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Manu’s Grab Bag: Over the hump?

We talk injuries, Cristiano Ronaldo-less Juventus, Stefano Sorrentino Award and more.

Paulo Dybala of Juventus FC gestures during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

After a pretty awful string of games, the second half of the season hasn’t gone particularly well for Juventus. But, much like fluids, rest and chicken soup for a cold, a relegation battler at the Allianz Stadium was just what the doctor ordered for the Italian champions.

When you are Juventus, beating Brescia is the literal definition of the bare minimum, but considering how Juve had failed to do just that — i.e. winning games they should win — for the better part of a month, it was nice to see them do what they had to do.

Juventus looked better than it had most of 2020 in Sunday’s 2-0 win. I don’t care if it was Brescia or not, I’m just happy I didn’t wake up early on a Sunday morning to be severely disappointed.

Let’s get to it.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

After a mostly-anonymous performance against AC Milan in the mid-week fixture for Coppa Italia, Dybala showed out with a monster performance on Sunday.

With Cristiano Ronaldo sitting out for rest purposes, Dybala took full control of the offense as his rapport with Gonzalo Higuain, gave the Brescia defense fits all game long. He finished the day with an astonishing 124 touches and was the spark that the Juventus offense was sorely in need of.

Also, and not less important, that free kick. More of that, please.

Runner Up: Gonzalo Higuain

Injury ... or blessing in disguise?

Miralem Pjanic had to be subbed off after coming in from the bench and immediately experiencing major discomfort that is now being reported as an adductor injury. He will be out for the trip to SPAL and that is about it. This is obviously not good for Juventus, despite Pjanic being in a bit of a slump; he is one of the most talented midfielders in a squad that is not exactly overflowing with players of his quality.

It also goes without saying that an injury, regardless to whom and when it happens, is never a good thing, per se. With that being said, it was clear that Mire had been struggling with fatigue — and who could blame him, as outside of Leonardo Bonucci, he’s been one of the most heavily-played players on the squad, getting little to no rest this season.

Even though he’s not expected to miss much time, this could be a much-needed rest for Pjanic. Rodrigo Bentancur had a fantastic game filling in for him and the young Uruguayan looks like a pretty good replacement until Pjanic gets healthy. Maybe getting a couple of weeks off to recharge and get his fitness levels back to where they were when the season started is just the thing Pjanic needs to start playing the level of football we know he is capable of.

Hot Take of the Week: Is this team better without Cristiano Ronaldo?

Before the CR7 hive collapses, no, of course not. That is why this segment is called a hot take; Juventus is not a better team without its leading scorer and one of the best players of all time.

However, it is worth mentioning that despite Ronaldo’s amazing talent and skill, a free-flowing, give-and-go style of play is not something he has really been known for lately. And without the Portuguese star in the lineup, it was evident that the ball was moving much more frequently than it had been the last few games.

All of this, of course, comes with the caveat: Yes, it was against Brescia, and yes, it was against 10 men for a significant part of the match. But the facts are the facts, and this team plays more of a Sarriball style offense when Ronaldo is not on the pitch.

Still, the pros of having Ronaldo out there far outweighs the cons — his 24 goals in all competitions are a pretty compelling reason to want Ronaldo playing as much as possible, but it was interesting to see a Juve team without Ronaldo perform like they did.

Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award: Lorenzo Andrenacci

There might not be a more fitting player to receive the immortal Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award, so Lorenzo Andrenacci, come on down! The 25-year-old is the third keeper for Brescia and was called into action after backup keeper Enrico Alfonso had to be subbed out due to a head injury, who himself was starting only due to first choice keeper Jesse Joronen being out injured.

Not only did Andrenacci make his Serie A debut on Sunday, but he performed quite admirably given the circumstances. You can chalk some of the blame for Dybala’s free kick up to him due to his bad placement, but other than that, he made a number of key stops and denied Juventus players from making this a much more lopsided victory.

In true Sorrentino fashion, he played well, but still couldn’t do much to keep his team from losing. That’s the award in a nutshell, congrats on the win, Lorenzo, it was a banner weekend for you.

Parting Shot of the Week

It is not often that Juventus has this much riding at this point in the season, but you could make the argument that the next couple of weeks are as important as any stretch of the season for the Bianconeri.

With the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, a clash against Inter immediately after and the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals coming in succession, Juventus’ season could depend largely on this stretch of games.

With Inter dropping points against Lazio and now sitting three points back behind the champs and third overall, another loss against Juve could be a fatal blow to their title aspirations. Beating Milan at home would place Juventus in the Coppa final and have them on pace to get their first trophy of the Sarri era, and the Champions League? Well, you know what’s up with the Champions League.

Before that massive stretch of games, however, Juve visits SPAL in a textbook definition of a trap game next Saturday.

See you next weekend.