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Manu’s Grab Bag: Second half underway

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We talk Cristiano Ronaldo’s form, Danilo’s surprising performance and both new and old wingers.

(SP)ITALY-TURIN-FOOTBALL-SERIE A-JUVENTUS VS PARMA Xinhua/ via Getty Images

As the second half of the season got officially underway on Sunday, Juventus found themselves with the opportunity to go clear four points in the table thanks to well-known frauds Inter Milan dropping points against Lecce earlier in the day.

While it wasn’t particularly easy or a complete performance by any stretch of the imagination, Juventus got the job done, beating a feisty as hell Parma side 2-1.

There was a lot of good for Juventus on Sunday and a fair amount of bad stuff to talk about, so let’s get right to it.

MVP: Cristiano Ronaldo

Is it the ponytail? Maybe, who knows, but one thing is for sure. Ronaldo is having one of the best stretches of his Juventus career and it is quite a sight to behold.

With a brace on Sunday, Ronaldo has now scored in seven consecutive Serie A games, a streak that has seen him score 11 times. It’s not only the scoring, but the Portuguese forward looks significantly better than he did earlier in the season when he seemed out of rhythm and he was missing good chances. The clinical finishes are back as he showed on his second goal of the day, one-timing a perfect Paulo Dybala pass for a vintage Ronaldo score.

It’s good to have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, and it’s great to have in-form Cristiano Ronaldo on the team.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt

Trending Up: Danilo

That is Emergency Left Back Danilo to all of you. Alex Sandro was forced out of the game early due to an injury, while there are still no results back on the severity of the incident, we can all hope it’s something minor that won’t make the Brazilian fullback miss a lot of time.

However, another Brazilian fullback was right there to pick up the slack as Danilo got his shot and performed really, really well. It was kind of a surprise as Danilo had never lined up on the left side for Juventus and he wasn’t really advertised as a player who can play both flanks a la Mattia de Sciglio.

Regardless, it was a welcome surprise for a Juventus side that has struggled mightily with injuries this season to have some extra, unforeseen depth to give Sandro some rest here and there. Danilo was good, but still, let’s all hope Sandro is back to his usual duties as soon as possible.

Trending Up: Paulo Dybala

Another banner performance for La Joya, who continues to thrive as the second striker. He would have been either the MVP of the game or the runner up if not for even more impressive outings by both Ronaldo and de Ligt, respectively.

On Sunday he was paired with Ronaldo, midweek for the Coppa fixture with Gonzalo Higuain, and no matter what, he was excellent in both matches. At this point, it really is worth asking if he is one of the most, if not the most, important cog in the machine of Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus. As long as Dybala is ticking, Juventus tend to win games. That is very good, folks. Very good indeed.

Winner: The most fun Goalkeeper depth in all of Europe

Gianluigi Buffon is in a rather unknown position as a Juventus player this season. And that is as a backup.

While the expectation for him in his second stint as a Juve player was always going to be as the No. 2 goalkeeper behind Wojciech Szczęsny, you could make the case that it was always going to be unusual to see the GOAT be on the bench most games.

Well, if there was any doubt that Buffon can excel at any job you give him, consider your doubts assuaged. Buffon thrived as a starter and he is thriving as the backup.

Look at those two goofballs — they look so happy! I once wrote that the backup keeper’s main gig was to just be a fun, calming influence on the rest of the squad. Buffon is filling that job perfectly, and paired with noted great backup keeper Carlo Pinsoglio they make one of the most chilled out backup keeper tandems in all of Europe.

Away Team Fun Fact

Future Juventus player and current Parma loanee Dejan Kulusevski was playing his first game at Allianz Stadium since his surprise January signing so expectations were high to see what Juventus had paid €35 million for.

While he had a rather quiet game, especially in the first half, he came alive in the second half showcasing a lot of the skills that made him such a sought after asset. I don’t think he is quite ready to start at Juventus consistently, but it was exciting to see some of the skills that could make him a star somewhere down the line.

Belated Shoutout: Marko Pjaca

Speaking of young, potential filled wingers: Marko Pjaca was once the flashy future prospect signing for Juventus. You would be forgiven to have completely forgotten about Pjaca, considering he played half a season for Juventus sparingly before getting injured and falling of the map completely.

However, Pjaca is healthy now and he got his first minutes of action in the midweek Coppa Italia fixture against Udinese. We had no grab bag for that game, but I still wanted to give the still very young Croat a shoutout. Chances are slim that he becomes a regular for Juventus at this juncture. He was always more of a potential based signing and with all the injuries and inactivity he’s had its hard to envision him developing into a top winger. Still, it’s good to see a guy come back after an injury, especially one as prolonged as Pjaca’s. Hopefully he can beat the odds and be a contributor for Juventus, this season and beyond.

Parting Shot of the Week

The schedule remains packed with a midweek fixture looming against Roma and a visit to Naples over the weekend. Juventus has managed to obtain some wiggle room in the championship race as they are now four points clear of Inter and six clear of Lazio, which does have a game in hand so potentially they could get to within three points of Juventus.

There is never any time to take a breather when your goal every season is to win as many trophies as possible. So far, so good for Juventus, but their real test still lies ahead.

See you all on Wednesday.