After knocking out a team consisting of three of the best forwards in the world, the performances of the Bianconeri defence deserves to live long in the memory
Eliminating a team like Barcelona from the Champions League is no easy task but when a team can keep two clean sheets against the Blaugrana’s star-studded attack, that side must have something special about them.
Juventus drew 0-0 against the Spanish giants at the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening, prevailing 3-0 on aggregate to progress through to the semi-finals, and they did it with great defensive discipline and organisation over the two legs.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri has taken the Bianconeri to the semi-finals for the second time in three seasons and they could be in with a great chance of winning the whole tournament this time around.
If Juventus go on to win their first Champions League title since 1996, their defence probably won’t go down as the greatest ever, but it deserves to be considered among the best in recent memory.
When comparing them to the Inter backline of the 1960s or the AC Milan defence of the 1980s and 1990s, they perhaps don’t really belong in that conversation.
Helenio Herrera’s Nerazzurri side perfected catenaccio with its usage of a sweeper and man-markers while the Rossoneri teams under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello were the masters of zonal defending. Individually those defences were stronger as well with the Biscione containing Tarcisio Burgnich and Giacinto Facchetti while the Diavolo included Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
The current Juventus backline probably wouldn’t be rated as the best in their illustrious history either. When Giovanni Trapattoni coached them in the 1970s and 80s, his defence consisted of Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Sergio Brio, and Antonio Cabrini while the legendary Dino Zoff was behind them in goal.
Defences that the current La Vecchia Signora one can be compared to are the Juve of the 1990s, Milan of 2000s and Inter in the treble-winning season of 2010. Those three teams had defenders that were great but there were others that weren’t as iconic.
For instance, as talented as Nerazzurri centre-backs Lucio and Walter Samuel were, would many people consider them to be at the same level as Maldini and Alessandro Nesta from the Rossoneri?
Although Moreno Torricelli, Ciro Ferrara, Pietro Vierchowod, and Gianluca Pessotto were formidable under Coach Marcello Lippi, they did not play with the same continuity as the current Juve backline.
Despite all the individual comparisons, the way these defences operated as a team must also be taken into account.
While Allegri will not go down in history as a tactical revolutionary, his Juventus team knew how to defend as a unit. Antonio Conte created the BBC defence with Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini but the current Bianconeri tactician has moved away from the 3-5-2 and used the back four.
In both legs against Barcelona, Bonucci and Chiellini started in the centre of defence and Barzagli would join them in the dying minutes of each game. Having played together since 2011, those three in particular are well aware of how they play.
World-class forwards Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar failed to score against a rearguard consisting of Dani Alves, Bonucci, Chiellini, and Alex Sandro over 180 minutes, and even when they were breached, the Barca attack were not able to beat Gianluigi Buffon in the Juve goal.
So far in the 2016-17 Champions League, La Vecchia Signora have kept a clean sheet eight times in 10 games and have not conceded a goal in over five matches.
Juventus will likely win their sixth consecutive Serie A title in May but a Champions League victory is needed to secure their place in history.
If they do achieve European glory, their defence should be remembered as one of the key components of this side.