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Manu’s Grab Bag: Back to Earth

Juventus salvaged a point in their first trip of the season to the Italian capital.

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I understand this was going to happen.

It was probable, expected even. Of course a team with a new manager, playing a new system that’s incorporating a new player against better competition was going to struggle a bit more than they did in their swashbuckling debut.

Still, I’m a bright-eyed, naïve, romantic about football, so I walked into that social distancing bar terrace fully expecting Juventus to continue to look awesome despite all the aforementioned reasons that should have tempered my expectations.

Alas, Juventus’ 2-2 draw against Roma on Sunday night was a decidedly less inspiring performance than last weekend. But listen, I’ll take a cold beer in an outside setting watching a shaky Juve game over the month’s long confinement we just had, so even though the result wasn’t as exciting as I would have hoped I still enjoyed myself.

With all that being said, the result against Roma did leave a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to it.

Winner: Me, your boy

It is uncommon for your humble correspondent to pat myself on the back, but let’s roll the tape on last week’s Grab Bag for a second:

“Offensive, free-flowing football is fantastic, but whenever there was a misplaced pass or a poor dispossession in the midfield, Sampdoria had running lanes to mount counterstrikes.”

And boy, were those lanes available Sunday!

Roma were, at all times, one lofted through pass away from a 1-on-1 situation with Juventus’ stout — though aging and decidedly slow — backline. While the early returns of the Andrea Pirlo attack have been good — five goals in two games is pretty decent, I’d say — the thing that continues to work itself out is their propensity to be badly exposed during counter attacks.

We saw it on Roma’s second goal of the evening when, after a poor corner kick, Roma was off to the races and they quickly converted within moments of the clearance. Every time a Juventus player lost a ball anywhere on the field, there was a palpable sense of danger as Roma was always a couple good passes away from clear chances.

It’s easy to brush it aside as a symptom of a new coach experimenting with the lineup and the squad, however it is a noticeable and consistent weak point in Juve’s young season and with Napoli and their high flying counters on deck it’s definitely worth bringing up.

Winner: The South American mids

Speaking of defensive frailty, a large brunt of the blame for that goes to the midfield duo that looked so good last game.

To be fair, Adrien Rabiot played a really decent game if you take out his unexplainable handball that gifted Roma the opener and his eventual red card in the second half. Was it a bit of a soft call? Maybe, but the truth of the matter is that if you are already booked you can’t be out there going studs up to a dude and expect to not get carded. Rabiot should know better.

And for as much praise as we heaped on Weston McKennie last week, he should get the same amount of flak for the shift he put forward in the Italian capital. The energy and relentlessness was still there, but in a decidedly less focused manner as he misplaced passes and was positionally wrong several times trying to gain the ball back which led to dangerous Roma runs.

For as vulnerable as Juve looked with this duo on the field at times, it was the opposite once Rodrigo Bentancur and Arthur came onto the pitch. Despite being one man down, both Bentancur and Arthur looked much more secure on the ball and managed to control the midfield in a pretty encouraging manner.

Bentancur’s lack of minutes were slightly baffling early on. However, after Pirlo’s comments regarding his fitness levels and how they are trying to bring him back after last season’s challenging final months and his recent display, I feel safe saying he will probably be starting in McKennie’s spot soon enough.

Arthur is the more interesting case. He looked promising in his short Juventus debut despite coming in not the most favorable conditions, however given what we have been seeing in terms of lineups he would have to displace Rabiot in the lineup.

He’s definitely going to have the chance given the Frenchman’s upcoming suspension so look out for that in the coming weeks.

Loser: Andrea Pirlo’s tinkering

It’s fair to say that, given the shortened season and the general flux of the team, some creative lineup choices were to be expected in the early goings.

Some, like Dejan Kulusevski starting as a second striker and Gianluca Frabotta making a surprise appearance as the left wingback on the opening game were pretty good. Others that we saw against Roma … well, not so much.

Juan Cuadrado is a lot of things, but a left wingback he is not. I sort of understand the logic of trying to fit all your best players into the lineup, but the dynamic Colombian was completely defanged playing on the left side of the pitch and provided very little offensively and defensively.

To be fair to Pirlo, however, starting Kulusevski at the right wingback spot was something that you had to try. He had a better game than Cuadrado and, from what we saw, you can imagine he could do a decent job at that position if pressed into action. But the kid is way too talented to play that role. He needs to be up front, not tracking back to stop counterattacks.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

Add another couple of goals to the Portuguese’s tally. The lone goal scorer for Juve in the capital, Ronaldo now has three goals on the young season after calmly slotting away a PK in the first half and heading a peach of a cross from Danilo in the second to bring Juventus level.

It’s ridiculously too early, but you’re nuts if you don’t think Ronaldo is gunning for that Capocannonieri title after narrowly missing out last year.

Parting Shot of the Week

As of this writing, 14 people at Genoa — of which 11 are possibly players — have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in recent days. Considering they just played against Napoli, who is in turn slated to play Juventus this Sunday, the game could very well be postponed.

Obviously, we don’t know how the situation will progress. But this kind of news is another stark and necessary reminder that the global pandemic that has stopped the world for the vast majority of 2020 is very much not going to be over anytime soon.

For selfish reasons, I do hope we can get a game in this weekend. But, at the end of the day, let’s hope Serie A decides to do whatever is best for the health and safety of all players as we all wish a speedy recovery to the Genoa squad members who were diagnosed.

See you, hopefully, next week.