For the second season in a row, Juventus really struggled in defense. Shockingly, the team went a staggering 16 consecutive games in all competitions without a clean sheet, which equates to almost a third of the season.
While that obviously isn’t exclusively the fault of just the central defenders, how much blame do they have to bear?
Coincidentally, I also did the season ratings for the center backs last season and made similar comments after a similarly poor season in defense. Is this a pattern? Is Juve’s reputation as defensive stalwart no longer warranted? Who should remain at the club after what promises to be a very active “rebuilding” transfer window?
So many questions, so few answers.
(Note: According to Transfermarkt.com, Juventus played 52 games this season. All statistics in this article are also courtesy of Transfermarkt.com.)
Merih Demiral — 6
It was yet another frustrating season for the young Turkish defender. Although he wasn’t injured as much (or long) as last season, it was still a stop-start season for him as he struggled to get a consistent run of games under his belt. This was all the more bewildering given Leonardo Bonucci’s poor form and Giorgio Chiellini’s injury-ravaged season (more on them later).
In the games that he did manage to play, Demiral was solid against lesser opposition but lacking against top-quality teams. His most glaring and costliest mistake came in one of the most crucial games of the season: the Champions League Round of 16 second-leg match against FC Porto. Although he was poor in the first leg as well, to me the second leg showed that he just wasn’t good enough to play with the big boys.
This season also made me realize that even though Demiral is generally a good defender, he’s the type of defender that is far too eager to jump into a challenge. The penalty he conceded against Porto in the second leg was a great example of that. If he just stands his ground and denies the striker a path to goal, and he has done half the work. Instead, he was too eager to make a tackle and, as a result, gave away a costly penalty that eventually ended Juve’s short stint in the Champions League.
Given our serious defensive problems this season, I wonder if Demiral has done enough to convince management (and fans) that he deserves a long-term future at the club.
One thing’s for sure: he hasn’t convinced me.
Minutes Played: 1,661
Leonardo Bonucci — 6
Bonucci had a stellar start to the season. He was pinging long balls around like the good ol’ days of the BBC era and impeccably holding down the center of defense with Matthijs de Ligt.
But then, all of a sudden, his form plunged.
After testing positive for COVID-19 and suffering a few niggling injuries, he was simply never the same. He was making all kinds of mistakes and, as Sam once argued on an episode of the podcast, was unworthy of the captain’s armband. If it weren’t for his strong start to the season, I would have given Bonucci a rating of 5.
At 34 years of age and with Juventus set to offload many players after a terrible season, you have to wonder how much Bonucci still has left to contribute to the team. Even though he’s still a leader in the dressing room, I don’t think he has much to offer on the pitch anymore.
The question is, who would buy him?
Minutes Played: 2,678
Giorgio Chiellini — 6.5
Oh captain, our dear, frail captain.
Chiellini was absolutely ravaged by injuries (again) this season. Despite his fitness problems, though, Chiellini still accrued more minutes and performances than his less-troubled colleague Demiral. And when he played, he showed us flashes of the good ol’ Chiellini of his prime.
The problem is that not long after he played such great matches, he would be injured for a few weeks and lose all that positive momentum. And when he lost that momentum, his subsequent performances became littered with sloppy errors, handballs, and penalty fouls.
At this point, I think that if Chiellini can stay fit for at least 75% of the season, he’s probably worth keeping for at least one more season. Otherwise, I hate to say it, but we should sell him. If he does stay though, I think we should buy another center back and use Chiellini as a backup. That said, I honestly doubt that we’ll be able to rely on him staying fit for long enough to justify his inclusion in the squad.
Like Bonucci, the greatest value that Chiellini provides to the club right now is his leadership off the pitch and mentorship to younger players.
Minutes Played: 1,786
Matthijs de Ligt — 7.5
My fellow Dutchman was certainly one of the better Juventus central defenders this season. Although he wasn’t quite as stellar as he was last season — is that his fault or due to our inexperienced manager’s tactics? — he continues to show us why he’s one of the most highly rated defenders in the world.
The curious thing about de Ligt is that while last season he was still finding his feet and getting used to life in Italy, this season he was surrounded by out-of-form (Bonucci), constantly injured (Chiellini), and unconvincing (Demiral) center backs. He has, in essence, been thrust into a leadership role not only due to his strong performances on the pitch, but also the bad performances of his colleagues.
The running theme of this article has been the fact that there will probably be many outgoing (and hopefully incoming) transfers this season. And given that de Ligt has been the only consistent force in the center of defense, it’s likely that his leadership role will grow even further next season.
The future’s bright for the man from the Low Lands.
Minutes Played: 2,986
Danilo Luiz da Silva — 9
What a difference a season makes.
Danilo, once a reject and the butt of all jokes, was an absolute, undisputed revelation for Juventus this season. Not only did he outshine all other defenders, but he even deputized excellently in central midfield and filled in at both fullback positions when injuries/suspensions/COVID absences left the squad thin. He also played more minutes this season than anyone else in the entire team.
Although the official club MVP award has officially already been given to that other Portuguese-speaking chap on the team, Danilo certainly deserved the award of most improved player of the 2020-21 season.
He also joins the likes of David Alaba, Sergio Ramos, and Jerome Boateng in being a fullback who successfully converted to, and plays better at, the center back position.
Although I’ve been critical of Andrea Pirlo as manager, he deserves massive credit for giving Juve its best free transfer of the season: a new and improved Danilo Luiz da Silva.
Minutes Played: 3,831