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Manu’s Grab Bag: Six Pack

It’s a two-fer! As we talk everything that happened in this week game’s.

Juventus v US Lecce - Serie A Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Due to the sudden influx of games we have going on and the general increased amount of content at your friendly neighborhood blog BWRAO, your trusty Grab Bag will run once every two games for the remainder of the 2019-20 season. Except for really big games or really interesting games or whenever I have a scorching hot take that needs to be published in a written medium.

Between playing Bologna and Lecce this week, Juventus outscored their opponents 6-0. That feels like a massive, wild leap forward for a team that struggled to form anything resembling an attacking opportunity during the first 180 minutes of the restarted season.

And while the results were nothing to sneeze at — especially with Lazio dropping a wild game against Atalanta that has the Bianconeri up 7 points at the top of the table in Serie A – they also come with important caveats.

First of all, Juventus is still playing like a team that is struggling to find an identity which is less than ideal considering we are in the business end of the season with 10 games left in the calendar. They still lack creativity and at times, especially early during Friday’s game against Lecce, look completely lost. It’s unfortunate, but this team hasn’t shown that they have an answer to a team sitting back, parking the bus with 11 men and playing the counterattack. That is a worrisome development.

Also, while the goals are nice, Juventus were playing Bologna and Lecce. The marquee teams of the league they are not. Bologna is currently 11th place having a thoroughly unremarkable season and Lecce is 18th flirting with relegation and boasting the worst defense of the year with 64 (!!!) goals conceded.

Juventus should beat those teams which they did, AKA the bare minimum. Kudos for doing your job, you guys.

While we start this edition of the Grab Bag in a decidedly better place than last one, this team still has long way to go to looking like the team it should look.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

The MVP of the two-game stretch, Dybala scored in each game with two outstanding shots from his prodigious left foot and continued to look like one of- if not the most - dangerous player in the squad.

After being one of three (known) Juve players infected with COVID-19, and as he himself admitting he was still not 100% as games restarted, it was fair to wonder whether La Joya could be counted upon during the restart. However, Dybala has started every game played two full game shifts and was subbed out late in his latest two appearances. I don’t know if he actually wasn’t 100%, but they sure are playing him like he is.

With an attack that still looks sluggish and out of ideas for large stretches of time an in form Dybala is one less thing to worry about.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt

Hot and Cold

The latest chapter of the ballad of Federico Bernardeschi continues the same beats as his entire stint in bianconero. The Italian international started against Bologna and showed encouraging signs of improvement while working out of his preferred spot on the right wing, Bernardeschi provided relentless work rate, pace and even flair delivering a beautiful back heel assist to Dybala for the second goal of the evening. It was one of the best performances he’s put forth this season — not that the bar was particularly high — as he played the full 90 minutes and was close to scoring to round up what would have been a banner evening for him.

While he started again on Friday, we got the significantly worse version of Bernardeschi. He was ineffective and lacked the creativity he displayed against Bologna, the former Fiorentina star was subbed late in the second half with very little to show for his efforts.

Bernardeschi is very much playing for his Juventus career in this stretch run. With a shorthanded Juventus squad and a lot of games on the horizon in a very short time this is his best and last chance to prove he deserves to stick around.

The Joy of Defending

Man, what a joy it is to watch young Matthijs de Ligt defend.

Despite having some shaky early moments against Lecce, he was an absolute rock in the Bologna game and he recovered nicely in Friday’s game with plays like the one above. He even got a goal for all his troubles!

The slander against de Ligt early in the season was always ridiculous. You go out there and step into the shoes of one of the greatest center backs of the decade in a new league (some of the time while injured) and see how you fare up. Still, the trial by fire he endured early in the season seems to be paying off in bunches now.

The Fullback Conundrum

Blaise Matuidi is a good player. He is often maligned because he is not the most technically gifted player out there, I get that, I myself have sent some vitriolic tweets his way after a ghastly first touch that gets him dispossessed. But he is a good player, he fulfills his role to a T and has been a professional true and true during his time at Juventus.

A fullback, however, he is not.

Yet, that is where we found the French tank during the game against Lecce due to a comedy of organizational errors, bad luck and atrocious decision making.

Juventus started the season with three natural fullbacks in their squad. This was already dumb, because they own the rights to Luca Pellegrini — an actual fullback they acquired in a swap for Leonardo Spinazzola, who is yet another actual fullback. However, they decided to loan the young Pellegrini out and face the season with Mattia de Sciglio, Danilo and Alex Sandro as their only natural players for the position with Juan Cuadrado as a converted right back.

Miraculously, this had managed to work up until now. Sandro got injured in a fluke play during the Coppa Italia final against Napoli, which opened the spot for Mattia de Sciglio, an actual walking, breathing, human hospital bill.

Predictably, and despite playing well, he pulled up with a muscle injury late against Bologna, which led to Danilo playing in a game he was slated to rest. Perhaps because of his lack of desire to get in a game he wasn’t supposed to, Danilo decided to end his participation as fast as possible, so he got himself red carded in less than 30 minutes and subsequently suspended for Friday’s game.

That’s how you get Matuidi playing as a fullback against Lecce. To be fair, he kind of improved as the game developed, but it’s hard to say he was actually good at any point during the match.

Back from the dead

You would be excused if you were only thinking of Adrien Rabiot as a trade chip well on his way to the Premier League for a player to be named later. The Frenchman has been far from impressive this season and has failed to take meaningful minutes from his countryman Matuidi in the Juventus midfield.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to see Rabiot play a couple of nice games this week. It was nothing far too spectacular, but it was solid, above average football at a moment where Juventus needed it the most. You could even argue he was one of the best players on the pitch on Friday:

I did, I made that argument.

Another player very much playing for his Juventus future, getting another face in the mix for the midfield as we close the season is a welcome development for this team in any way shape or form.

Parting Shot of the Week

It wasn’t great, but it was better, if you are an optimist, you can even talk yourself into thinking this couple of games can be the launching point for a strong finish to the season for Juventus.

I’m very much on the field of wait and see how they do against some stronger competition. And it appears as we will have to keep waiting as Juventus is set to face Genoa on Tuesday and host Torino at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday. Currently 17thand 13th place on the table, receptively, a fact that I will just mention and let you dear readers do of that as you will.

Six goals are six goals and I’m not the one to ask twice about a good thing, still and despite finally getting some breathing room over Lazio, this season is far from a certainty.

See you next week.