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Monday October 23 2017
Looking for Leo

Leonardo Bonucci has struggled since swapping Milan for Juventus, and Emmet Gates wonders if there's regret on both sides.

As referee Piero Giacomelli ran across the San Siro turf on Sunday to assess the VAR, much of the 47,000 crowd inside the stadium waited with bated breath. The footage Giacomelli saw showed Leonardo Bonucci elbowing Aleandro Rosi from a Milan corner. As the referee brandished the red card, audible gasps could be heard, but the truth of the matter is that Bonucci could have little complaint, nor could he quibble with the two game ban which followed.

His 24th minute dismissal capped off a disastrous start to the season for Milan’s marquee signing. Bonucci has looked a shadow of the player widely considered to be amongst the finest centre-backs in the modern game. Questions are starting to be asked as to whether all the praise Bonucci has received in the last several years was really warranted in the first place, or is the 30-year-old just going through a very prolonged rough patch?

Milan’s signing of Bonucci from Juventus was viewed as the steal of the summer transfer window. Many went further, likening it to the ‘game changing’ summer of 2011, when Andrea Pirlo traded Milan for Turin and played a pivotal role in starting a new cycle of dominance. Yet even at this early stage, it’s clear that isn’t the case. Nine games in and Milan are already 12 points behind leaders Napoli and 9 points off their minimum objective – qualification for the Champions League.

The pressure on Vincenzo Montella grows with every insipid performance, with it looking increasingly likely that he won’t see the season out on the Milan bench. Yes you can point to the huge numbers of signings and the time it takes to assimilate them into Montella’s vision for the side, but it shouldn’t be ignored that the signing of Bonucci has forced him to utilise a three-man backline in order to get the best out of the defender’s brilliant play-making capabilities. A system he never previously implemented with the Rossoneri. And it isn’t working.

Many of the new signings have made little impact thus far, André Silva looks a player still coming to terms with playing in a vastly different league to the one he just left. Ricardo Rodriguez resembles little of the player who was a swashbuckling left-back for Wolfsburg only a couple of seasons ago; while Hakan Çalhanoglu has only really excelled in certain sections of games. The benefit of the doubt can be afforded to those players, as they’re all in their early 20s. With Bonucci it simply can’t; he was brought in to be the leader of this side, as evidenced by the fact he was immediately made Diavolo captain.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bonucci ranged from mediocre to abominable in his first couple of seasons at Juventus. And even as he developed and matured, he still had the occasional calamity bubbling underneath the surface. Many of those calamities were swept away by the other members of the famed ‘BBC’ bloc, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. It got to the point where the trio didn’t even need to communicate on the pitch; a simple glance would suffice.

Bonucci, given everything he achieved since those early Juve days, should be hitting the ground running at Milan. However without the rugged Chiellini and streetwise Barzagli standing next to him, he looks lost. You almost get the feeling he’s continually looking for them on the pitch, only to realise he no longer wears black and white but red and black.

Juventus has also suffered in the wake of Bonucci’s departure. At the same stage last season they’d conceded 3 goals less despite playing more of the league’s heavyweights. Max Allegri – widely believed to be the sole reason why Bonucci felt it was time to move on – has chopped and changed his defensive pairings, with neither Daniele Rugani or Medhi Benatia impressing. There’s a vulnerability about the Juventus backline that hasn’t been apparent in years.

No one can ever claim that any of the BBC are outstanding defenders as individuals - certainly not in the Franco Baresi or Paolo Maldini mould - but as a unit they were the best in the business. Has Bonucci’s true ability as a defender been masked by playing as part of a highly-organised trio for all these years? Will he regain his Juventus-peak?

As Milan general manager Marco Fassone has relayed the story of the Bonucci signing several times since, Bonucci was the one who reached out first, notifying the club of his availability.

A classic case of not appreciating what you have until its gone? It certainly looks that way so far.

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Have your say...
Montella, go back to what brought us success last year: 4-3-3. Too much pressure on the back 3 when the system is not perfected.
on the 26th October, 2017 at 5:14pm
Milan-Chievo:Individually,Suso was fantastic.Carried the team & was involved in all the goals.Romagnoli showed Bonucci how it’s done.Defensively solid,patient in possession with simple tidy passes(not playing useless unnecessary long balls),& got Biglia involved in buildup.Kessie not sharp enough with passing & touch & he overcommits in attack leaving Biglia exposed.Of course,overplaying him is not helping.Kucka is missed.Out of curiousity,who else thinks Silva can be used as a winger?
on the 25th October, 2017 at 9:22pm
Milan-Chievo Review:Good win.We struggled until Suso scored the 1st a& forced the 2nd.We looked much better in the 2nd half.I dont like the formation coz we're not getting much from the wing backs.A 442 with the added threat of a 2nd striker & full backs closer to the defense(to add defensive numbers & help bring the ball out)seems best.However,it's a huge risk to change right before the Juve game so I guess we can stick with this formation unless it backfires again.
on the 25th October, 2017 at 9:16pm
To find Leo you need to find Giorgio, Gianluigi, and Andrea.
on the 25th October, 2017 at 5:12pm
Juve are fine without bouncci. Next year, we will have Rugani, Caldara, Spinazzola under the guidance of Chiellini and Sandro.

