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Manu’s Grab Bag: Game of Seconds

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A solid performance is tainted by a last minute equalizer as Juventus go into the International Break on a low note.

SS Lazio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Let me tell you about my day to day.

I live in Mexico City, which is a massive, sprawling metropolitan area. In fact, it’s the second largest in the Western Hemisphere and home to over 20 million people. Like a lot of cities of that size, traffic and driving distances are an issue to say the very least.

Most large businesses headquarters — and therefore work places — are located either in what we could describe as downtown Mexico City and an outer borough known as Santa Fe. My place of employment is in Santa Fe, which is all high rises, luxury condos and offices, so unless you are making bank, living in that area is a non-option for the majority of working stiffs like myself.

I rent a decent-sized apartment closer to downtown Mexico City — which I quite like actually, but it does make the commute a bit of a nightmare. Santa Fe is pretty far from the rest of Mexico City, so you are looking at something like 45 minutes to an hour to get there from where I live, with significantly longer waiting times if you happen to live in the southern or northern most areas of the city.

Since we have a 7 a.m. check-in time, plus an hour or so commute, plus whatever time I take to get showered and ready for the day, I’m usually waking up somewhere in the 5 a.m. range every day. As with everything one grows used to the schedule, you learn to have a disciplined time table and go to bed at 10 p.m. tops. However, that does make my weekend sleeping hours sacred.

So, when I tell you I hate the early kickoff times, I do mean it. It’s essentially adding a work day on a freakin’ Sunday. It’s awful, but it’s my cross to bear, no one forced me to root for a European team. That’s all on me.

However, for the large majority of Sunday’s clash against Lazio, I was pleasantly surprised with my decision to sacrifice some sleep. The team looked solid, if unspectacular at times, and looked ready to cruise to a convincing win over last year’s Boogeyman.

They even debuted the steel blue kits I’m so fond of! What a treat, yes, this was a good call. Now that the game is winding down I will get changed and maybe go out for a nice morning jog and have a productive, pleasant Sunday and … are you kidding me.

Felipe Caicedo’s late — and I do mean late — equalizer was a demoralizing moment in a season that has so far been a bit of a start and stop for the Bianconeri. However, and after sulking for the entire day, I think there’s more to the game than just another deflating tie.

Let’s get right to it.

Winner: Dejan Kulusevski

The young Swede has lowkey — like much of the team — had a bit of an irregular form to start the season. Sometimes he looks like a must start, others he fails to make his impact on the game. This is not necessarily on him, he’s super young on a new team and has been moved around his usual spot as a right winger.

Notch this one as one of the better games for him as he was consistently a catalyst for the team when they counterattacked — which was for large stretches of the game but we’ll get to that later — he brings a lot more speed and pace to the position as opposed to a guy like Aaron Ramsey for example and was overall pretty impressive.

Andrea Pirlo has several unresolved issues with the lineup, but finding room for Kulusevski as often as possible seems to be going higher and higher on that list.

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

Yes, this was a pretty good performance from the coach despite the result. Please, let me make the case.

We all know Pirlo has an idea of what he wants his team to look like, what ideally he would like Juventus to play — high pressing, always pushing, attacking minded and sort of position-less football. So far, the results for that strategy have been a bit of a mixed bag, with some really good showings like the early season Sampdoria game and some other ones that have been disappointing.

You can chalk that up to the idea itself being fundamentally unsound, or to the fact that he does not have the players to make it work or that he hasn’t had the time to fully implement it. That’s a discussion for another day, but with the season in full swing, it was honestly encouraging to see him tweak that philosophy and go with a much more pragmatic playing style against Lazio.

Instead of the relenting press, Juventus allowed Lazio the control of the ball, but very little in terms of attacking opportunities, only occasionally pressing. Merih Demiral showed out, as the formation and style suited him best as a stout defender while not asking him to do too much in terms of building from the back which was something that he had struggled with early on the season.

As previously mentioned, Kulusevski thrived on the counters and Alvaro Morata — who is a very good counterattacking striker — had some good runs, too. Plus, you know, Cristiano Ronaldo is still pretty freaking fast, so he also had some good moments in the open space. This was a manager understanding the deficiencies of his system/team and tweaking them to better use the talents he has at hand.

We can argue non-stop about whether Juventus sat back for too long or whatever, but I often think that making that case is just judging on hindsight rather than what we actually saw in the game. If they don’t make the comedy of errors that was the late equalizer we are sitting here talking about how Juventus had one of their more defensively solid performances of the young season. Because, let’s face it if the team had gone full on forward and kept pressing and trying to score another goal instead of “sitting back” and then they get scored on a counterattack the conversation would be about Pirlo not knowing how to manage the game and being naïve in his approach.

