The victory against Benevento at the weekend witnessed Bologna’s fifth clean sheet this season. What’s interesting about the win against Benevento is the fact that Roberto Donadoni utilised Domenico Maietta and Sebastien De Maio instead of the usual pairing of Giancarlo Gonzalez and Filip Helander. Maietta and De Maio were also the two to form the core of Bologna’s defense against Sampdoria, a game where Sampdoria’s offensive threat was completely nullified. This begs the question; is the duo of Maietta and De Maio better than that of Gonzalez and Helander?
Sebastien De Maio & Domenico Maietta: 5 games – 2 goals conceded – 3 wins – 2 draws – average goals conceded per game: 0.4
Giancarlo Gonzalez & Filip Helander: 13 games – 23 goals conceded – 4 wins – 1 draw – 8 losses – average goals conceded per game: 1.77
By looking at these statistics, De Maio and Maietta seems like Bologna’s best centre-back pairing by far. However, to consider only the statistics would do Gonzalez and Helander disservice. Given Bologna’s league standings (12th at the moment of writing this), Bologna are a mid-table team, and no mid-table team has got as great a defensive record as De Maio and Maietta. They’ve only played five games together this season, and one can make the sensible assumption that if they were the ones that had played the majority of Bologna’s games, their average conceded goals per game would have been considerably higher.
Another aspect to review are the opponents the respective centre-back pairings have faced. De Maio and Maietta have faced Benevento twice, Torino, Sampdoria and Cagliari. The game against Sampdoria was the most impressive by them, as the entire team easily nullified the opponent’s attacking threat. These teams are all, except for Sampdoria, teams in the lower half of the table. One can therefore suggest that De Maio and Maietta have had easier threats to deal with than what the other centre-back pairing have had.
Gonzalez and Helander have, among other teams, faced off against the likes of Fiorentina, Inter, Roma, AC Milan and Juventus, which are all considerably stronger opponents. These are all games in which Bologna are the weakest team on paper, and to concede more goals in these games are therefore quite understandable. But, this pairing has also conceded several goals against the likes of Crotone (3), Verona (2), Chievo (2), Udinese (2) and Torino (3), which are all games in which Bologna should not concede that many goals. One can therefore argue that the pairing of Gonzalez and Helander has got a lot of room for improvement, but to blame them for all the goals they’ve conceded would be a wrong conclusion.
There are considerable differences in the two centre-back pairings’ strengths and weaknesses.
De Maio’s main strength is his physical capabilities. It came as no surprise that Donadoni opted to utilise the French defender in the game against Sampdoria in which the coach was faced with the challenge of nullifying the physical strength of Duvan Zapata. The win in that game was the result of a brilliant team-effort, but De Maio was particularly good on the day. Zapata came to few chances throughout the match, which more often than not was because of De Maio. The Frenchman can be a bit sloppy on the ball at times as he seems to lose his concentration, something which was evident in Bologna’s last game against Benevento. This is something he has got to work on if he are to become Donadoni’s first-choice centre-back.
Maietta’s greatest strength is his experience. His experience makes him an excellent reader of the game, as one can often see him intercept opponent passes and regain possession for his team. In addition to this, and contrary to a lot of defenders, Maietta is a clever passer of the ball. One can often see him advancing forward with the ball at his feet to then break the lines with an exquisite pass. These capabilities are what makes Maietta the perfect partner to De Maio, as the responsibilities between the two are clearly defined in line with their strengths. De Maio is all about using his physical capabilities to break up play, whether that is via a tackle or an aerial challenge, whilst Maietta helps Bologna build attacks from the back.
The main strength of Gonzalez is his pace. He is a difficult player to get around because of this, and this makes him different from the other centre-backs that Donadoni has at his disposal. But he also has other areas where he excels; quite like Maietta, Gonzalez has got great vision, and he rarely misplaced his passes. In addition, he is very strong in the tackle as well as a good organiser of the defense. This makes him Bologna’s defender with perhaps the highest potential, which may be why Donadoni has opted to use him in most games this season.
Helander’s greatest strength is his ability to win the ball without having to drop into the tackle. He is physically strong, and he and Gonzalez seem to have a good understanding which makes Donadoni’s decision to utilise them more often than not sensible. Being the youngest of Bologna’s defenders, Helander is the one that has the biggest room for improvement, and with just a bit more experience to his name he can become a pillar of Bologna’s defence for years to come.
Who should Donadoni utilise?
The stats point towards De Maio and Maietta being the best pairing, but as I’ve written above, stats can lie. However, Donadoni should give De Maio and Maietta more games to prove themselves given how well they’ve fared this season. Despite them almost exclusively playing against teams in the lower half of the table, they should be given the opportunity to prove themselves going forward. Even though they’ve only played five games together this season, to have only conceded two goals during those five games is evidence that suggests that they are a pair of high quality. Their strengths and weaknesses balance each other out, which makes them an excellent duo.
Bologna’s next game is away at Napoli, one of the toughest games of the season. Napoli’s attack is scintillating at times, and whatever centre-back pairing Donadoni goes for, they will undoubtedly be put under a lot of pressure. It remains to be seen whether De Maio and Maietta’s stint in the heart of Bologna’s defence will be prolonged after the good display versus Benevento, or if the coach goes back to the more familiar pairing of Gonzalez and Helander.
Photo: Bologna FC