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Manu’s Grab Bag: The stage is set

With a pivotal few matches ahead, Juventus beat SPAL to avoid dropping key points. Despite the best efforts of Etrit Berisha.

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

With a tough week ahead and a squad deeply beat up by injuries, one of these games against teams in the lower-bottom of the table could have gotten hairy for Juventus. It seems like it’s trap game after trap game for a squad that has had to play three times in a week and will play two more times in the coming days.

It was not to be, as Juventus pulled off a comfortable 2-0 win over SPAL at Allianz Stadium to notch their fifth win in six games and keep pace with Inter Milan in the Serie A table.

Let’s get right to it.

The Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award: Etrit Berisha

A deserving and rightful winner of this award, and it is given to the keeper playing in a lower tier team that somehow goes absolutely bonkers whenever playing Juventus, usually in a losing effort. Named after the immortal Stefano Sorrentino, who would turn into the best goalkeeper on earth against Juventus. Sorrentino is currently a free agent, so if this is the end of the line on his career, major shout to him.

May a made up award in the Grab Bag serve as a tribute to his greatness.

Anyway, Juventus had 10 shots on goal Saturday, the vast majority of those shots being pretty well hit and/or close-range headers and somehow Berisha kept them away. His saves on Aaron Ramsey’s and Sami Khedira’s point blank efforts were astonishing.

I have seen Paulo Dybala beat the best goalkeepers in the world with his patented left-footed curler, but not Berisha. Even, Cristiano Ronaldo was a frustrated man after Berisha kept saving his continuous efforts to break through.

Ronaldo eventually did score and there was nothing that he, or any keeper on earth for that matter, could have done on Miralem Pjanic’s fantastic shot that broke the deadlock.

Still, a great day for Berisha, who rightfully picks up the inaugural Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award. Here’s to you, Etrit.

MVP: Miralem Pjanic

No other player had so much influence in the final score. Pjanic attempted 114 passes during the day and was everywhere on the field, had the opening goal on another long-range effort and provided the hockey-assist on the second one.

I worry he might get burned out, considering he’s had little to no rest while being the linchpin of Sarri’s Juventus, but the Bosnian wizard is dialed in right now. With another big game midweek in the Champions League and a heavy-hitters matchup at league leaders Inter Milan, Juventus need Pjanic to keep on a tear.

Runner-up: Paulo Dybala

Winner: Blaise Matuidi

Two months into the season and Juventus had no available fullbacks on the roster. How can that happen? Poor injury luck played a big part, with Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio being sidelined due to knocks. Alex Sandro, the only fully fit fullback and playing some really great football lately, had to fly back to Brazil due to the unfortunate death of his father, so you can’t really plan for that.

Still, the brunt of the blame has to be put on the Juventus board who thought it was a wise move to go into a season with only three natural fullbacks and a whole bunch of questions.

Well, here is Blaise to put out the fire. The records show he was sometimes used as a left back, back in the day when he played for Saint Ettienne but come on, this was a makeshift, panic move. Still, and to Matuidi’s and Sarri’s credit he looked pretty OK filling in.

It is SPAL, so you gotta grade on a curve, but he still did a perfectly reasonable job in apposition he hasn’t played in years. Let’s all take a second to contemplate the fact that Juan Cuadrado and Matuidi were the fullbacks in a Juventus win and admit, that much like a certain legendary TV hero, we know nothing.

New Guys Update: Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot

Rabiot got back-to-back starts for the first time this season after starting against Brescia last Wednesday and looked a smidge better than in his debut start. You can tell he is still adapting, but his positioning was markedly better and provided good cover when needed. The most encouraging aspect is that he has the fitness levels to go 90 minutes midweek and then play almost 80 with a short turnaround. Despite his prolonged hiatus from football, that’s impressive.

Ramsey’s quality was never in question, but it was whether he could stay healthy enough to be in the lineup consistently. So far, so healthy, and Ramsey continues to look like a quality addition to this lineup. His chemistry with both Dybala and Ronaldo is apparent, should have had a goal and his positioning in this formation is absolutely key for Juventus. An important decision now looms for Juventus’ training staff because you have two key matchups coming up. Will they continue start Ramsey with such a short turnaround and risk injury on Tuesday night in the Champions League? Or hold him for the derby on the weekend?

Most Random Cristiano Ronaldo Advertisement of the Week

The man himself had a pretty productive day, chipping in a goal, his third of the young season. We honestly might never surpass the epic awkwardness of his Egyptian Steel performance on this recurrent segment, but this Herbalife video has a couple moments that give it a shot:

That’s the face of a man who was not told he would have to try the product on camera.

Very good, I like it.

Sure you do, bud. Though, for a reported half a million dollars a year, I sure would say anything tastes good and I like it. (Quick aside: I can’t decide if half a mill is too much or not enough to have CR7 be your sponsor?)

The video ends with Ronaldo saying “I love to eat! I choose Herbalife nutrition,” which, you know, fire the guy who wrote that line.

Anyway, try Herbalife! Cristiano Ronaldo’s pyramid scheme of choice.

Parting shot of the week

I might be an overreaction to say this coming week is critical, but with Bayer Leverkusen visiting Allianz Stadium on Tuesday and then a visit to the San Siro to fight for Serie A’s top spot, Juventus will play two key games for their aspirations.

Losing either game would be a major setback in either competition and with the way Inter is playing; going back 5 points in the table to them would be playing with fire.

See you Tuesday.