Bonucci and Chiellini: The Last Great Centre-Back Pairing?

The BBC is no more. But don’t worry television fans, the UK state broadcaster remains in rude health.

We're talking about the all Italian BBC. Juventus’ performance in their Champions League quarter final against Barcelona showed the club’s three-man defence of the same abbreviation appears to have been replaced.

Ever since a 2-1 defeat away at Fiorentina, the Bianconeri have instead deployed an orthodox back four with Andrea Barzagli often the odd man out.

Both in Turin and at Camp Nou, Max Allegri lined up with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini as his central pairing, and the immense performance of the Italian duo unquestionably vindicated that decision.

Juventus vs Barcelona, Neymar tackled by Chiellini

Paulo Dybala’s brace in the 3-0 first leg win at Juventus Stadium saw him widely lauded, but by the time the final whistle blew in 0-0 the return clash, it was those at the opposite end of the field who were being celebrated.

“Barcelona failing to score goals over two legs is almost unheard of,” an understandably proud Allegri told Mediaset Premium. “It felt like we could have played for a whole day and not conceded.”

Camp Nou Masterpiece

A quick look back in time reveals the Juve boss was correct in his assessment, Bayern Munich’s 2013 semi-final victory was the last time the Blaugrana were held scoreless over an entire Champions League knockout tie.

Yet against Juventus, time and again the incredible “MSN” frontline of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were forced into taking long range shots that never really troubled Gigi Buffon.

There were no shortage of fine performances from the men in black and white of course, with Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic working diligently to protect those behind them.

However, when it mattered most it was the two central defenders who stood tall to deny Barca and ensure that Buffon only needed to make one save over the 90 minutes.

That is remarkable enough in a game where the home side enjoyed 65% possession, but the standout statistics do not stop there.

As can be seen in the graphic above, Bonucci and Chiellini were imperious throughout, the former registering five tackles, five interceptions and 10 clearances while failing to commit a single foul.

While Bonucci – who also blocked one shot – is the clean, classy and composed member of the duo, there is something endearing about the old school ruggedness of the man beside him.

Chiellini made two fouls and was booked. But also won six of the seven tackles he attempted and added three interceptions, two blocked shots and six clearances.

No Competition

The duo compliment each other perfectly, much like the great duos of year past once did.

The flawless Gaetano Scirea was paired with the violent Claudio Gentile at Juve, while Billy Costacurta did the leg work for the imperious Franco Baresi.

Today, however, it is difficult to see a pair of central defenders who can compete with the immense Bianconeri twosome.

Bonucci, Chiellini comparison

Last season saw Wes Morgan and Robert Huth garner widespread admiration. But without N'Golo Kanté to protect them, the Leicester City defence looks much less formidable than it did during their title winning campaign.

At Manchester City, Vincent Kompany can never stay fit and that has been detrimental to the development of John Stones, while it is hard to praise Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny given Arsenal’s penchant for collapsing when it matters most.

Atletico Madrid thrive defensively, but – despite the brilliance of Diego Godin – it is hard to view Stefan Savic as one of the world’s best.

Raphael Varane’s injury cut short his emergence alongside Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, and the same is true of Jérôme Boateng at Bayern Munich.

Perhaps the only true rivals to Bonucci and Chiellini reside at White Hart Lane, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen helping Tottenham Hotspur boast the Premier League’s best defensive record.

Best In The Business

However, their individual quality still trails the Juve pair, who rank among the best around both separately and together.

Since Allegri shifted to the 4-2-3-1 formation three months ago, Bonucci and Chiellini have started eight games together, registering six clean sheets over that same period.

Two of those came against Barcelona and won them at least one new fan.


“Chiellini, for me, was the star man in this team,” former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand said on BT Sport.

“He led the team and put his body on the line. He and Bonucci together were tremendous. Speaking as a centre back, you thrive and live off clean sheets.

“To go to the Nou Camp and get a clean sheet against that front three, that deserves immense praise.”

It does indeed and while many wonder what the free-scoring young guns of Monaco will be able to do against Juventus, they have yet to face a more resolute backline.

Kylian Mbappe has been on fire but Bonucci and Chiellini will face him without fear.

They’ve seen it all before and emerged unscathed.

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