable decision-making for a good part of the 2011 Fall. There was a negative period for him where he seemed to be always part of the problem, despite often being unfortunate and finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time (see Drame` goal against Chievo). And I thought I was seeing the same Bonucci I had gotten used to - the Bonucci whose final season grade would have been a 6-6.5. And then, sometime around late February Bonucci played tremendously one week And he elevated his game some more the following month. And then he played some overall superb football all the way up until the end of the season. Not only did Leo play better defense, but he was crucial in some delicate moments: all 3 of his Man of the Match performances in 2011-2012 came during the last month and a half of the season. With Juventus looking to surpass AC Milan at the top of the table with a win at Palermo in early April, Bonucci scored the go-ahead goal off a corner, hit the woodwork off another, helped keep Palermo scoreless, while being the best player on the pitch. His long ball for Vucinic’s goal in the Cagliari game allowed Juventus to break the deadlock early and play with far less pressure for a big part of the game. Interesting to note, despite Bonucci seemingly fulfilling the duties of the ball-playing defender in support of Pirlo in Conte’s tactics, out of the Chiellini-Bonucci-Barzagli trio, he was the center back who attempted the least number of total passes, wasting possession was something I’ve harshly criticized him in the past for: Chiellini: 1947/2227 (87.4% pass completion rate), Bonucci: 1406/1591 (88.4% pass completion rate), Barzagli: 1618/1817 (89% pass completion rate). Bonucci’s passing ability is highlighted by his successful long ball and through ball numbers: 186/266 successful long passes, 5/5 successful through balls, compared to Barzagli’s 126/174 successful long passes, 2/4 successful through balls and Chiellini’s 129/173 successful long passes, 2/6 successful through balls. Ultimately, Bonucci also played the least number of games out of the usual starting 3 CB’s. If Leo can improve on his tackling, his positioning and his 1v1 he can become even more impressive.

Martin Caceres: 6.5

You know you’ve made it as a club when you can afford to have Martin Caceres as your defensive jolly. Jokes aside, raise your hand if you’re happy to have Martin back! It’s great having one of the only positive notes of the disastrous 09-10 season back at the club, and completely healthy. Martin returned to Juventus halfway into the season from Sevilla. 1.5 million loan fee and a pre-agreed future purchase fee of 8 million Euros. And he was a very solid addition. His debut was nothing short of magical, 2 critical goals at San Siro against AC Milan followed shortly by another score off a corner against Julio Cesar and friends to give Juventus the lead. His versatility was definitely put to use, as he collected 11 Serie A presences, 3 Coppa Italia appearances, slotting in at CB when needed, giving Lichtsteiner a chance to rest as a RWB and even being substituted in against Lecce as a LWB when De Ceglie picked up his season-ending injury. The latter contribution was probably the least impressive of his Juventus season and the level of his performances varied quite a bit but his ability to play at multiple positions, and do so competently, his age, his goal-scoring make him a pleasant addition and someone I’d like to see part of Juventus for many more years.

Fabio Grosso: No grade

Stephan Lichsteiner: 7.5, my source for all of the statistics I have used in this article, has a blank white space in the "Weaknesses" category for Stephan. Sounds about right. Do I need to say more? Alright, fine, I’ll actually give Licht a normal summary like every other defender. Marco Motta was his predecessor. Okay, okay, I’m done. 40 appearances last season. This man is A RELENTLESS MOTHERFUCKING LOCOMOTIVE AND HE WILL ROLL YOU OVER IF YOU ARE ON HIS SIDE OF THE PITCH. Promise that was the last one. The right back position in the post-Calciopoli Juventus has been the source of disappointment, insecurity, frustration, violence towards nearby inanimate objects (in my room, at least). For every 5.5 Zebina played, every yellow he collected, every cameraman he slapped, I’d take a shot. Believe me when I say this, cirrhosis is a bitch. And then, along came Marco! The first full back with completely nonexistent defense AND ferociously mediocre attack, the greatest 1-2 punch known to man - so great, George Foreman pales in comparison. But in all seriousness, Stephan isn’t getting a 7.5 because he’s an upgrade on the atrocities (minus Birindelli) that occupied his position the first 4-5 years after Calciopoli. In my mind, after Pirlo and Barzagli, Lichtsteiner is Marotta’s third best buy. A player who has been as reliable as any on that right side ever since he made the move to Serie A and Italian football, Licht played a fundamental role for the scudetto. A joy to watch, he runs endlessly, works relentlessly during both phases of the game, talks minimally, is the best right back in Italy for two years, now and displays a wonderful attitude on the pitch. A warrior whose forward runs started the season for Juve and when him and or the MVP midfield members were tired, the difference was immediately noticeable and games became more difficult for the Conte and his men.

Paolo De Ceglie: 7

The 2011-2012 season was a good one for Paolino. He started off with a red card and some generally average performances, only to eventually regain the form he had displayed last season prior to the injury at San Siro. A solid, productive season, an important stretch of good performances in mid-March against Genoa, Fiorentina, Inter, Napoli and Roma and the slow, yet noticeable improvements in his overall game seen from the De Ceglie of the last few seasons make Prandelli’s decision to not even include him in the initial 32 man selection a silly joke. Balzaretti is still a good LB, but his and Palermo’s seasons weren’t the best we’ve seen lately and Calcioscommesse crap aside, despite thinking he’s a solid option, I don’t see anything too impressive in Mimmo Criscito, while I don’t see him as much of a difference-making fixture on the left. But Prandelli is all about meritocracy, as the appointment of his son as a physio will tell you, so what do I know. Forza Trap.

P.S: Giu le mani da Antonio Conte, Leonardo Bonucci e la Juventus.