On the up under Milena Bertolini, Le Azzurre are eyeing a place in the last four for the first time in 25 years. Experienced players will be key for the Italian Women’s national team during the European Championship 2022. While playing against France, Iceland and Belgium in the group stage, Barbara Bonansea could become the star of Bertolini’s team.
The Italian winger is the team’s talismanic figure and best offensive player. At 30 years of age, she’s in the prime of her career and will be extremely important in this tournament. She already played 69 times for the Italian Women’s National Team.
Bonansea ranks third in all-time appearances for Juventus Women — which is pretty impressive considering she’s had a couple of lengthy injury spells that have kept her on the sidelines for extended periods of time. When healthy, though, Bonansea has proven to be arguably Juve’s and Italy’s best attacking threat, with the capability to set up one of her teammates just as much as she’s capable of scoring on her own.
In this tactical analysis, we look at the player in closer detail to explain her importance to the Italian National team and what makes her a top-class forward.
To start, we’ll look at Bonansea’s data profile for the 2021/22 campaign for Juventus. Here, we’ll discuss her main attacking, defending and passing characteristics and see how she’s performed. Let’s see what she excels at in the following graph.
It is no surprise that her biggest strengths are in attack. With 3.47 shots per 90, Bonansea ranks in the 96th percentile for this particular metric. She provides lots of touches in the opposition’s box (6.08 per 90) and dribbles (7.21 per 90). The quality of her chances is generally good as well since her xG per 90 (0.36) ranks her in the 93rd percentile. With only 38.38% of her offensive duels being successful and by providing 0 assists, she has two weaknesses to work on.
By taking a look at her passing metrics, we can assume that her creativity is a big strength that the Italian national team will benefit from. Even if she can work on the accuracy of her passes (70.74%), she creates lots of chances by playing passes into dangerous areas. She is one of the best players in terms of passes to the penalty area (3.61 per 90), key passes (0.73 per 90), smart passes (1.2 per 90) and especially through passes (1.2 per 90).
Since Bonansea is an attacking mind responsible for creating chances, her defensive statistics are rather average compared to other players in her domestic league. Playing for one of the best clubs in Italy, it is no surprise that she engages in few defensive duels (5.68 per 90). Due to their technically gifted players, Juventus do not operate with lots of long balls. So, she does not provide lots of aerial duels (1.2 per 90) either. However, her interceptions and sliding tackles in defensive transition are quite good.
Bonansea’s key strength is her ability to identify space combined with her positioning between the lines. This enables her to force teams to be proactive in the way they mark the midfielder. Her movement with the ball is very direct which causes multiple defenders to suffocate the space she moves into. Combined with her creative passing, this makes her a dangerous proposition.
Bonansea’s movement and positioning are the foundation of her ability to score goals or pick up assists. It’s even more effective on the ball where she’s able to capitalise and control the next move. Being able to carry the ball means she can progress the ball forward, dragging opponents out of position and giving her teammates space to move into.
The following situation of play sees the winger pick up a wayward pass with her back to goal. However, she manages to turn and carry the ball past a couple of Milan defenders. The progressive carry pulls in several players but her quick decision-making means she’s able to spot the vacant space in behind the defence with a penetrative pass for the striker to latch onto.
A large portion of Bonansea’s game revolves around her creativity and vision. The end product is a result of her wide range of passing that is borne from her creativity. Being able to choose from an array of passes, Bonansea is capable of unlocking defences with pinpoint line-breaking balls along with quick interchangeable link-up play between midfielders and forwards.
Given Juventus come up against teams that will look to defend deep against them, Bonansea’s passing becomes far more important.
Bonansea’s close control and timing are key features of her creative passing. However, what’s most impressive is the by-product of her ability to create space by attracting players to her before passing through a team’s defence.
As you can see in the following sequence, Bonansea receives a pass in space between multiple Fiorentina defenders. To stop her advance, three players around step up to press her.
This shifts the entire focus onto her, which has created space for Lina Mona Andrea Hurtig to receive a free pass.
Even under pressure against teams that are more possession-hungry, Bonansea has an influence on the ball. These possession-dominant sides will want to dispossess teams quickly and often will be with a slightly higher defensive line and a good pressing strategy. She’s heavily involved in Juventus’ playmaking and Italy will also be relying on her as their primary playmaker.
