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Manu’s Grab Bag: Bounce-back Mode

We talk Matthijs de Ligt, Cristiano Ronaldo's chances at Juventus history and the departed Emre Can.

Juventus v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

The fun thing about the second half of the league schedule is to be able to compare and contrast between the performances in the first game and how they were different than the ones in the second game. This was especially true on Sunday, where Juventus had a significantly improved performance as compared the last game against Fiorentina.

You would be forgiven if you remembered little to nothing related to the first game, it was drab, miserable scoreless affair in a sweltering heat that left no impact in my life whatsoever. I just re-read my previous grab bag and the big winner was Frank Ribery and how now-washed he looked.

So this, well, this was a marked improvement. While the 3-0 final score looks a bit more lopsided than the game actually was, Juventus was without a doubt the better team and dservedly picked up the 3 points, with the VAR assisted 3-0 final scoreline.

Let’s get right to it.

MVP: Matthijs de Ligt

My large Dutch adult son barely edges out a very deserving Cristiano Ronaldo for the coveted Grab Bag MVP award. I’m sure he’s thrilled.

Matthijs de Ligt was a rock defensively, with several pinpoint tackles over the Fiorentina attackers that helped maintain a clean sheet and keep defensive stability an area that could certainly use some improvement for Juventus in the second half. He also snagged his second goal of the season and first in front of the Bianconeri faithful at Allianz Stadium.

The development of de Ligt late in the first half and what we have seen so far in the second is one of the most encouraging signs for a Juventus side that bet big on the talents of the Dutch wunderkind. He’s still not quite at Ajax level de Ligt that bounced Juventus from the Champions League quarterfinals last season, but he’s getting closer to it with every game — and that is very, very good news for all of us.

Runner Up: Cristiano Ronaldo, speaking of whom ...

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

With his two goals on Sunday, Ronaldo tied the legendary David Trezeguet with a goal in a club-record nine consecutive Serie A games. That is pretty damn good.

Another stat: Ronaldo has now scored 50 goals as a Juventus player in 1 12 seasons, tying Carlos Tevez on the all-time leaderboard for non-Italian Juventus players.

Two things: For one, holy hell Tevez scored 50 in only two seasons with the club. He was so, so good for Juventus. Kudos on me for stanning El Apache for the Juventus team of the decade.

The other thing? Holy hell, Ronaldo has 50 in just one-and-a-half! Those are straight up video game numbers and some amazing stuff that we are seeing from Ronaldo right now. Could he threaten the all-time non-Italian record at Juventus, which is currently held by the aforementioned Trezeguet?

The Frenchman scored 171 goals in his Juventus career, so my gut reaction is that Ronaldo doesn’t get there. But, at this point, I wouldn’t feel super sure making that bet.

Winner: The Rabiot-Pjanic-Bentancur midfield

Color me impressed by the performance of this trio playing together, with Adrien Rabiot finally shaping into form after his long hiatus from competitive football. These three guys look far and away the best midfield combination available to Maurizio Sarri at the moment.

They are all dynamic playmakers with great handles on the ball. While you could argue that they lack some defensive chops — and that’s a really fair point — there’s definitely some tinkering left to be made against more offensively powered teams. So, no, I don’t think Blaise Matuidi’s days in the starting lineup are over, but I think it’s undeniable these three guys give Juventus their best option in the midfield.

Chalk up another win for your boy at predicting the best midfield possible for this team would include Rabiot starting more often than not. Of course, the other midfielder I pegged as the part of the trio was not Bentancur, but it was ...

A eulogy for Emre Can’s Juventus stint

Along with that W, chalk up an L for your boy as well. With his loan move to Borussia Dortmund becoming official hours before the close of the January transfer season, the much-ballyhooed (by me) Emre Can era is officially over.

It’s unfortunate that it ended like this. When his free transfer from Liverpool became official in 2018, the hope was that Can could become the muscle in a midfield that was sorely lacking in that department. Alas, Can could never quite figure it out under former manager Max Allegri and was immediately discarded by Sarri as soon as the smoke man walked into Juventus’ facilities.

Do a thought experiment at home, dear reader, and try to remember one single noteworthy Can moment as a Juventus player.

3 ... 2 ... 1 ....

Did you come up with something? It’s OK if you didn’t. Me, personally and after significantly more than the three hypothetical seconds I gave y’all, thought of his performance in the return leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Atletico Madrid last season.

Feast your eyes upon the least impressive highlight mix of all time. However, he did perform well that game and actually did what he was brought in to do — be the muscle of Juve’s midfield.

To his credit, he was relatively gracious with his exit and I’m sure he will do better at Borussia Dortmund than he did at Juventus. Godspeed, Emre, Viel Glück.

Parting Shot of the Week

With this win, Juventus maintained its hold of first place in Serie A and their three-point lead margin over the frauds that play in the city of Milan.

If you want to take anything out of this game, it definitely has to be the improved look of the midfield, by far the most worrisome unit for Juventus for the last — checks notes — three years.

I’m jumping way too early into the optimism bandwagon, but if Juve manage to have a competitive midfield coupled with the way Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala are playing up front and the way de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci have been holding down the front defensively like they did against Fiorentina, Juventus could be clicking right before the most important stretch of the season.

See you next weekend.