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Manu’s Grab Bag: Back in Black (And White)

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Juventus never trailed as they dominated Bologna in the first match back from International break.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Juventus football is back, y’all!

When I get elected as an all-powerful Sports Czar, the first thing I’m doing is to eliminate all international breaks except for World Cup qualification. They are dumb, unnecessary and I dislike them strongly. I see absolutely no flaw in my plan, no sir.

But I do have to say something: What an entertaining match on Saturday night to welcome us all back. A textbook game in which the 2-1 final score does not reflect the type of game it actually was, with Juventus dominating the game from wire to wire and looking like the team just continues to get better each and every week.

Let’s get right to it.

The Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award: Lukasz Skorupski

The second time this season a goalkeeper is worthy of the Sorrentino memorial award.

As you know, the Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award is given to the goalkeeper of a mid- to low-table team that has an out-of-body experience and performs at an extraordinary level against Juventus.

Did you know Juventus had 23 shots during this game, with 10 shots on target and only two goals to show for it? That is not because Juve had a bad shooting night, its because Skorupski was brilliant. Make no mistake, the only reason this game was as tight as it ended up being was because of Skorupski’s performance, denying Juve players time and time again, especially in the second half.

Cristiano Ronaldo should have had a brace and Gonzalo Higuain should have had another one in any other day. Not on Saturday, though. Not against Skorupski in God Mode.

MVP: Miralem Pjanic

What else can I say about this guy? Another virtuoso shift from the Bosnian midfielder who is on an absolute tear right now.

Had himself a brace during International Break and bagged himself another one on a Ronaldo deflection that he slotted coolly into the lower corner of the goal. He has been playing so well as of late that he actually took a free kick instead of Ronaldo ... with Ronaldo in the game. Do you understand how rare that is?

I don’t know if this is the best stretch of play he has had in a Juventus jersey, recency bias and what not. But if it’s not the best moment of his black and white career, it is damn close.

Runner Up: Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A

Trending Up: Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur

One starting and the other coming on as a substitute in the second half, both with really encouraging performances.

Rabiot continued with his development back from a year of inactivity Saturday, and while it’s a stretch to say he is 100 percent back he did look considerably better than in his early performances. He had a couple of good connections with Ronaldo and performed better at overlapping runs on the left than Blaise Matuidi.

As reliable as Blaise is, it’s no secret that he struggles on the technical side of the ball. So if Rabiot can find his form, he is much more naturally suited to the style of play that Maurizio Sarri requires.

Bentancur was subbed on for Sami Khedira, who say what you will, but he was undoubtedly a player that was there. It was interesting to see that Bentancur dropped back and allowed PJanic a more free-flowing role on the right for the second half. Last time we saw the young Uruguayan, he ended up playing in the hole behind the strikers in a good showing against Inter.

The tactical flexibility that the Juventus midfield has is a very pleasant development and Bentancur put forth another solid shift off the bench. The youngin’ continues to make his case for more minutes, and it’s hard to make the argument he doesn’t actually deserve them.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Trending Down: The Johnny Square Experience

“Oh, good, Cuadrado is starting as right back.”

This was a thing that I said, out loud and with no irony or sarcasm whatsoever in the year of our Lord 2019.

And how could I not? The Colombian winger-turned-fullback had been impressive in his new position and without any other options I was far too comfortable with the idea of Juan Cuadrado continuing his strong play.

I should have known better, folks.

Cuadrado ended up being largely anonymous going forward and at fault for Bologna’s goal, completely losing the coverage of Danilo, who had all the time in the world to set up and unleash a laser that Gianluigi Buffon had no chance to stop. At this point, with Mattia de Sciglio still injured and Danilo underwhelming and also injured, Cuadrado is our only option.

You win by the square, you lose by the square.

Away Team Fun Fact

Did you know that Bologna is goddamn beautiful?

Look at that!

They are also home to the oldest university in the world in the University of Bologna — which was established in 1088 — and the capital of Emilio-Romagna province.

Sure, the team caught an L on Saturday, it happens, but they get to go back and live there! That can’t be that bad can it? Look, if I learned something today it is that Bologna is hella underrated as a gorgeous Italian city and I will be making an effort to visit whenever I can.

GOATs remain GOATs

How?!

My guy is 41 years old and he is still pulling off miraculous last-minute saves for Juventus. I’m happy to eat all the crow that exists in the universe when I thought it wasn’t such a great idea to bring him back. That man may continue to make ridiculous saves when he is 50.

VAR Controversy of the Week

Matthijs de Ligt continues his baffling habit of flailing around when making clearances and it makes me unhappy.

There’s an interpretation of the rule that says that if the ball touched your arm/hand while falling to support your body then it’s not a penalty kick. Then you’ll hear another rule that says that if it hits your arm/hand in any circumstance, outside of it being tucked into your body or being hit directly by another player, then it is a PK.

And, honestly, at this point, I don’t know or I don’t care what is and is not a penalty kick. It really seems like every time it ends up being called at the ref’s leisure.

Just to give my two cents: I don’t think you can call that a PK because he was falling and the ball took a deflection from his leg. Some might agree other might disagree, the ref could have called it either way.

Luckily this time, the VAR god did us a solid and we could go home with the three points.

The de Ligt stans such as myself breathe a sigh of relief, especially since the Dutch player played a pretty solid game all things considered.

Parting Shot of the Week

Look, it would sure be nice if Juve could put games away more often a la Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. Alas, it was not meant to be and if not for Buffon heroics this one could have ended up in an awful, undeserved tie.

Still, one of the most dominating performances that we have seen from the Bianconeri this season. Juve dominated possession and kept Bologna pinned back into their own side of the field for the majority of the game. Good performance all around in preparation for the midweek fixture against Lokomotiv Moscow.

While I don’t expect the Russians to give us a scare at home, you never know, and Juventus have to come out guns blazing and try to put the game to bed early. At least I sure hope they do.

See you Tuesday.