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Manu’s Grab Bag: Kings of the Hill

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Juventus dominate Inter in Milan, as the defending champs lead the pack, once again.

FC Internazionale v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Guissepe Meazza Stadium. Top-of-the-table clash. Juventus vs. Inter Milan. Derby d’Italia.

It just doesn’t get any better than this as an Italian football fan. And did the game deliver, with one of the most anticipated derbies in recent history and a record attendance at San Siro seeing one of the most electric matchups between these two teams.

Emotions ran high during the entire matchup but in the end, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Gonzalo Higuain netted the late-game winner and Juventus claiming the spoils to hold sole possession of first place for the first time in the season.

Good times were had by all ... well, except Inter, but who cares about them.

Let’s get to it.

Loser: Inter Milan

Inter not only lost the game, but the week they had was incredibly deflating. They blew an early 1-0 lead to Barcelona in Champions League play midweek, a game that ended 2-1 in favor of the Blaugranas. Only to go back home, get thoroughly outplayed by Juventus and lose by the same score in Sunday’s derby.

Inter is better than prior years, and you could make the case that losing Alexis Sanchez to a suspension and Stefano Sensi to injury early on were big factors in this loss. But the facts are the facts: When facing upper tier competition, Inter is still very much not there.

So, yeah, as mentioned before in this blog right here, Inter remain frauds, today, tomorrow and forever.

MVP: Miralem Pjanic

This was the type of game that Pjanic had flirted with for a long time during this season and what a time to finally take over. There was no player that had more influence on Sunday, and he was incisive on the attack and solid on defense. The game moved at the pace the Bosnian dictated, the fact Juventus lived playing on Inter’s side of the field for the majority of the game had everything to do with Pjanic’s play.

Pjanic had already seemed to unlock a different level to his game under Sarri, but this is by far his best game of the season and one of the finest performances in black and white for him. Might cement himself as the best midfielder in Italy and one of the best in the world if he keeps this up.

Runner Up: Leonardo Bonucci

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

Winner: Redemption Stories

Leonardo Bonucci, after a lackluster disappointing season to begin his second Juventus stint, was by far the best defender in the team, a captain and one of the most important players in this victory. Bonucci kept Romelu Lukaku in his pocket for the majority of the game and was a steady presence after an uneven Mathijs de Ligt performance.

Higuain continued his rollercoaster of a season. After being offered to every single team out there as a replacement to somebody who might be leaving, for him to get the winner against Inter in a game like this is just another chapter in the most unlikely redemption story for Juventus.

Winner: The nation of Argentina

Three goals, all of them scored by Argentinians. For Juventus, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. For Inter, Mateo Lautaro, who had himself a game and was consistently one of his team’s most dangerous players.

Something about that country is that they seem to produce extraordinary offensive players like nothing. Regardless of the result, I’m sure Argentina was pretty happy with the performances of their countrymen.

Loser: Federico Bernardeschi

At the end of the first half, Wojciech Szczesny almost as many touches as Bernardeschi — which is not great. The Italian got a second consecutive start after playing and scoring against Bayer Leverkusen midweek, but failed to make much of an impact on Sunday’s game.

The experiment with Fede as trequartista has had rather disappointing results, and with Douglas Costa slated to come back after the international break and Dybala and Higuain performing much better as of late, Bernardeschi might be the odd man out. His Juventus career might start to be at a crossroads and he needs to start performing, point blank.

Question of the week: Is Johnny Square the best right back in the squad?

Do we dare?

Do we dare say the Johnny Square Experience is here to stay?

It was another very solid game for the dancing Colombian man who is making up for his lost season last year and proving himself to be a more than adequate full-time right back.

Danilo has been mostly underwhelming and Mattia De Sciglio has been injured pretty much the entire season to date. Sure, you can make the argument that De Sciglio could still eventually end up being the starter. But, with the way Cuadrado has been playing, I don’t know if De Sciglio can unseat him.

I don’t know if it’s Andrea Barzagli’s coaching, or a change in training methods and system, but Cuadrado looks like a different player. I don’t mind him one bit starting in that position full time, which is something that I definitely didn’t expect when the season started.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-JUVENTUS Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

Winner: Maurizio Sarri

I wondered, out loud, if Sarri was insane with his substitutions.

In a game that was desperate for Aaron Ramsey, Sarri inserted Emre Can a man who was excluded from the Champions League list and who seemed to fall entirely out of favor early in the season. Rodrigo Bentancur was subbed in and eventually went on to play in the hole and Higuain got in to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo like Paulo Dybala — who had played a fantastic game up to that point.

The result? An assist for Bentancur to Higuain for the game winner and a true, gritty, blue collar performance from Can to see the game through. Turns out the Juventus manager knows more about football than me, who would have guessed?

Sarri nailed the starting lineup, the game plan, the subs and comes out of Sunday’s derby at the top of the table with, arguably, his biggest win as Juventus manager yet.

Parting Shot of the Week

Staring at the second international break of the year, Juventus holds sole possession of first place in the league table and their Champions League group. They remain undefeated in all competitions and continue to look better and better in Sarri’s system as time goes on.

Sunday’s second goal a clear indication of that evolving comfort in the system.

I cannot emphasize this enough: Every time you watch a Juventus game, you have to keep reminding yourself that the early goings of the season is the worst this team is going to look. History suggests that, time and time again, Sarri’s teams take time to get the system and they look better and better as the season goes along.

Again, this is the worst we are going to look. And Juventus is still strong enough to dominate Inter, supposedly their strongest domestic competition, away from home.

So, yeah, if you want to feel a little bit smug and bullish about our chances this year? Go right ahead, we earned it.

Take it home, official Juventus Twitter account!

And, hey, Inter?

See you all after the break.