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Manu’s Grab Bag: From Moscow With Love

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Douglas Costa became the hero in a cold, rainy night in Moscow as Juve achieve qualification through the knockout rounds.

Lokomotiv Moskva v Juventus: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Mike Kireev/MB Media/Getty Images

A few months back when we first learned the opponents Juventus would be facing in the Champions League group stage, I did not think Lokomotiv Moscow would be one of the toughest outs in recent history. But here we are.

Juventus struggled both home and away, mightily may I add, to beat the little engine that almost could from Russia. Despite the final score line reading 2-1 for Juventus, the result probably did not accurately represent the actual proceedings of the game. It was 90-minute slog of a game with few chances and even fewer exciting moments.

The only reason we can sit here and talk about Juventus getting the W and advancing to the Champions League Round of 16 is because of the following player…

MVP: Douglas Costa

The MVP of the game has to be, undoubtedly, a dude who played less than 20 minutes but made absolutely all the difference. Costa injected life into what had been a moribund performance by the Bianconeri providing the sole attacking spark when he was subbed in for Sami Khedira.

Before his injury, Costa had been the clear-cut best player in the squad, and in his first European performance since said injury, he proved that it wasn’t a fluke.

It seemed that every attacking opportunity passed by the Brazilian’s feet and every pass and take on he attempted was successful. He capped off his great night with one of the better goals we have seen from a Juve player in the last few years, as he dribbled by several Lokomotiv players, played a fantastic give-and-go with Gonzalo Higuain and slotted home the stoppage-time winner.

Lokomotiv Moskva v Juventus: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Igor Russak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One thing is for sure: Whatever formation manager Maurizio Sarri decides to go with going forward, it seems pretty clear that formation should always include Douglas Costa.

Runner Up: Gonzalo Higuain

Trending Down: Cristiano Ronaldo

I, mean, yeah, right? Another lackluster performance for the Portuguese striker in what has now been a string of them. Sarri stated in his post-match comments that he had been dealing with a light knock, and that might be the reason he has been struggling. But, man, at some point you have to give the guy some rest, right?

We are talking about one of the best players of all time, so it’s fair to say he might be getting some more leeway in order for him to get back into his usual form. At some point, though, you got to ask, is the best way for him to break out of his funk to keep playing him, even with an injury? OR, to let him rest for a couple of matches, get his body back to 100% and take it from there?

We’ll see what happens soon enough, with the AC Milan game looming on Sunday and theoretically fresher legs in Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi, Aaron Ramsey and Douglas Costa, it might be time to give Ronaldo another break.

Lokomotiv Moskva v Juventus: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Mike Kireev/MB Media/Getty Images

Is Lokomotiv Moscow good?

Are they?

I think they might!

In the Grab Bag detailing the first leg matchup, I made a joke about Lokomotiv being a great “Remember some guys” team. But those guys are not only fun fact trivia, they are actually pretty damn good. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this team managed to play Juventus tough in two straight games, and they also beat Bayer Leverkusen and played Atletico Madrid tough as well.

They are not pushovers is my point. Trailing behind Atletico Madrid by four points with only six remaining, it’s probably out of reach for them to get to the knockout rounds in the Champions League. But a berth at the Europa League is very much in play for the Russians, something that will most likely be decided against Leverkusen a team they already throttled.

I bid Lokomotiv farewell and if they do manage to get into the Europa League, I will make sure to make it appointment viewing.

Devil’s Advocate: Are Juventus just tired?

The latest string of games for Juventus has been pretty consistent, I’ll say that. Not quite convincing showings, while still somehow, managing to pull the result needed in the dying seconds. Definitely not what we expected after the incredible showing the team had in their top of the table clash at Inter Milan before the International break.

Is it just a team that is not making the expected progress? OR, could it be, the guys are just tired?

Look at their schedule after the break:

  • Oct. 19: Home vs. Bologna — 2-1 win
  • Oct. 22: Home vs. Lokomotiv — 2-1 win
  • Oct. 26: Away at Lecce — 1-1 draw
  • Oct. 30: Home vs. Genoa — 2-1 win
  • Nov. 2: Away at Torino — 1-0 win
  • Nov. 6: Away at Lokomotiv — 2-1 win

That’s six games in 19 days while having between two and four days tops of rest between them. This is coming after an international “break” in where the vast majority of starters in the team saw action for their respective national teams.

I’m as unhappy with the recent results as the next guy, but this might just be a case of burnout for a lot of the guys in the team. Plus, have you seen how far Moscow is?

That’s almost 3000 km! And, I know that Juventus didn’t drive to Moscow, but that’s still pretty ‘effin far. Added to the fact that it was a cold, rainy, miserable night against a tough as nails opponent? I would not be in my best playing shape either.

Can we give the lads a break?

Parting shot of the week

Speaking of breaks, there’s only one more game before another International break as Juventus host the clown show known as AC Milan in the Allianz Stadium.

The Rossoneri sit in 11th place in the Serie A table, significantly closer to the relegation zone (5 points) than to the leaders (16 points!!!). I’m not a mathematician, but that seems bad for the once-proud Milan squad.

With a win against them, Juventus would remain at the top of the table in both the league and European competition and remain the only undefeated side in Europe’s Top 5 leagues. For a year that many people feared would be transitional, Juventus is experiencing a damn smooth transition.

See you on Sunday.