Impenetrable is a strong word to use. Leonardo Bonucci described the Juventus defence as such after another clean-sheet in Novara. As the strikers do the business at the other end – having scored 23 goals during the eight match streak – Gianluigi Buffon has only collected the ball from the net once in his past nine encounters.
“Our success at the back is an added value. I think our impenetrable defence is one of the secrets of this Juventus side,” claimed Bonucci following the victory at the Stadio Silvio Piola. In 35 games, Juve have conceded just 18 goals. This is comparable to Fabio Capello’s great Milan wall of 1993-94, which in 34 games were beaten just 15 times. During the first half of the campaign Juve were breached on 12 occasions, meaning just six goals in 16 matches have flown past. Only Genoa and Napoli have netted more than once in a match against Juve.
The Old Lady’s defensive swagger is unrecognisable from the previous two seasons, notably during the disastrous 2009-10 campaign in which Juventus finished with a negative goal difference and conceded more goals (56) than relegated Atalanta (53). Last term was an improvement but Juve still let in 47 strikes.
It has rendered Buffon with little to do at times. Throughout the current streak he was only seriously tested against Inter. Indeed Buffon would be thankful it is not currently the middle of winter. Those ahead – in either a back three or back four – have performed admirably to help ensure Italy’s No 1 has been given little to do, with Juve only allowing a Serie A low nine shots per match.
They are led by the ‘fantastic three’ Andrea Barzagli, the at-times maligned Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Paolo De Ceglie continues to grow in stature after injury last season put paid to what was an impressive opening. Martin Caceres slotted straight in following his January switch back to Turin and Stephan Lichtsteiner solved many of the issues at right-back plaguing Juventus since Lilian Thuram. Giuseppe Marotta can look to the transfer window to add central defensive depth to accommodate for next season’s additional commitments, but they are not required to spend in the region of €20m for the likes of Angelo Ogbonna.
More than just numbers, it is the confidence exuded which is striking. There is an aura about the entire side, but defensively Juve rarely look troubled. If in recent seasons fans would wonder at which minute of injury time they would concede the equaliser or winner, that is not the case now. The defence is also the first line of attack, with Chiellini and Barzagli amongst the top four for successful passes completed on Sunday, a regular occurrence for Antonio Conte’s men.
This can only be pleasing for Italy boss Cesare Prandelli. With Euro 2012 on the horizon he can pencil in at least the central defensive trio on the squad list. And given his recent showing, perhaps De Ceglie will force his way in, due to his ability to feature in multiple positions on the left-hand side. Marcello Lippi faced criticism for basing his side on Juventini in his second spell, but there can be no doubting if Prandelli utilises the newest ‘Blocco Juve’ to build his team from come June. Their versatility in differing formations also gives Prandelli another option.
Juve’s destiny will be finalised in the upcoming fortnight, but with comfortably the best defence in Serie A at his disposal, Conte will be confident they – and the team – can do the job required. Impenetrable may overstep the mark, but on recent showings, Bonucci may not be too far from the truth.