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Examining Juventus’ situation at center back

To Bonucci ... or to Benatia ... that is the question!

Juventus FC via Getty Images

To say Leonardo Bonucci’s 2018-19 season to date has been that of a roller coaster would be accurate.

After securing a move back to Juventus from AC Milan, Bonucci knew that he would have to win back the fans’ respect with his displays on the pitch. That hasn’t been all that easy to come by, though. As a team, Juventus have allowed 10 goals in all competitions this season, and a lot of them have been caused by Bonucci’s defensive lapses. Whether it is losing his man, not clearing away a ball in time, or closing out space from the oncoming dribbler, Bonucci’s performances have left something to be desired more often than not.

This is something that fans of the Old Lady feared when the initial deal was announced over the summer. Giving up such a talented and promising young center back in Mattia Caldara for an aging Bonucci seemed like it could backfire. Bonucci wasn’t up to his prior Juventus standard he’d set in his first stint in Turin during his year-long sabbatical, and it seems he is closer to what we saw at Milan than what we saw in the run to Cardiff.

The situation becomes even more murky when Juventus and Max Allegri have a player like Medhi Benatia sitting on the bench.

After being such a vital component of the squad last term and finally establishing himself amongst the rest of the team, Benatia has only seen time in six matches so far this season. Recently, Benatia stated his displeasure with the lack of playing time being allotted to him, saying, “If Juventus need me in the Champions League, I will make myself ready, but I can hardly play a game every so often.” He went on to say how he felt much more comfortable in himself as he was getting consistent playing time in the starting XI last season, even hinting that in January, if he’s still not getting the time he desires, he’d be open to a move away from Turin.

This really isn’t a situation that benefits Juventus at the moment. Giorgio Chiellini is still bossing it, but needs rest every so often. Bonucci has played a lot, but as previously mentioned, hasn’t been his best. Andrea Barzagli is 37 years old and can rarely play a full 90 minutes. Daniele Rugani has featured even less than Benatia, tallying a whopping two starts total through the first three months of the season.

Allegri needs to figure out a way to get Benatia in the starting rotation more. When he has played this season, the Moroccan has been good, often providing stability from the back and possessing a lower propensity for head-scratching errors like Bonucci. Benatia has outrated Bonucci 7.13 to 6.86, according to WhoScored. Not only that, but he has gotten an average of 3.2 interceptions, 1.4 tackles, and 3.4 clearances (Bonucci: 0.5, 0.8, 2.5). Benatia impressed me most during the match against Milan at the San Siro, which took place directly after his comments. Outside of the hand ball against him, which was correctly called, he played very well — hread passes, anticipating them early and cutting them off, making timely clearances, as well as not getting beat by Gonzalo Higuain and Co.

Another aspect to me wanting to see Benatia get more playing time is that he earned it from last year’s performances and never really did anything to be cast off to the side. Juventus needed Benatia to step up when Bonucci left, which he did and then some. Benatia was the better player last season between the two, and hasn’t done anything this year to negate that sentiment yet.

This isn’t to say that Bonucci should not play and Benatia should get all of his minutes instead. I just feel that to get the most out of the team, both need to play. Bonucci’s passing is still lethal out of the back when launching balls over the top, and Benatia forms a solid foundation with his defensive awareness and ability. But Benatia is a player that found his best form when getting more consistent minutes, and he hasn’t done anything to diminish his shine. Here’s hoping he doesn’t leave in January and provides more great performances out of the back.