More than anything else to come from Juventus’ win over Milan, ‘perspective’ was front and centre. The prolonged debate surrounding Carlos Tevez opening goal aside, that word can also be used in reference to Juve central defender Leonardo Bonucci.
As part of the pre-Antonio Conte struggles, Bonucci was viewed in some quarters as another transfer blunder. Fast forward to the present day and the perspective is one of a reliable presence in the Bianconeri defence. Goal celebration aside, the Viterbo native has not put much of a foot wrong this season.
When Conte settled on his back three in 2012, Bonucci became a key component as the central figure thanks to his impeccable anticipation and ability as a playmaker. Outside a 3-5-2 Bonucci was seen to struggle. It wasn’t exactly a groundless theory. Leo looked at home with a teammate on either side, while at international level his defensive work in a back four was decidedly shaky.
This season is testament to what Bonucci can do in either system. Andrea Barzagli may be nicknamed ‘the Rock’, but Bonucci is the foundation on which Massimiliano Allegri builds his defence.
No Juve player has made more Serie A starts than his 21, a number matched only by Gianluigi Buffon. In addition are six Champions League starts, even if he’s not been as assured on the continent as in Serie A. As Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Tuesday, factor in a Coppa Italia and Super Cup appearance and he has played a total of 2640 minutes – the pink paper dubbing Bonucci the ‘man of steel’. He’s missed just two matches – one suspended, one rested.
Allegri may have dismissed utilising a back four “until I have the personnel to do it,” but even without Barzagli the shift was made and the Turin side have hardly missed a beat. They have conceded more goals – six to three in Serie A – but it’s their best defensive record since 1985-86 and arguably the catalyst for improvements further afield. “We are often faced with opponents one on one,” Bonucci explained, “But Juve have to accept it, because it offers the possibility for those playing in attack to be more effective.”
The defender says he is happy with either system. “I am happy in any system and try to put myself to the service of the team. Obviously with three I can read the situations better, but I have shown over the years I can do well with four too.”
The 27-year-old has coped with changing personnel. Martin Caceres and Angelo Ogbonna started the season alongside Bonucci but both would succumb to injury. Giorgio Chiellini has not enjoyed a productive campaign and Barzagli hasn’t played all season. The one constant has been Bonucci.
Those momentary lapses, the loose pass deriving out of self confidence, which plagued Bonucci’s first seasons at Vinovo, have slowly dissipated. The conviction in his abilities makes the No 19 pivotal and has seen him develop into a leader. This reliability and added maturity will be pleasing for Allegri.
The Italian international has proven handy in attack too, scoring 11 times in 202 appearances. What’s most notable is his timing, the ability to score a big goal. Five have been decisive for a result, another two opening the scoring. On Saturday Bonucci restored Juve’s lead over Milan for his second goal of the season, the other the winner against Roma.
With Barzagli reportedly close to returning there will be greater competition for spots in the Old Lady’s defence. Yet given his performances this term, it’s hard to imagine Bonucci on the outer.