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Manu’s Grab Bag: On to the next one

We talk dream debuts, Paulo Dybala and certain teams shaming the Italian league


Champions League games always get the blood pumping, even if it’s against a lesser opponent and even if it’s an objectively meaningless game with nothing at stake. There is just something about that anthem, the lights, and the massively-starred football in the middle of the pitch. It just hits different, man.

While it’s factually true that Juventus was playing for nothing — and the starting lineup sure was clear about that — spiritually they were trying to wash away the bad taste of the first loss of the season against Lazio and get back to winning ways.

Let’s get right into it.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

Much like Miralem Pjanic for a streak of games a month or so ago, I’m just giving this award to Dybala every time he is on the pitch, because the Argentinian continues to play at another level. While he did not get on the score sheet, he did provide the two assists that led to the final margin of victory.

(I know he only got credit for one, but I will completely ignore that, thank you very much.)

He continues to be the most dangerous player on the field and keeps playing with an enormous confidence about him. The Maurizio Sarri era is still under evaluation, but an undeniable success so far has been revitalizing La Joya’s career.

Runner Up: Merih Demiral (!!!) on that topic…

Trending Up: Merih Demiral and Daniele Rugani

Look, Juventus fans tend to be overprotective of their players. After the Calciopoli relegation, the years spent mid-table obscurity and the initial run of domestic success paired with continued failures at the international stage kind of put a chip on the fan base’s shoulder.

So, whenever we felt like a player in the squad was being disrespected by the world, we kind of got a tad bit too defensive for our own sake. That tends to translate to overhyping our youth products ... it happens.

Domenico Berardi was world class, according to us, but the guy never even played for the team. Pol Lirola was the heir apparent to the right back spot and there was no way in hell Mattia Caldara was going to be anything other than a rock-solid center back for years.

Miss, miss and a miss.

Merih Demiral was approaching that level of fan hype despite barely featuring for the squad during the early goings of the season, and in the low amount of playing time he got looking like nothing worth getting excited about. However, that all changed with his performance in this game, as the young Turkish defender played like he had something to prove and it showed, displaying grit and technique on his way to an almost MOTM performance.

One good performance does not a star make, but maybe the hype wasn’t so undeserved after all. And look at you go, Daniele Rugani! Another guy who was going to be a star but has never quite reached that level. Rugani played a pretty good game as well and paired perfectly with Demiral, with the makeshift backline looking way better than they had any right to look after playing exactly zero minutes together.

Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus - UEFA Champions League - Group D - BayArena Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

With the business end of the season fast approaching is comforting to know we have a solid backup center back pair to throw out there.

Trending Up: The Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala combo

I know the logic behind not playing this trio together; like in my mind it makes sense. Dybala is not great at defending; Ronaldo and Higuain have similar playing styles yada, yada, yada ... I get it.

But man, it looked fun when they all played together this time and it didn’t look nearly as impossible as Sarri continues to suggest. Small sample size, but the heart wants what the heart wants and my heart wants to have these three guys playing together more often.

Winner: Simone Muratore

I have often said that my ideal job would be third goalkeeper on a massively successful team. Bear in mind, this is not like my ideal job in football related things; this is my ideal job — period. Offer me being the president of any country in the world or the third string keeper at Juventus, and I take the third string gig in a heartbeat.

Think about it: you never play, so you have zero responsibility. You get to pal around the best players in the world, live the life of a professional footballer and win a bunch. What’s not to love?

Muratore played a version of that lifestyle Wednesday night against Bayer Leverkusen, making his Juventus debut in a Champions League game with a few minutes to play. There were no expectations or responsibility, and you just had to jog around for a bit and now you can forever say you played a game at the highest level of competition there is.

At the end of our life, the only thing we take with us are the memories. And by God, regardless of how the career of young Muratore goes, he will forever be able to hold on to the fact that his debut was in a Champions League win. Here’s to you, my guy.

Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

Parting Shot of the Week

With Juventus already qualified for the knockout stage, it was nice to see a win away from home and a return to winning ways after the horror show that was last weekend. However, it was also nice to see the rest of the Italian contingent do well on the European stage. Napoli also managed to secure qualification through the next round (while also firing their manager right after) and Atalanta, the Serie A Cinderella story from a year ago, continues their feel-good season(s) as they sealed their ticket to the next round in a thrilling fashion in the last matchday of the group stage.

That makes 4 out of 4 for Italian teams going through, because surely Inter Milan would not bottle a chance to win at home against an already-qualified Barcelona that sent a decidedly B squad to Milan. Yup, no chance that happened. Let me just check the results real quick to make sure…


See you all next weekend.