We are in a great position. Bounnuci's departure means Rugani's development. At his age Rugani is better than Bonucci was.

Juventus' most important defender was and still is chiellini, and he is still with us.
on the 25th October, 2017 at 11:12am
@Maldini'sHeir Do they suffer from some kind of phobia?I can ask the same for a back 4.The only issue is players need to know what they're doing?Montella seems to be able to communicate that when it comes to a back 4.Last season looked pretty good with a 4-3-3.This season in Serie A we conceded 8 in 5 games with a back 3 with 3 losses and 5 in 4(Im counting Genoa as back 4)with 1 loss to Lazio.If back 3 were working I would support it but it's not and as u mentioned it's also hurting the offense
on the 25th October, 2017 at 6:52am
@ Iliyan You can't start messing around with the captaincy or any other aspect. Bonucci was made captain at the start of the season and he needs to stay captain. We need stability. And Montella is actually right when he says that Milan's performances recently have not been that bad. With a bit of luck we could've got more points. The reality is that luck plays a huge part in football as in life. We need to stop changing things round and wait for our luck to change hopefully against Chievo.
on the 25th October, 2017 at 12:12am
For me, Bonucci's main problem is with the captaincy, as is the team's. Someone pointed out that Buffon was the one communicating and giving positional advice to the defenders, and that is indeed correct. Donnarumma is still too young to that, but after Bonucci's red card, I saw Biglia doing that for the defense, and they actually played well. Just give the armband to Biglia and switch to 3-4-3(3-4-2-1) or go back to 4-3-3, but Bonucci should not be captain. That's too much of a burden currently
on the 24th October, 2017 at 10:45pm
PS The main downside to 3 at the back is not defensive but attacking. Simple numbers tell us that it gives a team more defenders 5 v 4 but that you lose out further up the pitch. So, if anything, we shouldn't be conceding more goals. Ultimately all systems have their pros and cons but a team should be able to win with any system. Man Utd and Man City are both playing with 3 at the back tonight. It's all the rage.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 8:14pm
Everybody is saying he is missing the BBC, the truth is he is missing Buffon. Everyone looks better with him on the field. The other element of his game is Buffon is always communicating with his team on positioning, without this guidance, Leo is lost
on the 24th October, 2017 at 7:53pm
@ Anonymous 7 What exactly is it about these Milan players that they don't know how to play with 3 at the back? Do they suffer from some kind of phobia? These players can play with a back 3. Any players can play with a back 3. The issue is not the back 3. The only issue is players need to know what they're doing. If they don't then it doesn't matter what formation they play it won't work.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 7:38pm
@viktor Yeah it's ridiculously funny. He was world class defender in juve, and becomes very average after few months in milan. At this rate, if he keeps going downward & more silly red cards, he'd be at Rano level by the time the World Cup starts. It won't be funny anymore when that happens Well at least he got good chinese money out of it, People might say he made a terrible mistake jumping ship from 6th time champions to become scapegoat in Milan, but financially? Serie-A best paid player
on the 24th October, 2017 at 5:37pm
Where his natural position is and the cutting to the middle and shooting from outside the box.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:41pm
As rb. Then suso and jack where in the middle while they both play better out wide...
Against genoa: same about rodriguez. And then borini and jack as wb....
Borini as wb while abate and calabria where on the bench?
And suso with kalinic in front seems also not to work. They were isolated and when they got the ball didnt kniw what to do with it. 2 support striker looking for someone in front of them to pass the ball... At least suso was at times dangerous when moving out to his wing
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:40pm
For milan the problem is montella!!!!!

