MILAN (Reuters) - There is something delightfully old-fashioned about the defence which has provided the foundation for Juventus to advance to the Champions League final in Cardiff.
Although not essentially a defensive team, there are times when coach Massimiliano Allegri decides Juve have to batten down the hatches - and when that happens, nobody does it quite like the Serie A champions.
Juventus have conceded just three goals in 12 games on their way to Saturday’s final against Real Madrid, at one point keeping six clean sheets in a row.
That record has been bettered only twice, by Arsenal and Ajax who conceded just two each on their way to reaching the 2006 and 1996 finals respectively, although the Dutch side played two games less.
Critics have complained that modern football places too much emphasis on the ability of defenders to play the ball out, rather than their tackling.
But that criticism cannot be levelled at Juventus central defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose game is based on strength, positioning, telepathic understanding and a ruthless streak.
Once described as a “swine” on the pitch by former team mate Albin Ekdal, Chiellini has reached the peak of his game at the age of 33.
An insight into his competitive nature was unwittingly offered by FIFA when they tested video technology during a match between Italy and France last year.
Referee Bjorn Kuipers, describing an incident reviewed by the technology, said that Chiellini came rushing over to demand a red card for an opponent - just four minutes into a friendly.
Juve’s defence was at its finest in the quarter-final against Barcelona when the kept clean sheets in both legs of a 3-0 aggregate win.
In each game, they were given valuable help by forwards Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic, who tracked back tirelessly - the Croatian in particular often popping up at left back.
“We have crazy work rate on the flanks, both offensive and defensively, and midfielders who guarantee the balance of our team,” Chiellini told France Football.
”If we don’t concede many goals, it’s a collective success.”
Allegri has repeatedly stressed the importance of finding the right balance and often berated his team for chasing late winners in matches where a point was sufficient.
“There’s no shame in being good at defending. In fact, it’s just as beautiful as a great attacking move,” he said.
”I am very happy for those who can turn football into a show but, as far as I‘m concerned, if you want to see a show, you should go to the circus.
“Committing fouls and winning aerial battles are also very important.”
Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond