When Matthijs de Ligt traded pasta for schnitzel and Giorgio Chiellini hopped on a westbound plane to gallivant in Los Angeles, I was worried.
For a brief moment, the Juventus center back room looked thinner than the icing allocated to the last cinnamon roll. The known quantities were Leonardo Bonucci, the 35-year-old veteran who looked shakier at the back every time out; Daniele Rugani, who I’m told is still on the team although I seem to remember he played a few games in France at some point; and Danilo, who at that juncture wasn’t even fully classified as a day-in, day-out center back.
Flash forward to January 2023, a little less than halfway through the Serie A campaign, and the Old Lady has conceded a whopping seven goals. Instead of worrying about center backs, we’re worried about right back. Instead of relying on Bonucci, instead of playing Rugani every single game, instead of panic-buying Francesco Acerbi, the Bianconeri have gone Brazilian.
Bremer: the new monster in the house
When Bremer is on his game, I don’t look into the past wistfully at former center backs, at the days of BBC or anything before, because when Bremer is on his game he’s an unstoppable force.
As we’ve seen, he’s at his most comfortable when playing the center of a back three, and he times his interventions to perfection. He’s physical enough to blanket physical No. 9s, and he’s fast enough to track back and help cover speedy players. While he’s no Bonucci in terms of distribution, he generally carries the ball well and zips it out when he needs to.
Lately, though, there have been some signs of shakiness for the newest Brazilian on the squad. Against Cremonese to reopen the Serie A slate, Bremer misplayed more than a couple passes out of the back, leading to a couple half-chances for the underdogs. You could chalk it up to the fact that he hadn’t played much since before the World Cup (he did play one full game in Qatar), or just to a momentary lapse of concentration.
Whatever the case may be, against better teams mistakes like that could prove lethal, especially if the Old Lady keeps squeaking out a solitary goal each outing.
But occasional mishaps aside, Bremer has been great. If the rumors about his almost joining Inter rather than Juventus are as true as they appeared to be, it’s kind of wild to imagine how different this year might look on the Serie A table if Bremer had gone to black and blue side of Milan as opposed to switching sides in Turin. We might look at this as a historic transfer.
Alex Sandro: the unsung, overlooked, cast-aside hero
Now in his eighth season with Juventus — which is kind of mind-blowing! — Alex Sandro has managed to reinvent himself after a couple consecutive shaky seasons.
When the left back arrived in Turin, there was some hope that he might perhaps turn into the best in the world at his position, or at least counted among the best. That hope might not have come fully to fruition, but for both club and country Alex Sandro, up until the last two or so seasons, has been incredibly reliable at an incredibly important position.
He has always lacked the offensive flair that many desire with a modern fullback, but in this season we’ve finally seen the positive side of that trait: his ability to play the left center back in a three-man backline. The move has appeared incredibly natural for Sandro, who has been stalwart when deployed in that fashion; the fact that he’s no João Cancelo in the attacking third becomes completely irrelevant.
For a thought exercise, imagine Cancelo attempting to make the transition to center back in a back line of three.
Danilo: the guy you go to war with
There is not a single Juventus fan on the planet right now surprised by the new contract allegedly on the table for Danilo, nor a single fan disappointed.
We have been singing Danilo’s praises for some time, so much so that there’s not much one can add here that would amount to much. Tactically, his flexibility to play either fullback position or center back is priceless. But emotionally, as a leader of this team, as a guy who was once considered by many as the random byproduct of a transfer deal, Danilo has become the very heartbeat of Juventus.
Even with the return of Federico Chiesa, even with getting Dušan Vlahović back from injury, and even with the possibility of Paul Pogba somewhere on the horizon, one thing is clear to me about Max Allegri’s 2022-23 Juventus: the club’s hopes of a top-four finish — or, dare we hope, of serious contention for the Scudetto — rest squarely on the shoulders of the defense. Of the current top four, Juventus are far behind in terms of goals scored. League leaders Napoli have tallied 39, Inter 37, and Milan 33, with the Old Lady lagging at 26. Barring a secret new relationship between Allegri and Pep that results in an overnight offensive revolution, this pattern will probably stay the course for the remainder of the season.
The defense, then, needs to continue its impressive performances. And right now, the defense is Brazilian.