With so much free time between the final game of 2016 and the first one of 2017, it gives us a number of opportunities to look back at the year that was. In this case, it gives us the chance to reflect on what has pretty much been the first half of the 2016-17 season (minus two Serie A games, of course).
With that said, we figured that it would be a good to rekindle our roundtable of staff writers and discuss a few things that have either already taken place or are about to be talking points over the next couple of weeks.
The first discussion point was what we posed to all of you a couple of days ago: Who do you think is Juventus’ MVP for the first half of the 2016-17 season? You probably figured that one out by reading the headline of this story, which you guys are already one step ahead of the game.
So, without any more waiting, let us roundtable. Who’s your first half MVP, gents?
To reiterate what I said in my previous article, my vote goes to Alex Sandro. It seems like he’s been the one guy this year that we can always count on a solid performance from, on both ends of the pitch, even when he’s been asked to play out of position. I’m excited about having him on the left side of the field for the foreseeable future. Honorable mentions go out to Miralem Pjanic, and Gonzalo Higuain, who I’ve also been very impressed by.
Sandro. No question. Other plays have had phases of brilliance, like Mandzukic, Marchisio, Bonucci, Rugani, Buffon, etc., But Sandro has consistently been the man. His defensive positioning isn't flawless, but he's improved leaps and bounds since last year, ans I can no longer say that I trust Evra to mark a tricky winger in a big game more.
Alex Sandro, with Mandzukic giving him a late run for his money in the last two months. For his sheer consistency in performances, the Brazilian has been a reliable force to confide in the midst of a turbulent start to the season. The only thing he might need to improve on is not getting too complacent by relying on his pace to save him when he finds himself in poor defensive positions. Here’s to many more years of Sandro rampaging down that left wing in Bianconeri colors!
Daniele Rugani. I was leaning towards Mario Mandzukic, however, the keyword is valuable. Rugani, 22, started the season as the fifth option on a defense that includes Juventus’ BBC and newcomer Medhi Benatia. Injuries opened the door to the youngster, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He was the last man standing. Sure, Juventus are controlling the Serie A and they secured first place in Group H in the Champions League, but the Bianconeri are not the juggernaut of previous seasons. Nowadays, it’s common to find them defending deep in their half, seeking to counterattack, and waiting for the final whistle. Rugani has stepped up, and he has been one of the pillars of an injury-prone defense that had kept most of the opponents’ threats in check.
Since his introduction in the starting lineup, the wonder-kid has transitioned from three-man to a four-man defense and vice-versa without problems, he has helped a struggling Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right flan and he has scored important goals in Serie A and Champions League games. In the same way, Rugani’s smarts and positioning have been off the charts. Juventus’ defense will get healthy eventually. Still, Rugani has already proven his worth. Recently, France Football named Rugani in their top XI breakthrough stars of 2016. The youngster is playing like a remarkable veteran and the club is lucky to have him.
In an injury-ravaged season where players have been dropping like flies, I'll pick Alex Sandro. He has been Mr. Consistency himself, a constant presence on Juventus's left wing, raiding forward with impunity while charging back and tackling hard when needed. He has started the most games for the Bianconeri this season, with 21 starts and 3 substitute appearances. It's ironic that he is also down with an injury now in a season that has shown no player in the Juve squad is infallible.
Alex Sandro. Reasons:
- First on the team in average number of tackles.
- Third on the team in average # of interceptions.
- Third on the team in average # of blocks.
- Second on the team in total # of dribbles.
He seems to completely take over the left flanks, both on offense and defense. Maybe Evra is getting old, but he is still a quality player when called upon. Still, there is a massive drop-off of left flanks performance both in defense and offense when he replaces Alex Sandro.
I had not previously been his biggest fan, but Mario Mandžukić’s performances in the first half of this season have won me over. He started off the season playing third fiddle to Paulo Dybala and the €90 million man Gonzalo Higuain, who were naturally the first choice of Max Allegri. However, due to injury to the two aforementioned players at various points, the big Croatian got his chances. Not the most prolific — five goals and two assists in 21 games — but his overall play and work rate was immeasurable.
The most notable example of this was in the home game against Atalanta. Before getting the third goal in a 3-1 win, the forward exhibited his ability to sacrifice himself — and his body — for the good of the team. Numerous blacks and tackles were put in. However, none more memorable than his double interception in the space of a matter of seconds from an Atalanta corner. First, blocking a shot with his chest. Then clearing a second shot with a diving header. A beast of a performance.
For his all-around performances so far, rather than for his goals, Mario has been my MVP for the first half of the season.