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Manu’s Grab Bag: Don’t Look Now

We talk Weston McKennie, the Captain turning back the clock and the suddenly interesting again Serie A race.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Thank God for the magic of replays.

I will cop to it: I did try my best to wake up at 5:30 in the AM on the Lord’s Day to see Juventus. Especially after the results on Saturday, suddenly this week’s match against lowly Bologna could be of key importance in a newly interesting title race.

So, I set my alarm clock and went to bed with the utmost intention of watching the Bianconeri live. Once it rung, though, I hit the off button on that alarm so fast and with such anger that for a moment I feared that I might have inflicted some internal damage to the thing. So, like I said, thank god for replays.

(Shout out to our EIC Danny for actually watching it live in an earlier time zone, though! You are a more resilient man than myself, my friend.)

However, in the unlikely scenario I had woken up, I would have been surprisingly pleased by the overall performance of Juventus. It was a no frills, no drama kind of win for the reigning champs and one that they could have put to bed much earlier with some better finishing.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Weston McKennie

Look at this guy.

What an absolute dork.


More on him in a second.

Runner Up: Arthur – Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect him to hit the ground running after his move from FC Barcelona? Don’t know if this sustainable or for real in any way but he’s been having his best performances of the season in the last couple of weeks.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (8 Points)

Lone Star Wizard

I had no idea who Weston McKennie was before his move to Juventus. To be fair to me, why would I? I don’t keep tabs on where U.S. internationals are playing on a daily basis, and his former club Schalke was a disaster in the Bundesliga.

When his signing was announced the most optimistic amongst us — Hi, Hunter! — thought he was nice depth piece and a relatively risk free bet on the young Texan to develop. I remember thinking at the time that he might actually play more than anticipated just because the midfield was in such flux and he came to Italy with a reputation of being a Swiss knife type of a player.

This is what I wrote about him in my Power Ranking column before the season:

It might not look like it on first instance […] but there is a scenario in which McKennie ends up playing heavy, heavy minutes in his first season as a Bianconero. […] We know that he brings a lot of positional flexibility and was a jack of all trades last season with Schalke. I’m just saying, don’t be shocked if we look back at the season and realize he had a far larger number of appearances than you would think.

Like I said, good depth piece at best and a no harm no foul transaction at worst if he ended up being Mario Lemina 2.0.

Yet, here we are, one half of the season done and he’s arguably one of the five most important players on the team. The positional flexibility he’s brought to the table was just as advertised as he has lined up all over Andrea Pirlo’s fluid setup. But that’s about all that was just as advertised with McKennie.

He’s considerably sharper technically than what we thought he could be and his sense of spacing and run making capabilities have grown leaps and bounds in the half year he’s been a Juventus player, the team is just plain better when he’s on the pitch.

Ever since Arturo Vidal left the building, I can’t recall a guy who could provide energy, pace, ball recovering skills and legitimate offensive chops the same way McKennie does. I’m not saying he’s at peak Vidal level — few guys have gotten there anyways — but he’s a player that I can definitely see developing to that level at some point.

In a lot of ways this actually was a Mario Lemina 2.0 signing, only this time the guy they brought in was the real deal.

Winner: Giorgio Chiellini

Look at the old timer out there!

After his last couple of seasons, I think it was fair to think that Chiellini’s time as a top-tier player were behind him. Not because he wasn’t good anymore, but because it seemed that he had decidedly lost the fight against Father Time for good and his body just wasn’t as reliable as it once was.

But just as his team needed him the most and his young heirs to be came down with injuries and the freakin’ 21st century plague, respectively, Juve’s captain turned back the clock, played in his four consecutive game in god knows how long and played pretty damned effectively to boot.

When it comes to Chiellini, we always knew the skills were still there, it was only a matter of seeing whether his body gave him the shot to see the field. Let’s hope this streak of health is a good sign for him, because having him available solves a lot of the CB depth issues this team had.

(Also, I mean, him and Mathijs de Ligt playing together was just so nice to see. Try and beat those two defenders, Christ.)

Kit/Gear Rankings

Goddamn it.

I didn’t want to spend $120 on a jacket, but what am I supposed to do? I hate you so much, Juventus Store.


Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

What a look, what a decision by Siniša Mihajlović there. Because, buddy, let me tell you that’s a decision. You don’t just stumble upon a plaid newsboy hat and just throw it on as a last-minute accessory. No, that’s a statement. There’s thought put into it. You sought that hat out, put it on and said, “You know what? This is doing work right here, I’m keeping it, this is good, I look good.”

I wonder if they sell that hat on the Bologna official store like they do Pirlo’s clothes? Because they should.

Hi5tory Lesson – Part Three

For the less Italian speaking inclined among us — or if you don’t have Google translate on hand like I did — the tweet is pointing out that if Juve were to win their game in hand they would finish the first half of the season with 39 points, the exact number of points that Max Allegri’s led team had at the same point of the season during the 2015/16 season comeback.

As someone who’s been banging the drum on the parallels between this team and the team that won the fifth straight title of the current title run for quite a while, this only adds fuel to the fire of me never shutting up about it.

The biggest difference is that this time they are chasing AC Milan instead of Napoli, and that if they were to win that game in hand and get to 39 points they’d be back four points from the top instead of only two which was the gap on the 15/16 season.

Hell the seasons are so similar that they both had my signature panic moment in which I call the season over despite there still being a lot of matches left. The only difference is back then I didn’t write for this here blog so the hot takes were just thrown into the ether to disappear forever instead of being registered here in perpetuity.

Anyways, as always.

Parting Shot of the Week

Yes, we must talk again about the Serie A race title because look at this.

Every result that could make this race tighter happened this weekend, with both Milan clubs dropping points and pretty much all other competitors except Napoli making up ground.

A lot still hinges on that make up game against the Partenopei, but if Juve were to beat their southern rivals — something they already did in the all-important Supercoppa — they’d be once again in the thick of it come the business end of the season.

With AC Milan looking shockingly human once again and Inter being Inter it seems like the reports of Juventus death were far too overblown by some members of the media — AKA Me and almost all BWRAO bloggers — we are in for a crazy finish of the season friends, should be fun.

See you Wednesday.