As morning turned to afternoon in Italy, the momentum behind talk of Paul Pogba starting just two days after returning to training seriously gained a whole lot of steam. Once Max Allegri's starting lineup was announced and Pogba was one of the 11 players included by the first-year Juventus manager, all the attention turned to the 22-year-old French midfielder while he was on the field.
Every single eyeball wanted to see how Pogba played. Every single one of them.
Guess what? Just because he missed close to two months due to injury and only trained with the main group for a couple of days, it doesn't mean Pogba can't do Pogba things. That's pretty much what he did.
Pogba marked his return to Juventus' starting lineup with his team's long goal against Cagliari in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Juventus Stadium. Sure, Pogba got some help with a big deflection which threw off Cagliari goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic, but it was the biggest reminder of the simple fact that the star midfielder is ready to go and could very well play a large role against Real Madrid on Wednesday night in the second and decisive leg of the Champions League semifinals.
20 - Paul Pogba has found his 20th goal in Serie A (86 appearances), his 8th in this term. Present #JuveCagliari— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) May 9, 2015
Even if Allegri fielded a full-strength squad rather than rotating the complete crap out of it, Pogba was going to be the main attraction. That is mainly because of who he is and what kind of player he has become, but also because of what the timing of his return potentially means.
Did Pogba do enough to show Allegri he is ready for a Champions League comeback? Pogba certainly had his moments where he looked quite good — and that's not even considering his new haircut. Understandably, Pogba's match fitness isn't up to where it needs to be for him to play a full 90, but he performed admirably during his 60-plus-minute return to the starting lineup.
No matter what, though, Pogba is back.
And for that, we shall rejoice.
.@OfficialAllegri: "It’s a pity we didn’t win the game but the lads did well. It wasn’t easy, certain players hadn’t featured for a while."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) May 9, 2015
Random thoughts and observations
- The collective thinking on the BWRAO Twitter timeline when Cagliari scored the late equalizer: "I don't even care about it." Why? Let's be honest — the result was never really important for Juventus on Saturday. It was all about resting the important players ahead of the second leg against Real Madrid.
- Allegri really managed his substitutions well Saturday. Claudio Marchisio wasn't even in the game for an hour, Pogba was taken off shortly thereafter, and Roberto Pereyra got a good run out before being replaced by Mattia Vitale late in the second half.
- Better yet, no injuries. Feels good, man, feels real good.
- While Pogba's return to the starting lineup was obviously the biggest news of the day, there was another comeback that is worth mentioning. It would be Romulo, who got the start for Stephan Lichtsteiner at right back. Considering he hadn't played since that infamous 7-0 win over Parma on Nov. 9, seeing him back on the field and playing 90 minutes is an accomplishment in of itself. And he played pretty well, too.
- I can watch Andrea Barzagli highlight films all day. Maybe somebody can make one simply on what he did against Cagliari. That would be great simply because Barzagli is just so great.
- I have said it before and I will say it again: One of the hardest jobs in this game we love is that of the backup goalkeeper. That's simply because you know you're not going to play a lot of minutes if the guy who starts ahead of you is healthy. Luckily Marco Storari has been able to stay somewhat fresh during Juventus' run in the Coppa Italia, but still, his last appearance was a month ago. He didn't look rusty at all on Saturday as he stepped in for the resting Gigi Buffon. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Storari once or twice before the season comes to a close, either.
- Seeing Marchisio wearing the captain's armband brings me so much joy. There are few things like seeing a Turin-born Juventus player be captain.
- Which Juventus player had the third-highest WhoScored rating against Cagliari after Pogba and Storari? It wasn't Kingsley Coman, it wasn't Marchisio. It was Simone Padoin, who played both left back and in the center of the midfield Saturday. That's just how he rolls.
- As I write this sentence, Real Madrid are currently down 2-1 to Valencia in the second half and midfielder Toni Kroos has gone off injured before halftime arrived. Carlo Ancelotti has also fielded a pretty full-strength starting lineup. I guess that's what happens when you're still trying to win your leg, eh?