And, oh by the way, speaking of analysis after the fact...

The Paulo Dybala Affair

You can miss me with the whole, THIS IS ALL DYBALA’S FAULT, angle that is coming around on the Juventus-verse.

I have been as critical of Dybala as anybody on the early goings of the season — even naming his as the LVP of the Barcelona game — and it is true that he continues to have disappointing performances overall.

But to blame him for Lazio’s equalizer is a bad take, it’s a nonsensical take even. He’s an easy target because of his aforementioned lack of form and what is expected of him, also because his ongoing contract drama which isn’t making him any friends on the fan side of things.

But for him to be signaled as the main culprit for the goal that was scored on a play he wasn’t even a part of is the stretch of all stretches. Yes, the dude could have better controlled the Weston McKennie outlet pass, but when he didn’t what was the result? A throw in. A freaking throw in and not even a thrown in that was particularly close to the box, either.

It wasn’t like he committed a dumb PK like Federico Bernardeschi against Barcelona or that he made an awful pass that led to a goal like … damn, Bernardeschi against Hellas Verona. Fede is currently not having a good time, my guys.

Maybe, blame, I don’t know, Juan Cuadrado and Rodrigo Bentancur, who got bodied by Joaquin Correa in a 2 on 1 situation. Or Adrien Rabiot, who failed to make a tackle on the aforementioned Correa during his run, or Demiral or Leo Bonucci or literally anybody who was actually involved in the play.

Hell, I don’t buy it either, but even the case that it was Pirlo’s fault for not subbing out Bentancur or Cuadrado which made them reticent to challenge Correa makes slightly more sense despite that theory being also a stretch.

Dybala does need to play better and if his form doesn’t pick up, there will be a legitimate question as to whether he fits in the team moving forward, but let’s not get carried away and start blaming him for every bad thing that happens to Juventus.

Kit Ranking

SS Lazio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I alluded to it at the beginning, but they finally did it! The blue kits!

They are so significantly better than the orange trash that is the third kit that it only makes me more upset that this was the first time they used them.

Better late than never, I guess! I just hope they don’t get buried in the rotation like that beige kit they had a few years back that was so sparsely used I bet most of you reading this forgot it existed.

The Lazio joints are actually really nice too and I think the baby blue color is always a neat look, but this time I think Juventus takes it by a landslide.

Panic Button Update

A Hi5tory Lesson

Despite the frustrating result, the good news is that Juventus is exactly as far away from the top of Serie A as they were when the game started, four points back.

With only seven match days gone by that hardly seems like a horrific scenario all things considered, plus do I need to remind people about the holes this team has climbed up from before?

I actually believe that the 2015-16 team has a lot in common with this current iteration of Juventus. While the 2015 team did not have a new coach, they were decidedly in a transitional period after losing a lot of core members of the previous year team that made the Champions League final. They were also trying to fit in a number of new signings to the squad, while figuring out the best lineups and formations. Oh, also, the young superstar with the No. 10 shirt was struggling to find his form in the lineup as people openly wondered if he was all that good after all.

That team was in 10th place on matchday 11 before finding their form and making the run of all runs to take the top spot in the table only 14 games later. A first place they would not relinquish as they were crowned Serie A champs for the fifth time in a row.

You can make the argument the league is better now that it was back then, but then again, Juventus is much better than they were in that year. Look at that highlight video above, dudes like Simone Padoin, Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina, Simone Zaza and freakin’ Hernanes are making significant appearances.

(Also, look at the Mario Lemina goal, you can’t blame me for eminently believing in him to be the guy moving forward. I will never leave Mario Lemina Island, he could still be good, I swear!)

With that in mind, four points back is eminently manageable — seven points back with a game in hand in a worst case scenario depending on the ruling of the Napoli match — so far Juventus has been given us plenty of reasons to trust them when it comes to domestic competition, still not enough reasons to start doubting them quite yet.

Parting Shot of the Week

Again and forever, screw International breaks. They are pointless and more often than not only cause injuries and ruin seasons. To have them in a global pandemic is absolute madness, and Juventus – and all teams really — will be lucky to not have an outbreak in their hands once this stupid break is done.

The one upside is that — as we previously talked about — Matthijs de Ligt and Alex Sandro should be back in the lineup for Juventus. I don’t think we can understate the effect of having de Ligt — arguably a top 10 center back in the world — and Sandro back. Both guys will be direct reinforcements in areas of need that will allow Pirlo to finally have a full deck when playing with the lineups and formations.

Also, this:

I, for one, can’t wait.

See you in two weeks.