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Manu’s Grab Bag: Advantage Lombardy

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Poor displays don’t cost Juventus as they go plus-8 in the Serie A table despite a shock loss against AC Milan and lucky draw against Atalanta.

Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus FC (L) and Wojciech Szczesny... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sometimes it’s not necessarily what you did, but what others didn’t do.

Much like that classic joke about being chased by a bear. Juventus didn’t need to outrun the bear to survive; they just needed to outrun a stumbling Lazio to get a positive result in this week games.

Once the restart was announced, everyone pointed to this stretch in the season — with AC Milan, Atalanta, Sassuolo and Lazio in quick succession — as the key hurdle to beat for a Juve team in pursuit of a historic ninth straight Scudetto.

As we stand in the middle of that key stretch, Juventus have failed to successfully clear the hurdle in the slightest. And yet, thanks to Lazio dropping three straight games, the Bianconeri find themselves eight points clear at the top of the table with six games remaining in the season and literally facing no repercussions from their worst collapse in years in league play against AC Milan and a lucky 2-2 draw against the most in-form team in the league, the feisty Atalanta.

What we all thought was going to be a crazy finish to the season is now looking more like a crawl to the finish line. And listen, as long as Juventus finishes that crawl in first place, they all count the same.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Cristiano Ronaldo

There is no clear-cut player that stood out in these last couple of games. That tends to happen when you get blown out in 30 minutes by AC Milan and are handily beaten by Atalanta for the majority of the game.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some props to Ronaldo, who scored three of Juventus’ four goals of the stretch and continued his record breaking season with 28 goals in 28 league games. Yeah, yeah, Penaldo and what not, but if you want to take a look at the Capocannoniere race, the Portuguese international is battling for the top spot against the one guy who can’t complain about stat padding due to PKs:

Proper race, indeed.

Either way, Ronaldo has been a key scorer for the team since Serie A resumed play and due to his continued hot streak, he gets the nod here.

Runner Up: Adrien Rabiot

The Right Side of History

My first post in your friendly neighborhood blog came a little over two years ago as Juventus played out a draw Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Round of 16. This is important because, while I’ve always had takes, it’s from this date on that those takes have been immortalized by being published on the Internet, the place that never forgets.

So, as I briefly mentioned in the latest episode of The Old Lady Speaks, I’d like to take a quick moment to take a victory lap on my “Adrien Rabiot is actually good” take that is currently looking like the right stance to have regarding the French midfielder.

Rabiot was always going to struggle after the long hiatus/hissy fit he took while he waited out the final months of his Paris Saint-Germain contract. However, as he took longer than expected to get acclimated to both Juventus and new manager Maurizio Sarri’s style, it looked for a second there that Rabiot would be another flop in the midfield as he struggled to gain minutes and was constantly outplayed by entrenched veteran Blaise Matuidi.

It has been a vastly different Rabiot that we have seen the last couple of weeks. It looks like Rabiot is one of those guys that the more he plays, the better he does. And with a brutal schedule and a lacking depth, the 25-year-old Frenchman has had plenty of playing time available and done the most with it. The highlight reel moment will be, obviously, the cracker he had early in the second half against AC Milan, but that Goal of the Year nominee shouldn’t outshine what has been a string of very good play at a position of extreme need for Juventus.

And, just so you don’t think I’m getting too full with myself and in the interest of being completely transparent, here are a couple of tidbits from the archive:

  • Joao Cancelo has been every bit as good as advertised on the offensive side and, outside of a couple mistakes on defense; he’s been pretty consistent on that end as well. Cancelo is a true joy to watch and I can´t remember the last time Juventus had a guy like him on the flanks. All around a great signing.”
  • “There is not going to be a better chance for Mattia Caldara to break into the starting lineup for Juventus than there is this season — and I think he can do it.”
  • “With Alex Sandro being a hit or miss proposition this last month, Leonardo Spinazzola has taken his chance and ran with it, putting forth strong performance after strong performance. At this point, I’m not particularly sure who I want starting against Ajax in the Champions League quarterfinals.”
  • Moise Kean is a playmaker, a game changer in every possible way and he is freaking 19 years old. Lock him up, until 2030.”
  • “Mario Lemina reminds me so much of a young Arturo Vidal, I think they found a really good one with him.”

That last one isn’t on print, but it is something I said out loud, to people, in public, being completely truthful and honest.

So, yeah, let me take a second to enjoy being 100% completely right about Adrien Rabiot.

(Please don’t let this blog post come back to haunt me in a year or so...)

Kit Ranking

As the self-appointed uniform czar of the BWRAO blog, here’s where I usually do a quick ranking of the kits we saw during the stretch, but honestly I just want to talk about Atalanta’s third kit they wore during the game on Saturday.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

I love this kit so much, I usually prefer their traditional black and blue stripes, but I want to highlight this one because I’m a sucker for cool secondary logos, especially when they have historic significance.

The club’s logo is inspired by the Greek myth of Atalanta, a huntress, who would not marry anyone who couldn’t outrun her in a footrace. The current logo only focuses on Atalanta’s head but the logo featured on both the away and third kits is a neat throwback to the one they used in the 60s that featured a full-body Atalanta mid-stride.

I love little details like that. I know Juventus is all about #branding and exposure and what not nowadays, but tell me a third kit with a stylized Zebra logo or something to that effect wouldn’t sell and immediately become a fan favorite?

Actually, you know what? Never mind.

West Ham United v Juventus - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Atalanta Fan Club Corner

In for a penny in for a pound, I’m such a huge fan of Atalanta in general.

The way they have carefully and perfectly constructed their squad towards the way coach Gian Piero Gasperini wants to play is a textbook examples of how a small club can compete and beat the traditional powers. It is no fluke this team is in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and has a decent chance to continue to progress.

This is a team with an identity and a game plan, the fact that they play an open, attack minded; uber entertaining style is just an added bonus. It’s a long shot that the Bergamo based club will challenge for the title, but they are very well positioned to snag a spot in European play which will mark their second straight appearance in continental titles.

This is how a “small” club can slowly but surely become a “big” club, and you can bet that they are my sentimental favorite in the opposite of the bracket for the Champions League.

Also, quick Manu’s Gambling Corner: Atalanta at +1800 to win the Champions League is not that crazy, is it?

Parting Shot of the Week

Plus-8.

If you want to take anything away from this week is that number.

Despite showing flashes and despite the great play we had seen from Juventus earlier in the month, they are still a team with no real identity to speak of. A sequence here or a 10 minute burst there does not make a style, as we still don’t know what Juve we are going to get whenever we turn on our TVs.

Despite looking in control 60 minutes in, AC Milan destroyed the Bianconeri in just over 30 minutes and it wasn’t better overall against Atalanta. Despite being closer than they have ever been this season to the Serie A title, it’s hard to say that Juventus is a consistently good team.

We talked both on the pod and in previous installment of the Grab Bag that we had to wait and see how Juventus would look against a good team, and so far they have shown us very little.

There was a lot of kerfuffle about the way the Champions League seeding went for Juventus, with potential clashes against either Real Madrid or Manchester City on the quarterfinals and potentially Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the semifinals. With a gassed squad and a hit or miss approach to games, I wouldn’t even be so certain that they can beat Lyon on the return leg on Aug. 7.

Unless we get our opponents called for two handballs in every game, that was a solid strategy, I hope we do that more.

See you next week.