I was glad about his signing in the beginning but as maldini points out so often he lost his way somwhere in the middle of last season.
It looks to me as he has no clue, or even worse is waiting for someone else to tell him, what team he will send out to play.
After adding 11 players this summer, he still plays 3-5 players out of position every game.
For example against aek: rodriguez as fb while paletta was on the bench. As an result locatelli had to play
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:34pm
@Maldini'sHeir I agree that instability is the main problem but the change to a back 3 has added to that.Spurs(I admit doing well with a back 3) & Arsenal r 5 & 9pts off the top.City have played last 9 games with a back 4 since the Liverpool(down to 10,now 9th place)game.BUT I DONT CARE WHAT ALL OF THEM R DOING.A BACK 3 IS NOT WORKING FOR THESE AC MILAN PLAYERS.We defended with a back 4 most of the last 2 games & kept clean sheets.Lazio game with Hakan,Jack,Roma,Conti OUT Monto IN just a bad day
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:25pm
@rusdi.. Rugani was a great prospect two seasons ago, he was the one that was going to replace the current defenders in the italian squad and today that is not the case. He has been average at best with a couple good games in hand. Maybe he'll find his form and prosper once again. Caldara and romagnoli are better at the moment. And yes bonucci was actually terrible when he was young. Fortunately for him hard work and determination
on the 24th October, 2017 at 1:46pm
A bad move for everyone. Bonucci's lack of top defensive ability was covered by the better defenders of Chiellini and Barzagli. He doesn't have that so if being caught out. Equally, Juve miss his distribution from the back.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 12:19pm
The case with Bonucci is typical of 'some' players who have been playing for the same club for too long. They start taking matters into their own hands and start undermining the coach. When you have a public row with your coach at Juve the only thing they will show you is the exit sign on your way out. It has happened to many before him and he is no exception to the rules. He did very well at Juve and was a great servant but Juve will go on without him.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 9:52am
Oh wow, I know for a long time the Milanese do not watch Juventus games, but I wonder do they even watch their own games, or do they watch them with one eye. Apparently nobody seems to know what is going on lol. On top of that, being salty, making effort putting down Rugani. Have some class lads.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 9:24am
@Bystander

Rofl... Rannochia being compared to Bonucci.. hahahah
on the 24th October, 2017 at 8:44am
@ Mentegg

Do you realize Rugani is much much better than young Bonucci?

If I were you i wouldn't worry too much about Juventus' defense as Juve will always have stronger squads ahead their Serie A competitors in every departments. Wait until November, and you will see the real value of this Juve side. I'm sick of watching fans suffer amnesia and totally forget that Juve 2 years ago were much worse than Juve now as Allegri needed 2 months to fix Pirlo and Vidal's hole.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 6:08am
it's more stable. And it's also not far off the side that were 3rd (yes third) going into the Winter break last season. For me that's when the wheels came off for Montella. For some reason he decided to start rotating the side from January onwards. Come the summer he then decided that he'd basically start again from scratch and sign a whole new team. And we're paying the price now.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:15am
Milan, rightly in my view, signed Bonucci for that winning mentality. However, unfortunately we also signed 10 other players and sold/loaned another 10 and are the complete opposite of the stability he left behind at Juve. If Bonucci had been Milan's only signing this summer we'd probably be doing better. Seriously our starting line up would be Donna, Abate, Bonucci, Romagnoli, De Sciglio, Locatelli, Kucka, Jack, Niang, Suso and Bacca. That's not a better starting line up than we have now but
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:10am
For Juve it's all about stability: right the way down from ownership through to management through to players you have people who have been working together for years. When a team has this level of stability it's quite easy to slip players in and out and even average players can perform. Milan at their peak in the 90s had some really average players like Galli and Massaro but they were part of a winning team and so grew in confidence and ability.That's why Juve won titles with the likes of Matri
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:05am
@ juvenitini86 The Juve side that has broken records over the past 6 years has relied more on the team than individual players. For such an unbelievably successful team it's hard to think of any players who would make an "All Time" team. Buffon obviously, Pirlo probably and that's about it. The current Juve side has nothing on Capello, Lippi or Trapattoni's teams; there's no Cannavaro, Del Piero or Baggio. Dybala maybe will get there but equally Juve maybe coming to the end of a cycle.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 4:01am
Perhaps Bonucci is type of defender who thrives in a familiar system, with dependency of certain skill sets from defenders around him. He was really world class in B+BBC system in Juve, no one doubts it. But maybe he's just not that good if taken out of the system. Even not that much different with Ranocchia.

However, the BBC system also need Bonucci as much as he needs them. Benatia is well, quite average. While Rugani, he scores yes, but defensively, not as reliable as Bonucci was in BBC
on the 24th October, 2017 at 3:10am
If Bonucci decides to be a defender again instead of the "brilliant playmaker" the media has made him out to be then he might be able to get back on track. But perhaps it was Chiellini who was the better of the 2 at defending. Either way we will find out. The bigger question is if Montella himself can get his head straight and figure out how to utilize the talents of his players correctly.
on the 24th October, 2017 at 12:12am
He's a Trojan horse working for Juve via his agent. It is no coincidence he does something out of character to avoid playing against Juventus. He has undermined Milan this season and I hope he comes good, gets released to play football.

Milan did not need 11 signings this season, Kessie, Silva and Rodriguez would gave been sufficient and maybe one world class mid like Cesc, Modric or Iniesta.

Sad to see.
on the 23rd October, 2017 at 11:47pm
Juventus don't just miss Bonucci. Last 6 Scudettos had many great players+coach in between coming and going, and they're all missed. Still, Juventus adapts and moves forward. I'm not too worried about defenders, Rugani is at worst Bonucci level when he signed for us and Caldara is coming in.

Bonucci though, we knew he contributes to defense, not command. I wish his sons well.
on the 23rd October, 2017 at 11:45pm

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