There are players on this Juventus team that are universally loved with their talents unquestioned by anybody who knows anything about them. We think about Gianluigi Buffon as the prime example of that. Paulo Dybala or Gonzalo Higuain can be one of those kinds of players, too, when everything is going right and they’re scoring goals like they have done in the past.
When Medhi Benatia struggled in the majority of his appearances during his first season with Juventus, there wasn’t anything close to a feeling of “Eh, he’ll be fine...” being said by the masses. Nothing close to it, really. And were we thinking something was going to change any time soon?
I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I’m going to say no.
Those performances led to folks wondering why the heck Juventus shelled out €17 million back in May to make Benatia’s loan move from Bayern Munich a permanent one even though the club was destined to do it. He was inconsistent, or sometimes just plain bad. It was essentially the complete opposite of the player we had seen be one of the best defenders in Italy before he headed out to Germany for a couple years in the Bundesliga with Bayern.
We are sitting here with the 2018 calendar year just a few days away. And what is one of the biggest things that has helped Juventus go from piling up meh performance after meh performance and being able to suddenly play well defensively game after game and trailing Napoli by all of a point in the Serie A standings?
It’s our old buddy Medhi Benatia.
Yes, this is the same Medhi Benatia who just a few months ago this season caused me to write this after Juventus lost 3-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League group stage opener back in September:
No Rugani and Benatia having a disaster of a second half didn’t really do anything to make me think that the latter really needs to not be starting.
It’s become pretty clear that both Benatia and Andrea Barzagli aren’t up for regular starting roles anymore.
I guess it’s time to take that back.
For the past seven weeks, there are few Juventus players who have been better than Benatia. No, seriously. It’s the truth. This is not a drill. This is not something being taken straight out of the Hot Take Machine. You can point to him winning the fan vote for Juventus’ November MVP award or you can just see that he’s in his best run of form since joining the Serie A champions two summers ago. I guess they are two of the same and are connected to one another, but the fact of the matter is that we have never seen Benatia play at this level before.
At least not in a Juventus jersey.
That’s what makes it such a big deal as to why the argument can suddenly be made that Benatia is Juventus’ best defender going these days.
He’s gotten it done domestically, including big-time performances in big-time games against Napoli and Inter earlier this month. (And, to a lesser extent against Roma, but he made a couple of noticeable mistakes that nearly led to goals.). He’s gotten it done in the Champions League when Juventus needed to make sure it held onto its second-place spot in Group D with two group stage games remaining.
In the past two months, Benatia’s WhoScored ratings are as follows:
- Nov. 22 vs. Barcelona: 7. 65
- Nov. 26 vs. Crotone: 8.78
- Dec. 1 vs. Napoli: 7.12
- Dec. 5 vs. Olympiacos: 7.42
- Dec. 9 vs. Inter Milan: 6.99
- Dec. 17 vs. Bologna: 7.87
- Dec. 23 vs. Roma: 7.89
As we enter the final game of the calendar year, Benatia — who has also scored a pair of goals during the seven-game stretch shown above — has the second-highest WhoScored rating of any Juventus player, trailing only Paulo Dybala.
It’s not the be-all, end-all when it comes to player ratings, obviously, but it shows how Benatia has gotten it done over the past two months and become a huge part of Juve’s much-improved form as a team during that span.
All of this from a player who was so incredibly susceptible to sub-par showings and mistake-riddled performances during his first season in Turin.
Last 7 starts for Medhi Benatia (all competitions) -- Juve conceded 0 goals. Benatia scored two. Includes Barça, Napoli, Inter, and now Roma.— Andres Cordero (@DreCordero) December 23, 2017
That speaks to just how much Benatia has improved his game over the past six or seven weeks. Same goes for Juventus’ defense as a whole.
It’s no surprise that the likes of Benatia, Barzagli and Mattia De Sciglio all putting in better performances over recent weeks have lead Juventus to having a better overall defensive product.
Since the 3-2 loss to Sampdoria on Nov. 19, Juventus — as previously noted — has recorded seven consecutive shutouts in all competitions with Benatia in the starting lineup and eight clean sheets in a row overall.
Before that, Juventus had seven shutouts in 17 games in all competitions.
Gee, it’s almost like you can put two and two together here...
And Benatia is one of the biggest reasons why Juventus’ defense has had a sudden change of fortunes and started to resemble the end product that we’ve become accustomed to over this six-year title-winning run. That’s not something I expected to be typing as we hit the midway point of the season all the way back in August.
But hey, I’m all for players making me think differently of them because they’re getting it done on the field. Benatia has done exactly that, and for that I’m perfectly okay with pointing out.