Monday, October 18, 2021

Manu’s Grab Bag: Oxygen Boost

JUVENTUS HAS FINALLY WON A GAME. THE SEASON STARTS TODAY.

This is not a drill, this is not an exercise, this has finally happened. After three brutally frustrating matches to open the 2021-22 season in which the Bianconeri could only muster one point out of a possible nine, they had to go all the way to Sweden to get their first W of the year. But by god, they did it.

And I know some of you naysayers might be saying “But, it was Malmö! Who cares!” so let me ask you something: Is Malmö worse than Empoli? Is Malmö worse than freaking Udinese? They are very much not, so yes, Malmö is not winning the Champions League any time soon but for a team that needed a win in the most desperate of ways, getting it anyway they can is a win in my book.

And, for what it’s worth, it was a really good win! A 3-0, decisive, professional, pragmatic and without too many scares kind of win. I’ll take that any day of the week and twice under the European lights.

Let’s cook.

There’s something about European competition with Juventus that just suits our Spanish friend. After being one of the better performers in last weekend’s loss against Napoli, Morata kept the good times rolling with a trademark Morata game.

Doing all the small things, missing a couple chances, being offsides relatively often, but in the end being the difference maker when it matters most as he was the decisive factor in Juventus closing the game for good in the final stages of the first half.

I’m not going to dance around it, that was a pretty soft call on the PK, but it was also a correct call and one that an experienced guy like Morata is going to pounce on every time. After getting that call to go his way, he was aggressive in helping Juventus force a Malmö mistake to capitalize on the third and last goal of the evening.

As the elder statesman in the striker department, the team is going to depend heavily on Morata this year. Given his famous hot and cold form, this might feel like a shaky proposition, but perhaps this is the year that things finally break right for Alvarito. Let’s all hope that’s the case.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado – What a joy it is to watch that man play football. Count me in as one of the people who didn’t believe that much in him once Juve acquired him from Chelsea, but he has played some of the best ball of his life the last couple of years and I commend him for it.

I mean, can you disagree all that much?

Perhaps it’s how bad the team has played in the last few games. Maybe its just the bad vibes overall of the last couple of years. But this was a game in which I can’t really point out to a particularly bad performer.

I guess Danilo was kind of anonymous, but given his role was more about defending and covering for Cuadrado, that was to be expected. Adrien Rabiot was OK, I guess? Paulo Dybala wasn’t super determinant, but he scored a goal from the spot and had some flashes here and there.

Other than that? Everyone played pretty well! We’ve already talked about Morata and Cuadrado, but Manuel Locatelli was also right up there with them as one of the best performers of the night. We got a rare sighting of good Rodrigo Bentancur, Leo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt were stout all game long and Alex Sandro turned back the clock to 2017 scoring a goal and producing dangerous attacking opportunities from the left flank.

Even the much-maligned Wojciech Szczęsny was good! Granted he didn’t have a ton of chances to screw up, but on the few occasions he had to come through he did so. Even the subs were decent as they saw the game through. All in all, a pretty complete performance. Kudos all around.

How much did you miss an uneventful, kinda boring, vintage Allegri second half? Once the subject of plenty of scorn in this here blog, after two years and change of a result never seeming to be completely secure, I sure did appreciate a relaxing complement for once.

It comes with the caveat that they were ahead three goals and sure, point taken, but that doesn’t discount that Juventus had been in the lead plenty of times and managed to screw up in the end either way.

I can do with more halves like that if it means more easy wins for the Bianconeri moving forward. Hey, speaking of boring!

I’ve been vocal about my disliking of a certain Daniele Rugani. After being ballyhooed as the next great Italian center back in his youth while playing for Empoli, Rugani never quite got himself established as a top-tier defender during his initial five-year stint with Juventus and after many starts and stops it seemed like his storied black and white career was over when he was shipped out on loan to Stade Rennais in the French league.

Yet, despite last season in which he was loaned out twice and much like a boomerang, he came back! And again, I was vocal about how much this sucked for me personally, but also for the team because he is not very good and I generally dislike having not very good players on my team. All that being said — and perhaps thanks to the coaching of a certain staff member — we might have a perfect role for Rugani this season.

YES! The OG himself — and new coaching staff member — Simone Padoin! That’s a perfect blueprint for Rugani moving forward. No one is going to confuse Padoin with an elite football player, but he carved a role for himself by being a great teammate, really hard worker, consistently lifting silverware and occasionally getting minutes in loaded teams when the lead was well in hand. People loved seeing Padoin come in because it meant the team was up and up big. I can live with Rugani being Padoin 2.0, I think that’s a fair compromise.

As long as the only time I have to see Rugani play is when Juventus has a lead of at least two goals late in the game, me and you are alright, Daniele.

This was fun. I enjoyed myself watching Juventus. This was not something that I could have said about the prior three games, so at the very least that’s an improvement.

It’s a long season ahead and this was arguably the easiest game they had in terms of European play, but given the state of the team and the level of anxiety brewing in Juventus Land this definitely felt like a must win game and for once they came through.

Things don’t get particularly easier, as they host AC Milan. The Rossoneri are undefeated with three wins in as many tries and have looked pretty damn impressive doing so. With a squad that should be as complete as they have been since the beginning of the season and the good vibes rolling from this result, I have a lot more hope on this team than I had just a few days earlier. Does that mean I think they win against Milan? Not necessarily, but their odds looked better on Tuesday evening than they did last Sunday.

See you Sunday.
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