Shaky At the Back: Juventus' Defensive Shortfalls Haven't Been Addressed

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Shaky At the Back: Juventus' Defensive Shortfalls Haven't Been Addressed
(Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

He hasn't been incredibly active, but when Juventus Sporting Director Alessio Secco has decided to sign a big-time player, he hasn't gone away from spending big this summer to improve his side's attempt to end Inter Milan's time as reigning champions.

Secco has dug deep into the Old Lady's transfer budget—bringing in both Diego and Felipe Melo for over €20 million apiece. Both of the high-priced Brazilians are going to be huge parts of Juve's plans and success this season. They wouldn't have been bought for so much if Secco and Co. didn't think so.

However, that is the case for improving the midfield, as the transfer strategy on defense has been anything but spend big to bring in big-time players.

What has Secco done to "improve" a defense that was consistently inconsistent in the second half of the schedule last season?

The same thing he has done when on the lookout for defenders on the transfer market since Juve returned from Serie B—brought in a defender for free and another is about to arrive within a matter of days on loan after passing his medical exam last week.

Obviously, Secco expects Fabio Cannavaro to have a bigger impact on the team this season than 22-year-old loanee Martin Caceres, but that doesn't mean he will be the same Cannavaro we saw the last time he was in the Bianconeri strip.

The three years he spent in Spain with Real Madrid weren't exactly what you call "headline grabbers" in terms of spectacular performances, even if he did win the Ballon d'Or in 2006.

And this summer seems to be more of the same from Italy's captain, as Cannavaro's showings so far in Juve's friendlies, most notably the recently-concluded Peace Cup, have been a bag of mixed results.

Against Sevilla, he looked lost on anything in the air—set pieces or long balls. But against Real Madrid, he looked solid and in control of his immediate surroundings.

The problem is, though, if Juve want to compete for the Scudetto, they need consistency from Cannavaro if indeed he is going to take Nicola Legrottaglie's spot in the center with Giorgio Chiellini.

If Cannavaro wants to win over any doubters before the season officially begins with how he plays on the field, he is going to have to do a little more than his current form.

There was enough of inconsistency last year. Juve doesn't need any more of that.

But it's not just the players Secco has brought in that are supposed to fill the holes in defense; it's the players that he hasn't brought in and the ones that are still there.

Compared to Inter, Juve's fullbacks aren't much to brag about at all. Neither can be considered the best in the world like Inter can say about Maicon. Neither can be considered one of the best young players in Italy like Davide Santon.

The options that Juve have don't really compare to the two regulars that Inter will roll out on a weekly basis.

Both starting fullbacks last season, Zdenek Grygera and Cristian Molinaro, were up-and-down the entire season. Molinaro has certainly improved defensively, but his offense is still lacking any kind of serious. Grygera, on the other hand, was adding some kind of production offensively, but tailed off seriously as the season went on.

Neither of the other alternatives on the left or right were healthy at all last season.

Molinaro's deputy, Paolo De Ceglie, showed promise but wasn't in the lineup enough to really get a grasp of whether he has a future as a left back. Veteran utility man Hasan Salihamidzic is another option, but like De Ceglie, couldn't stay healthy to play extensive minutes off the bench.

However, 2009 is a new year, and things could change as players start with a clean slate.

The one thing that Juventus has going for them is their head coach, Ciro Ferrara.

Not only is Ferrara a former defender, but he is also a former Juve defender. He's played in the biggest games that were around during his career in the black and white. He knows what it takes to have a successful defense at the highest level.

Ferrara has not had a concrete lineup so far in the friendlies Juve have taken part in, but that is mainly because the whole team is still working to get to full fitness after their holiday. Some players are also fighting injuries picked up in the early courses of summer training, or, like De Ceglie, healing knocks they received in international tournaments.

What Ferrara has done has shown faith in Jonathan Zebina—something that doesn't exactly bring out pure joy and happiness from the Turin faithful. If he isn't injured, he seems to either be suspended or risking suspension when he's on the pitch.

He may add more offensively on the right then Grygera does, but you wouldn't be going out on a limb when you call his performance in defense "interesting."

But that is the situation is in Turin this season. Because of Secco's reluctance to spend money on defenders, the group of defenders that Ferrara has to work with not named Chiellini doesn't scream amazing or anything like that.

We saw how Juve fell apart last year with a poor defense, and having another season of up-and-down showings in the back will certainly mean a championship season.

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