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Manu’s Grab Bag: Lockdown

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A defensive masterclass put forth as Juventus defeats Bayer Leverkusen with relative ease.

Matthijs de Ligt (L) of Juventus FC is tackled by Lucas... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

The first hurdle of the most pivotal week of the early season was cleared — and then some. Juventus put forth an all-around solid showing to effortlessly breeze past Bayer Leverkusen to secure their first European win of the season in dominant fashion.

Weirdly enough, it was the defense doing a lot of the work this time, completely shutting down any and all Leverkusen efforts at making the game competitive. I’m not quite ready to say that Sarriball is finally here to stay, but I feel a whole heck of a lot more confident going into Sunday’s Derby d’Italia than I was after the last European result.

Onwards!

Things I Google’d during the game

  • Janko brand
  • Bayer Leverkusen Aspirin?
  • Teams named after companies
  • Javier Hernandez Leverkusen stats
  • Bundesliga table
  • Mitchell Weiser FIFA 19
  • All time Champions League scorers

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

When you become the player with the most wins in Champions League history, you gotta be considered a winner in my book. At this point and with at least a couple more years of competitive Champions League play ahead of him, it’s hard for me to fathom a world in where Ronaldo doesn’t retire as the player with most wins and most goals in Champions League competition.

Pretty impressive, I believe. Sure, he wasted a few shots Tuesday night, but luckily for Juventus he did bury one and that’s all they needed.

MVP: Juventus’ backline

For the first time in the history of the Grab Bag we have a joint MVP!

I just couldn’t give it to one guy after the performance Juventus’ defense had in this game. After coughing up a 2-0 lead in Madrid for their European opener, Juve’s defense gave the visitors nothing, literally. Leverkusen did not record a shot on goal the entire game.

I am not going to pretend Leverkusen is a world beater, but they are a solid team. So to hold them to ZERO shots on goal is pretty damn impressive. Leo Bonucci and Mathijs de Ligt continue to mesh together and probably had their best performance of the season as a pair. It was admirable that Alex Sandro could play after losing his father, and for him to play a pretty damn good game is nothing short of amazing. The Johnny Square Experience keeps getting rave reviews which might have been the most surprising development of the season if not for the performance of…

Winner: Gonzalo Higuain

I cannot figure out our Argentinian friend, I simply cannot. I wrote him off in preseason and as the season started he had a couple really good games against Parma and Napoli. He followed that up with a string of lackluster performances, with a supremely in-form Paulo Dybala all but ready to take his place. And just as I’m ready to write Higuain off again, he gets a goal and an assist in an absolute master class for Pipita.

I don’t know if he will continue with this level of performances or fall off a damn cliff next game, but there are worse options to have than to rely on Gonzalo Higuain for goals, luckily on this occasion he delivered.

Away Team Fun Fact

Did you know that Bayer Leverkusen currently employs twins? Yes, look at these guys.

Bayer Leverkusen - 1st FC Union Berlin Photo by Federico Gambarini/picture alliance via Getty Images

I can’t decide if playing with your twin on the same team would be cool or annoying. On the one hand, they probably already have difficulties setting them apart, so playing for the same team can’t help matters. On the other, how many shenanigans could you get into with your twin brother, though? How often do you think they switch jerseys and pretend they are the other one? If one of them gets red carded, do you think he could just switch with his brother and avoid the suspension altogether? The possibilities.

I need to interview Lars and Sven Bender freakin yesterday to get to the bottom of all this.

Winner: Maurizio Sarri

Again, I’m not ready to declare victory on Sarri’s implementation of his system after today, but I got to give it to him, for a guy that was supposed to be super tactically inflexible and what not, he has been remarkably flexible as of late.

He got dealt a tough hand with injuries, but he has deployed all his considerable attacking resources in a number of different, creative ways that I didn’t think would be possible.

Slotting Federico Bernardeschi as the de facto trequartista was an interesting move, while not fully successful; it did provide him with a player of a different skill set to play in that position. Ronaldo and Higuain were supposed to be absolutely incompatible, but they looked pretty solid playing together today. The great Dybala as False 9 experiment has provided great early returns and Douglas Costa was arguably the best player on the team during his first stint in Sarriball

Parting Shot of the Week

Four out of 6 points is a pretty decent haul considering the opponents and the circumstances. For a season that was supposed to be a slow start, with some growing pains, they haven’t really materialized as much as we thought they would.

Not to get way to ahead of myself but, I mean, there don’t seem to be a lot of unbeatable teams, right? All the usual suspects look rather diminished, Real Madrid looks like a husk of itself, Barcelona is struggling, Paris Saint-Germain will forever be frauds and I will not hear otherwise.

The English teams are faring a bit better, but is Manchester City, Tottenham or Liverpool showing any signs of being unbeatable? Bayern Munich is by far the team that has looked the best so far, with a dismantling of Tottenham and their usual spot at the catbird’s seat in Bundesliga.

I have the feeling this is going to be a funky Champions League season.

See you Sunday.