Team previews: Juventus defenders look ready to compete for Scudetto

Jul 26, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Juventus defender Danilo (6) controls the ball as FC Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) defends during the first half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Juventus defender Danilo (6) controls the ball as FC Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) defends during the first half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

With ever-present shotstopper Wojciech Szczęsny behind them, Juventus’ back line will feature familiar faces in the fast-approaching 2023-24 season. It seems clear that legendary skipper and defensive stalwart Leonardo Bonucci is on his way out of Turin, so a new captain in Danilo headlines the position group with the preseason making it clear that Allegri will stay true to form in playing a back three this year.

Buoyed by the Brazilians

Danilo was bestowed full-time captaincy after filling the role for a good chunk of matches last year and for good reason. The 32-year-old led Juve with 51 starts in all competitions in 2022-23 while appearing in 37 of 38 Serie A fixtures. He can play on either side of the back three with a preference for the right and his dominant foot, which is where Allegri started the captain in friendlies against Real Madrid and Atalanta.

The Brazilian is a versatile center back who can hold his own in one-on-one situations, evidenced by his team-leading 72.6 percent successful challenge rate a year ago (all stats courtesy Danilo also flashes effectiveness playing forward with his six goal contributions in 2022-23 (three goals, three assists) and 18 total since he joined the Bianconeri in 2019.

Filling out the starting defensive trio will most likely be a pair of Danilo’s fellow countrymen in Gleison Bremer and Alex Sandro.

Beginning with Bremer, the 26-year-old is the youngster of the group and largely impressed during his debut campaign in Turin last season. A starter in each of his 43 appearances across all competitions, Bremer proved to be adept with the ball at his feet and had the highest successful pass percentage (89.7) in the squad in 2022-23.

Also an aerial threat in the box, the Itapiranga, Brazil native scored all four of his Serie A goals via header last season, in addition to a 44′ winner in the 1-0 Coppa Italia quarterfinal victory over Lazio.

Alex Sandro, who is similar physically to Bremer but six years his senior, comes as the wild card of the group. Also the longest tenured Juve defender, outside of the aforementioned Bonucci, Alex Sandro has featured in 30-or-more Serie A matches in a season just once since joining in 2015.

Injuries and inconsistency have plagued the Atletico Parananense youth product during his time in Turin, but he’ll be needed during this transitionary period and has the chance to prove himself over a full campaign.

The Reinforcements

A fan favorite and the only center back outside of the Brazilian trio to start a preseason contest, Federico Gatti is poised to be Allegri’s first-choice defender off the bench. Gatti’s most memorable moment of his debut season with the Bianconeri was his scrappy, 90+7′ equalizer in the Europa League semifinal first leg versus Sevilla at the Allianz.

The 25-year-old Italian is still raw with only one season of top flight football under his belt, but his pure passion and constant motor allow him to impact a match without being as technically sound. Gatti found the pitch 27 times in all competitions last year, with 24 starts, and is poised to carry a more consistent role this campaign.

Fellow Italian Daniele Rugani follows Gatti on the depth chart and appeared as a substitute in all three of Juventus’ preseason friendlies. Rugani has accumulated 100 games played across his two stints with Juve, but has only appeared in 21 Serie A matches during the past two seasons. Not much is expected of the 29-year-old this year. Yet, he could be utilized if injuries pile up on the back line.

Speaking of injuries, Mattia De Sciglio, who made 25 total appearances in 2022-23, suffered an ACL tear in May and won’t be available until mid-October at the earliest. De Sciglio’s absence allowed Juventus Next Gen player Dean Huijsen some playing time in the preseason, but fans shouldn’t expect to see the 18-year-old with the first team any time soon.

The Outlook

While some supporters would have liked to see big additions to the back line this summer, Juve’s clearly cautious transfer strategy under the current conditions has the same core returning. Even still, the group produced a +23 goal differential last season (fourth-best in Serie A) and kept 20 clean sheets in the league. Especially with Bonucci all but out of the picture, now truly begins a new era of the Bianconeri defense.