26 February 2016
Having made a goal-line clearance in the first half and helped keep Bayern Munich at bay for the majority of the second period, Leonardo Bonucci’s performance in the Champions League last 16 first leg even drew praise from Pep Guardiola following the final whistle on Tuesday evening at Juventus Stadium.
“I’m honoured by such compliments,” Bonucci began in his interview to Sky and Mediaset, “but we’re now focused on going to Munich and beating them in their own backyard. In the last three years, we’ve reached the Champions League quarter-finals, Europa League semi-finals and most recently the Champions League final. On a continental level, the club has done a lot to return to its traditionally high standards.”
The defender is confident in the Bianconeri’s abilities of reaching the next round, but claimed this would only be achieved by combining the noteworthy elements of this week’s display with a better start at the Allianz Arena on 16 March.
“Tuesday’s match has given us confidence ahead of the return leg, but only if we take on our hosts with great humility and respect because they too are a very difficult side to beat.
“We believe we can go there and get the result we need, but we’ll need a different approach to the encounter, especially with regards to our first-half performance. Bayern have the advantage, as they only need not to concede in order to reach the quarter-finals, but equally we have reason to be confident because we’re also a strong side.”
If the Bianconeri have reason to look ahead with optimism this term, their 15-game winning streak in Serie A spanning almost four months between 31 October and 13 February will have played no small part, as they shot up the table from its lower reaches to the pinnacle with the win over Scudetto rivals Napoli almost a fortnight ago.
For Bonucci, putting his finger on the main motives for their remarkable rise was relatively straightforward.
“In these months, the entire mentality of the squad has changed. The youngsters and recent arrivals have understood the importance of pulling on the Juventus jersey, while us more experienced players have rolled up our sleeves and made it clear to the others that our displays in September and October simply weren’t up to this club’s standards.
“We’ve rediscovered the willingness to run through brick walls for one another. We’re united and we also showed that on Tuesday, when, especially in the first half, the strikers chased back and, in doing so, helped out the defenders. The best backlines start from the centre-forward and end at the goalkeeper.”
Hard work and a determination to collect maximum points remain the qualities underlined by Bonucci in ensuring that the Bianconeri continue to lead the way in the league table after hosting Inter on Sunday.
Roberto Mancini’s men may have slid from top spot to fifth place in recent weeks and months, but, in the eyes of the 28-year-old, they remain a force to be reckoned with.
“Obviously when the results aren’t going for you, things can deteriorate, but we need to enter that match fully aware that we’re facing a talented side. We have to show that will to win that has set us apart from the others down the years.
“Winning that match and going four points ahead of Napoli, who then have to play Fiorentina, would send out an important statement, but we need to stay focused on ourselves. We can’t afford to let off any pressure between now and the end of the season, because we’ve the chance to make this the finest year in the history of the club.”
Wrapping up the interview, Bonucci turned his attentions to next Wednesday’s trip to San Siro, the team’s fourth outing against Inter of the season. Having won the first leg 3-0 in Turin, Juve hold the advantage to reach the final, but Bonucci urged his team-mates to fly out of the traps in Milan in order to make sure of their presence at the showpiece event in Roma this May.
“We’ve built a healthy lead going into that game, but we won’t be resting on our laurels. On the contrary, we’ll look to see out the tie as quickly as possible and book our place in the final. We’ve our sights set on winning two consecutive Coppa Italia titles – something the club has not done for some time.”