Taking the next example from Juventus’ game against Olympique Lyon last season, Bonansea receives the ball in space but turns into Wendie Renard. The Italian expertly holds the ball and waits patiently for Hurtig.
Then, she plays the ball in behind the Lyon defence with a perfect-timed through pass.
Moreover, at Italy’s national team, Girelli, Bonansea and Cernoia’s constant movements and exchange of positions inside the final third confuse their opponents and prevent them from having clear reference points when defending.
As noted before in this tactical analysis, Bonansea is generally positioned high and wide in the attacking phase and the same can be said when the squad is trying to transition from deep. Her smart movements and positioning allow her to be an outlet down the flanks, but especially in the centre.
Anyone who has watched Bonansea will tell you that much of her upside comes from smart movement and the ability to exploit space. The Italian is very good at finding areas in and around the box to put herself in excellent positions to create or score goals.
A lot of players in her position prefer to play between the lines and place themselves in the half-spaces but Bonansea is comfortable in taking up wider spaces and making decisions from there; this affords her more time to decide her next move.
Take this goal she scored against AC Milan, for example. In the clip, Juventus manage to intercept Milan’s build-up and a pass from their forward. Martina Rosucci picks up possession in the half-space and looks for forward options. At this point, the Juventus forwards are fluid to try and give Rosucci a passing option.
Bonansea’s starting position was wide on the right, but when she saw Tuija Annika Hyyrynen coming in on the overlap, she drifted inside and found space more centrally.
Juventus utilized a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 for the majority of their last campaign. Bonansea operated mainly at right-wing but she did get used on the left on occasion. In each of these systems, she has operated in a wider role with the freedom to stay wide or come inside.
However, as you can see, her heat map shows how much she influenced play on the left in the national team. Italy play in a 4-3-3 formation most of the time. There’s significant movement between those areas indicating that she tends to want to come inside to cross or pass but will stay wide when needed.
Bonansea has her biggest strengths in the attacking phase of the game but that doesn’t mean she’s not effective off the ball as well. To fully understand how she defends, we have to understand how Juventus defend as a team in Serie A. In the 2021/22 campaign, the Bianchoneri had the fifth-lowest PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) value: 8.57. The lower the PPDA number, the more aggressive the team presses in general. The league average was 9.84, indicating that Juve were more aggressive than average.
However, Juventus’ challenge intensity for the same season stands at 6.2 — below league average (6.43). Therefore, Juventus presses high but not at the highest intensity. If they do not win the ball back immediately, they fall back. Here, Bonansea’s positioning plays a major role again. As with the attacking phase, Bonansea provides smart movements in defence too and recovers lots of balls due to positioning.
By looking at the map, we can note that most of Bonansea’s defensive duels come very high up the pitch, even stretching to the opposition’s penalty area. Of course, this is all connected to how Juventus set up their defensive block.
In this part of our tactical analysis of Barbara Bonansea, we’ll analyse her physical profile. This includes her height, build, mobility, power, stamina, acceleration and pace in different scenarios and phases of play.
Bonansea is 173 cm tall and weighs around 57 kg, which makes for almost an ideal frame for holding the ball. Being quite tall, Bonansea can use her frame well to shield and control the ball and even brush off defenders. One of the big aspects of a good forward is how resistant they are to being dominated by their markers. The winger is quite good in duels and holding onto the ball.
Because she doesn’t exactly have a deep centre of gravity, she’s not known for world-class dribbling. Furthermore, she is not exactly the fastest player in the world. That is one reason why she also cuts inside often instead of going into a 1-vs-1-situation on the wing. Therefore, she prefers to use her body to defeat her opponent. Another possibility in this regard is her game intelligence; as already mentioned, Bonansea excels in smart movements and good positioning.
Barbara Bonansea is a versatile winger who can play across the front line but is more naturally a winger. Her playstyle is very much predicated around being a more creative and penetrative presence than a traditional run-and-cross type winger. As a result, she is a goal threat with an excellent first touch and an intelligent sense of positioning. This combination makes for a lethal player coming in off the right to either find a passing solution or a shot-creating action. Therefore, she will probably be Italy’s key player in the tournament.