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Why Leonardo Bonucci-Giorgio Chiellini Is Juventus' Best Centre-Back Partnership

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2015

(L-R) Juventus' goalkeeper from Italy Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus' defender from Italy Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus' defender from Italy Giorgio Chiellini and Juventus' defender from Italy Andrea Barzagli celebrate after winning a UEFA Champions League group stage football match between Manchester City and Juventus at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, north-west England on September 15, 2015.   AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS        (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

There is no denying that Juventus have endured a difficult start to 2015/16, this past weekend seeing them lose for the third time in their six Serie A matches to date.

Losing 2-1 away to Napoli on Saturday, they were particularly abject, lacking the cutting edge and leadership required if they are to return to winning ways.

Perhaps it was to be expected having undergone so many changes to the squad this summer, with the attack looking particularly blunt. Indeed, last week’s draw at home saw the Bianconeri set a new 10-year high for shots in a single game yet score only a single goal, per OptaPaolo:

OptaPaolo @OptaPaolo

36 - Juventus fired 36 shots (inc. blocked) against Frosinone, the highest tally for Bianconeri in the last 10 Serie A years. Inaccurate.

However, the defence has been equally disjointed, conceding eight times in their first eight matches in all competitions and keeping just two clean sheets along the way.

It is a problem which has been addressed by boss Massimiliano Allegri after Frosinone’s 91st-minute equaliser proved particularly infuriating last Wednesday.

“I’m angry because we must improve quickly,” the coach said at a press conference immediately after that encounter, per the club’s official website. “At this moment we’re shipping goals from the first opportunity that falls our opponents’ way, you simply cannot concede from a corner with two minutes remaining.”

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GENOA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 20: Andrea Barzagli of Juventus FC in action during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and Juventus FC at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on September 20, 2015 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Andrea Barzagli was guilty of losing his marker on that occasion, and it was another poor defensive showing from the Turin giants.

The constant changes in midfield have, arguably, contributed to the woes of the previously solid back line, but seeking which pairing of central defenders is Juve’s best is remarkably straightforward.

Indeed, perhaps the Champions League final proved beyond all doubt that the Bianconeri are a much more difficult team to face when Giorgio Chiellini is part of the starting XI. His combative nature and infectious enjoyment of winning back the ball is transmitted to his team-mates, with the side looking stronger with the No. 3 included.

Chiellini enjoyed another fine season in 2014/15, with statistics from WhoScored.com showing he averaged 2.1 tackles, 2.6 interceptions and 5.1 clearances per game.

As the below graphic shows, he led the team combination of those three categories, further reinforcing his credentials as the rock of the side.

Total defensive actions 2015/15
Total defensive actions 2015/15Squawka.com

According to figures courtesy of Squawka.com, the 31-year-old won an impressive 57 percent of the tackles he attempted and 62 percent of all aerial duels contested.

Yet for the first time in a number of years his efforts were perhaps surpassed by a team-mate, with Leonardo Bonucci enjoying, arguably, his best-ever campaign.

Oscar del Pozo/Associated Press

Having previously struggled in a four-man defence, the former Bari and Pisa man was the biggest concern when Allegri opted to move away from the club’s 3-5-2 formation. Bonucci shrugged off those doubts with some superb performances, emerging as a true leader and a central figure in Juve’s success.

Figures taken from the WhoScored site show the 28-year-old averaged 1.1 tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 4.8 clearances per game in 2014/15, while also stepping forward into midfield and once again showcasing his impressive range of passing.

Thanks to the fact he is much quicker than Juve’s other central defenders, Martin Caceres has often made a case for regular inclusion, but the Uruguayan is injured too often to see that come to fruition.

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini (L) chats with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri  on February 7, 2015 during an Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs. AC Milan at the Juventus Stadium in Turin.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO        (Photo credit
MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Barzagli has often complemented the aforementioned duo off the bench, allowing Juventus to revert to a three-man back line in order to protect a lead. But their coach also deserves credit, his tactical changes and relaxed approach making their own impact on his players since arriving last July.

“There’s been an immediate mutual understanding forged with Allegri,” Chiellini said at a media event last year—per the club’s official website—and that was reflected in the league and Coppa Italia triumphs.

However, it is undoubtedly the excellent on-field relationship Bonucci and Chiellini enjoy which marks them out as Juve’s best partnership in central defence.

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