Leonardo Bonucci

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Image

Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

Leave a comment

ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Bracket set ]

That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Serie A: 10-man Juve score 6; Bonucci sees red, Milan in free fall

Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Leonardo Bonucci’s latest lapse in concentration may end up costing Vincenzo Montella his job at big-spending AC Milan.

Bonucci was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

Juventus also had a player sent off early on, forward Mario Mandzukic, but bounced back to win 6-2 at Udinese and close the gap on leader Napoli to three points. Lazio can move level with third-place Juve with a win at home to Cagliari later Sunday.

Milan lost its three previous Serie A matches and was also held 0-0 at home with AEK in the Europa League on Thursday. Last weekend, the Rossoneri were beaten 3-2 by Inter Milan in the city derby after Bonucci was beaten by Mauro Icardi for Inter’s opener.

The Rossoneri’s last league win came more than a month ago and they have dropped to 11th spot.

“Unfortunately, everything that could have happened has,” Montella said. “But I feel supported by the club. … We deserved to win today, because we created chances even when we were a man down.”

Milan, which was bought by a Chinese-led consortium in April, spent nearly $250 million on new players in the offseason and Bonucci was the centerpiece of the overhaul.

The fee for Bonucci’s surprise move from Juventus topped $50 million, and he signed a five-year contract worth up to $12 million per season — making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

But Bonucci has been off form over the last month and now risks missing the game against Juventus next Sunday if he’s given a two-match ban.

Bonucci’s blow to Aleandro Rosi’s head in the 23rd minute left the Genoa player on the ground for several minutes before the blood was cleaned up and he continued playing.

The referee did not initially show Bonucci a red card. The decision came with the help of the video assistant referee (VAR) – marking the first time a red card was handed out by the VAR in Italy.

“I don’t think it was intentional foul play. He was positioning himself. Do you know how many goals I scored in situations like that?” said Montella, whose goals as a player helped Roma to the 2001 title.

“The VAR needs to be remodeled,” Montella added. “If Bonucci hadn’t injured his opponent I don’t think he would have been sent off.”

Sami Khedira netted the first hat trick of his career as 10-man Juventus ran riot in Udine, ending its two-match winless streak in style.

Juve was looking to take advantage of Saturday’s 0-0 draw between Napoli and Inter Milan, the top two sides in Serie A.

Khedira’s first of the match and an own-goal from Samir put Juve in front after Udinese had taken a shock lead early on through Stipe Perica.

But it looked bleak for Juventus when Mandzukic was booked for an argument with Udinese’s Ali Adnan and then turned around and appeared to swear at the referee. He was shown a second yellow card and sent off, leaving Juventus with 10 men for more than an hour.

Danilo leveled immediately after halftime but it was false hope for Udinese as Daniele Rugani restored Juve’s lead shortly afterward. Two more goals from Khedira and another from Miralem Pjanic completed the rout.

Aleksandar Kolarov followed up his midweek goal against Chelsea by scoring from a free kick in Roma’s 1-0 win at Torino.

The Serbian became the first player to score two goals from direct free kicks in Serie A this season, having also connected on his Roma debut in August against Atalanta.

Stretching back to last season, it was Roma’s 11th straight away win, matching the Serie A record.

Roberto Inglese bolstered his case for a January move to Serie A leader Napoli with a brace in the Verona derby, helping Chievo to a 3-2 win.

Napoli purchased Inglese’s rights in August but left the striker on loan at Chievo. It has expressed interest in moving up his arrival after Arkadiusz Milik’s long-term injury.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

Twitter/AC Milan
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

AC Milan’s masterplan: Spend their way back to relevance

Photo credit: AC Milan
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) It’s the type of freewheeling spending spree that has been the domain of Middle East sheikhs and Russian oligarchs in recent years.

Only this time it’s the new Chinese owners of AC Milan who have been dominating football’s transfer market.

The signing of prized Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci from six-time defending Serie A champion Juventus on Friday boosted Milan’s offseason spending to 211 million euros (nearly $250 million) – easily the most in Europe.

Other recent signings by the Rossoneri have included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio), and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

With teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma having agreed to extend his contract until 2021 and another big forward signing expected, Milan could be in position to challenge for its first Serie A title since 2011.

It’s the type of outlay made by the likes of Roman Abramovich when he took over Chelsea in 2003, Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City in 2008 and the Qatari investors in Paris Saint-Germain in 2011.

The overhaul reminds former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi of when Silvio Berlusconi took control of the club three decades ago and quickly acquired the likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Rijkaard.

The important thing, Sacchi said in an editorial in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, will be for the new owners to give Milan coach Vincenzo Montella the time to mold a proper squad.

“Berlusconi and (former Milan vice president Adriano) Galliani were extraordinary and determined with me, showing confidence and respect for me even though we were far from the top by Christmas,” Sacchi wrote.

“Montella’s job won’t be easy,” Sacchi added. “He’s going to have to create the right chemistry and find a system of playing that makes all of these players thrive.”

Milan went on to win two European Cups under Sacchi and ushered in a period of dominance by Italian clubs.

With seven European and Champions League titles in all, Milan sits second only to Real Madrid’s 12.

But after three years without any appearances at all in Europe, Milan is looking to regain its place among football’s elite.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash.

By the time Serie A starts in mid-August, Milan’s starting 11 could consist of nine new players.

While Bonucci is considered Italy’s top defender – which is saying something in a nation that prides itself on its defending – the last piece of Milan’s transfer puzzle could be the one that alters the balance of power in Serie A.

If Bonucci, as he has intimated, is able to convince former Juventus teammate and current Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata to join him at Milan, the Rossoneri might just have enough firepower to end Juve’s stranglehold on the “scudetto” (title).

The other forwards Milan is considering signing include: Andrea Belotti, who scored 26 goals for Torino last season; Nikola Kalinic, the scrappy Fiorentina striker; or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the still-improving Borussia Dortmund marksman who ended his youth career with Milan.

Whoever Milan chooses, he will pair in attack with the 21-year-old Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, whose transfer cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).

Bonucci’s transfer fee topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

In an unusual move, Milan will also make Bonucci the club’s captain before he even plays a match for the team.

“The truth is they’ve gone beyond expectations,” former Milan stalwart Demetrio Albertini said of the new owners. “But if amount of money invested were the only measure that counted, Paris Saint-Germain should have won at least a couple Champions League titles by now.”

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Barcelona resigns Deulofeu, Milan spending spree continues

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gerard Deulofeu is heading home.

Barcelona announced it had re-signed the 23-year-old Spanish winger early Friday, two weeks after exercising his buy-back clause after he was sold to Everton in 2015. According to the BBC, the buy-back clause is worth $13.75 million.

The Catalonian club signed Deulofeu to a two-year contract and Deulofeu is already taking part in preseason training with the club.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Since leaving Barcelona in 2013, Deulofeu has played for Everton, Sevilla and AC Milan, where he finished last season, making 16 starts and scoring four times. Overall with Everton Deulofeu made 62 Premier League appearances with five goals and 11 assists. But he found himself out of coach Ronald Koeman‘s plans heading into this season, opening the door for a return to Barcelona.

For Barcelona, Deulofeu likely wasn’t their first choice to sign this summer but bringing in a homegrown winger who can impact the game off the bench is never a bad idea, especially at a cut-rate price.

Here’s a look at more transfer news from around the Premier League and Europe

(more…)