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Manu’s Grab Bag: Champions Debut

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In an all-around solid win, Andrea Pirlo and Juventus notch their first three points in the Champions League campaign.

Paulo Dybala (L) of Juventus FC and Federico Chiesa (R) of... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

The first game of the Champions League season is always a great time.

The anthem, the lights, the glimmer of hope that “Yes, this could be the year!” and the long lunch breaks at work, it’s just the best. However — and despite my somewhat unfounded optimism regarding this year’s Juventus squad — I was pretty anxious leading up to Tuesday’s match.

While nobody will mistake Dynamo Kyiv as a force to be reckoned with, the last couple of Juve displays were not confidence builders and there was a slight expectation of a letdown game, especially going away to Kyiv.

Turned out, the uneasiness was deeply unfounded, as Juve turned a solid showcase in a convincing 2-0 victory to open up Champions League play, giving Andrea Pirlo his first win of the continental tournament and a nice breather for a squad that with the international break and their lackluster draws against Roma and Crotone had gone a month without a win.

Let’s dive right into the proceedings.

MVP: Alvaro Morata

ALL ABOARD THE ALVARO MORATA IS ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD TRAIN.

All right, all right, it’s been just three Juve games for Morata and really only two in which he has looked good, but three goals in three games overall is pretty damn good regardless of any caveats you may have.

(And if you’re in a charitable mood, that Roma game was when he had barely trained with the team. You can discard that performance, honestly.)

He overcame a difficult first half and came through with a brace that was a quintessential poacher/No. 9 brace. Being in the right place at the right time is half the battle, and that’s what happened on the first goal as he slotted in a Dejan Kulusevski shot that was deflected right to him. The second score was peak Morata, as he anticipated a beautiful Juan Cuadrado cross and ate Illya Zabarnyi’s lunch with a thunderous header.

We either way overstate or underestimate a player’s capacity depending on their mood or whether they are happy at the club or not, but if you subscribe to the theory that it actually does matter a great deal — as I do — Morata’s play in the early season is Exhibit A of a guy who is happy, in form and ecstatic to get a second stint at a club he should have never left.

Also…

That’s adorable, look at our boy all grown up!

(Side note: Morata is 27 years old, my exact same age. Talk about different maturity curves, huh?)

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado — Back on the right side of the field he was his usual self, meaning maddeningly inconsistent but with dazzling moments, that assist was sublime.

Season Leader: Alvaro Morata and Aaron Ramsey (2 points)

Winner: Federico Chiesa

I was torn between Chiesa and Juan Cuadrado for the runner up spot as they both put fairly similar shifts against Dynamo with some good runs and aggressive moments and others that are best left undiscussed.

However, I do want to point out that despite the bad moments he looked pretty promising playing in the left wing instead of his usual position in the right. This does have some precedent as he lined up on the left flank a handful of times during his time at Fiorentina.

Despite that relative experience, his usual place is on the right and that’s what was largely expected of him once Juventus signed him, so seeing him line up on the opposite side of the pitch was yet another curveball thrown by Pirlo.

Still, for the majority of the game, the most dangerous chances for Juve came from his side of the pitch, including the first goal, and he looked pretty promising overall. If Chiesa can become a regular on the left, it gives Pirlo a ton more looks to play with going forward. With Alex Sandro still nursing an injury and young Gianluca Frabotta not completely impressing so far, Chiesa could win the job in a hurry.

Winner: Leo Bonucci

Now, that’s more like it!

After Giorgio Chiellini’s injury — more about that in a second — he had to step up to bring solidity to the defense and he very much did, snuffing out Dynamo’s attack and overall commanding the backline with relative ease.

As talented as Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral are, they are rather green playing in a three-man backline, and considering Bonucci’s pedigree and his experience playing in that setup, he will be the guy to anchor the defense around.

Loser: The BBC

We are, of course, talking about the legendary defense comprised of Andrea Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini. Here at BWRAO, we do not recognize any other group of three players that had the same nickname, there is only one BBC according to this blog and that is final.

With that out of the way and given yet another Chiellini injury — although it’s (hopefully) not as serious as we first feared — I think we can finally put to bed any hope that we could see some semblance of that defense still in the year 2020.

It sucks, it really does suck but we cannot expect on Chiellini to be anything more than a veteran presence that can fill in on occasion, he is still really good when fit, the problem is that he is very rarely fit and given his age and injury history that is unlikely to change.

Still, we are in a celebratory mood, so I’ll leave this segment with two things. First, what is dead may never die but rises again harder and stronger, so we are losing a generational defender but we have two young, super talented guys ready to take his spot in the long, storied history of Juventus defenders. There are worse places to be.

Second, look at this picture.

FBL-EUR-C1-MAN CITY-JUVENTUS Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Oh, the good times.

Kit Ranking

Dynamo wins.

Screw that orange kit, forever.

Winner: Max Allegri

Not only for his appearance on the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars, which I had embarrassingly failed to mention on this blog up until today. But, also, because despite the different names, formations and uniforms, this felt like a quintessential Max Allegri win.

Methodical, composed, no frills and, most of all, decisive. Outside of the last few minutes where Juventus ceded the initiative and Dynamo went full throttle on the attack down two goals, there was never really any semblance of danger for the Juventus goal. And unlike in several matches last year with Maurizio Sarri leading the club, once Morata scored the opener, there was a calm assuredness that Juventus would not relinquish the lead.

Granted, this team is not far removed from drawing Crotone and Roma, so let’s not start crowning them just yet. But in the small sample of games we have seen this year, this is probably the more in control Juventus has looked so far.

Parting Shot of the Week

As we discussed on one of the latest episodes of our podcast The Old Lady Speaks — rate, review and subscribe! — Juventus’ group in the Champions League was decidedly a two-horse race between the Bianconeri and Barcelona.

Both teams won their first games, with Barcelona obliterating Ferencvaros 5-1 and they are momentarily top of the group via goal difference. But we know the real test for both of these clubs will be when they face each other next Wednesday at the Allianz Stadium in Torino.

Regardless, it’s always nice to start the European season with a win and if you want to get into the nitty gritty, outside of the match ups with Barcelona, away at Dynamo was their most challenging match and they passed it with flying colors. In the all-important battle to come out first in the group, it doesn’t hurt to get that win out of the way early.

See you Sunday.