Juventus: Danilo has been the surprise of the season so far

Juventus have some ground to make up in Serie A, but there have also been some pleasant surprises to start the season – none more so than Danilo.

Last season, Danilo was a frequent target for criticism among Juventus players, but, looking back on it, he was miscast.

Because Juve didn’t have an actual backup left back for Alex Sandro, Danilo was often thrust into that position with Juan Cuadrado locking down the right side as one of the league’s top full/wing-backs. Danilo was solid defensively and technically, but his lack of speed and ability to push up into the attack made him a liability. And as a right-footer on the left side, Danilo wasn’t going to offer much more than sideways passing in support of Cristiano Ronaldo.

So Danilo received the brunt of the criticism, even though he was placed into a role that he couldn’t have possibly thrived in. For years, he’s always been an overlooked player. Real Madrid and Manchester City found use for Danilo, as did Juve, because he is a consistent, capable defender at right back, which is a position of scarce defensive quality. But because Danilo is more solid and scrappy than attacking at right back, he is going to get overlooked since fans don’t notice defensive traits as much.

But this season, we’ve all noticed Danilo’s positive defensive traits, and it turns out that moving him to a center back in a back three has been a genius move.

There’s an argument to be made that after Ronaldo and fellow “surprise” player Alvaro Morata, Danilo has been the third-best player on Juventus this season. He’s certainly been the best center back, looking more like a competent veteran presence and leader than either Giorgio Chiellini or the struggling Leonardo Bonucci.

Danilo has completed just over 90 percent of his passes, according to WhoScored.com. Better yet, he is the team’s leader in passes per game to go with that excellent accuracy, completing about 12 more passes per game than Bonucci, who is supposedly the best ball-playing center back in Serie A. It seems as if that honor should go to the Brazilian.

Defensively, Danilo has not put a foot wrong. In seven Serie A matches and three Champions League fixtures, I struggle to think of a time when the 29-year-old has made a mistake. Even in games in which the other defenders have been horrible, such as the 2-0 loss to Barcelona, Danilo has been the lone bright spot working 20 times harder than anyone else to hold everything together for the Bianconeri.

A leader and composed presence at the back, Danilo has gone from a player on the transfer rumor list to a crucial starter for Juventus, Yes, I do believe he is better than Chiellini and Bonucci right now. When all the center backs are healthy, Danilo should be a starter alongside Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral; he has shown more quality than either Italian center back in 2020-2021.

The best players should start, and at the center back position, Danilo has been the best player for the Old Lady this season. He has a staggering 3.2 interceptions per game, which is 1.2 more than the next-best players, Demiral and defensive midfielder Adrien Rabiot. If we compare him to other Serie A players, Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi is the only player with a minimum of five starts to have more interceptions per game, and Danilo is the ONLY player in the league with more than two tackles per game and three interceptions per game.

Danilo is becoming a key starter for Juve. His performances this season deserve widespread recognition, and we should even be apologizing to him for overlooking his accurate passing, intelligent defending, and positive qualities. Under Andrea Pirlo, Danilo is thriving in a role that truly suits him.