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Manu’s Grab Bag: Close Call

A scrappy Lokomotiv Moscow put a scare into Juventus until Paulo Dybala managed to bring Juve ahead and keep them atop of Group D.

Juventus v Lokomotiv Moskva: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

For a second there, around the 70-minute mark, it sure looked like Juventus was going to tumble down its Champions League group’s table and end up Matchday 3 in third place, There would be a little indicator saying “Direct to Europa League Knockout Stage” next to them, just for kicks.

It was a horrible, horrible moment for your boy. Still, thanks to a couple of moments of brilliance from Paulo Dybala, Juventus escaped the dreaded trap game alive and well and on top of the group at the end of the first round of matches.

You cannot ask for much more than that from the first three Champions League matchups during the Maurizio Sarri era.

A lot went down, so let’s get right to it.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

Who else but my large adult son?

I will bring it up time and time again. This man was going to be sold for Romelu Lukaku. It was a done deal until Dybala decided to stay and fight for his place in the squad. We’re almost three months in and it looks like that was a tremendous decision by everyone involved.

Dybala has looked better and better in Sarri’s system as the games go along and this last matchup was further proof of it. La Joya was a constant threat the entire game and by far the best player on the pitch for the second half. He scored an extremely well-deserved brace and a big performance from the Argentinian in a tricky European matchup. We hadn’t seen that from him in a second.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado

Devil’s Advocate: Maybe Sami Khedira is excellent, you heathens

Quick: What do Max Allegri, Maurizio Sarri, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Joachim Low all have in common?

They have all constantly and unrepentantly start Sami Khedira in their respective teams. Do those guys know more about football than us? I know it seems like Sami is constantly an underperforming disappointment that brings close to zero value to games. And I know that in this specific matchup the team looked immediately better when he was subbed out, but the facts are the facts.

World-class coaches continue to play Sami “Ghost in the hole” Khedira despite all evidence pointing to, you know, not playing him ever. Is Khedira the most criminally underrated player in modern history? Will we see the error in our ways? Will we miss him when he’s gone?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do know that you do not mess with something that is not broken. If football genius Maurizio Sarri deems a winning strategy to play 60 minutes with Khedira only to dramatically improve after subbing him out, who am I, a lone internet blogger, to go against that? Juve’s top of the table in Serie A and top of the group in Champions League play, so the numbers speak for themselves. Let Khedira continue being an unrecognized football savant while we all scratch our heads and try to understand how he does it.

(On the real, though, Sami Khedira sucked against Lokomotiv Moscow.)

Hey, here is a headline

Some context is required, so here we go.

Cristiano Ronaldo is not the second-worst free kick taker in Serie A history. He is, however, the player in second place on the list of most free kicks taken without a goal in Serie A, trailing only Camillo Ciano, who played for Frosinone last year and had 21 attempts in league play with no goals. Still, the fact that we have to split hairs to determine just how bad he is at free kicks is less than ideal, I think.

Miralem Pjanic has been taking more of them lately — with one goal already! — and I hope that trend continues. Ronaldo is still a fantastic player and he does a whole bunch of other things to make this Juventus team go, but maybe it’s time that he relinquishes free kick-taking duties for good.

That concludes this segment of, hey, here is a headline.

Away Team Fun Fact

Russia is a veritable goldmine for fun/interesting/terrifying facts and with our away team on this Champions League matchup hailing from that mysterious ass place we have a cornucopia of facts regarding this team.

For example, the team Lokomotiv Moscow was founded in 1922 and got its name because it brought together all the best players from Moscow’s train lines. Lokomotiv literally translates to locomotive, so essentially, trains. This team is named the Moscow Trains. Juventus played a competitive European matchup against the Trains.

*Blasts “It’s a Wonderful World” to max volume*

They are the Russian team with most Russian Cup victories, winning it 10 times in their history; that competition was previously named the Soviet Cup until 1992 when it was renamed to Russian Cup for unknown reasons. Branding perhaps?

Anyway, here’s a fact you didn’t know: Nobody actually knows who is the winningest team in Russia for domestic cups, since the Soviet Cup had to be divided evenly between all the teams and the government back in the day — HEYYYY OOOOHH SOVIET UNION JOKE — and they only won two Soviet Cups. Hell of a turnaround for them since the rebranding, so good for Lokomotiv.

Also, this team is a who’s who of remembering guys. Benedikt Howedes! That’s Serie A champion, Benedikt Howedes to you, by the way. Jefferson Farfan! Eder! And, hilariously, Joao Mario on loan from Inter! Catching yet another L from Juve even after leaving Italy ... cold world out here for Joao.

Finally, this is their youth team:

I don’t actually know any of those guys, but there’s not enough money on earth that you could offer me to play against a team filled with Russian dudes with numbers in the high 90s. No sir. I have seen enough Cold War-era Disney films to know how that ends — and it ends with at least two (2) broken extremities for me and I’m very much not about that life.

Parting Shot of the Week

This win against Lokomotiv Moscow was not easy, and at times it was significantly more stressful than it had any right to being. But with the first half of the group schedule in this Champions League, Juventus sits pretty in first place ahead of Atletico Madrid by goal difference.

On paper, the second half of the group stage games will probably be more favorable for the Bianconeri as the toughest opponents in the group, Atletico Madrid. visit Allianz Stadium for a rematch in late November. Lokomotiv showed they aren’t pushovers, and while Leverkusen has not won a single point in European play, they are still a top team in Bundesliga and primed to fight for a Europa League place.

It’s still a long way to go, but so far, European nights have treated Juventus kindly. Let’s hope they continue to do so.

See you on Saturday.