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Manu’s Grab Bag: Winning Ugly

We talk (the bad kind of) Allegriball, bad takes, poor games and your Champions League undefeated Juventus.

Zenit St. Petersburg v Juventus: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

I’m honestly struggling to remember any one play or one moment outside of the late Dejan Kulusevski goal that gave Juventus a 1-0 win over Zenit in Russia on Wednesday night.

You see, this what you fine folks don’t see sometimes. You wake up, you open up your web-capable device of choice and there are the takes. They’re fresh off the proverbial digital presses, ready for your consumption. But, behind that rambling jumble of words, there’s a humble wordsmith that’s desperately looking at the word count and trying to nudge it in the right direction as he struggles to create any meaningful observations from a 90-minute snooze fest that was barely adequate enough to technically be referred to as entertainment.

But, hey, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. This is a team filled with players already overworked from the international break and the exhausting amount of minutes they are accumulating traveling to Eastern Europe only a couple days after playing on Sunday.

I’m honestly happy with the three points and the fact that there were no injuries. Asking for more is just greedy at this point.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Mattia De Sciglio

It is not lost on me that I spent a solid chunk of post-Roma win Grab Bag crapping on Mattia De Sciglio and his general existence ... only for him to play back to back fantastic games for Juventus and provide the game-winning assist on Wednesday.

You live by the take, you die by the take.

De Sciglio is capable of playing well, much in the way a broke clock is twice right a day and blind squirrels stumble upon a nut on occasion. Like I mentioned in the previous Grab Bag, just making it as a professional football player means you are insanely talented, so perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked when one of these dudes that we deride so much turns out to be capable of putting a good cross through now and then.

With all that being said, I wouldn’t count on the Italian fullback to continue on this streak of performances for much longer. His entire career has been an exercise of him playing a couple good games only to fall back to earth and/or get injured and lose all momentum moving forward. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Props to him for being one of the few standouts in this game and if he can somehow keep this up, all the better, but I’m not drinking the Mattia De Sciglio kool-aid anymore. Won’t be fooled again by that one, I tell you.

Runner Up: Mathijs de Ligt - Came back from the knock that kept him out of the Roma game with a vengeance. He’s the only Juve defender that can be super aggressive when defending high on the pitch, but has the speed and stamina to track back if he gets beat or the opposing team breaks the high line. When he’s on, he is an otherworldly talent.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Manuel Locatelli (8 Points)

Winner: Dejan Kulusevski

Hey! Another guy I gave endless amounts of crap last week!

His case is slightly different than de Sciglio because I don’t necessarily think he had the best of games. Granted, almost nobody did, but his performance was fairly anonymous until the late goal that ultimately gave Juventus the win.

Nearly a season-and-a-half into his Bianconeri tenure and I still struggle to place him in the team. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, he’s still showing flashes but struggles to put forth complete performances. Maybe at this point in his career and given the general poor construction of the squad, flashes will have to do, I guess.

Regardless of his long-term outlook, the goal was a really good one, as he attacked the space left by the pulling strikers assertively and headed it in with a lot of skill to give Zenit’s keeper Stanislav Kritsyuk no shot at making a save. Hopefully this gives him that extra shot of confidence he needs.

And also, shoutout to him for the most Allegri-influenced Juve quote of all-time:

“A great strength to win by playing badly.”

PUT THAT ON A SHIRT IMMEDIATELY.

From Russia With Love

This is the second time in three years that Juventus has faced Russian opposition in the Champions League group stage and they were scarily similar games. They were grindfests in which nobody seems to be really enjoying themselves — up to and including the players — that are decided by a late spark of brilliance by Juventus to get a narrow win.

Maybe it’s the travel, maybe it’s the fact that temperatures were at a nice 45 degrees or so at kickoff, or perhaps it’s that Juventus has a well-documented aversion with playing in Eastern Europe, who knows. All I know is that if, for whatever reason, in next year’s Champions League we get another Russian club, I heartily suggest to skip it.

I also wanted an excuse to bring up this Douglas Costa goal again, to be quite honest.

(When he was on, Costa was as electric a player as they come. Injuries suck, man.)

Winner: Obscure Records

Did you know that with Juve’s win on Wednesday they are now the sole possessors of the prestigious record of “Most Consecutive Away Wins in the Champions League Group Stage”?

They are currently sitting on a seven-game winning streak while playing away from home, besting the previous record that is now shared between Manchester United and Chelsea. They could only win six straight games meeting those exact requirements.

Only to be sure, I had to do the research — because I’m nothing if not an extremely serious journalist — and found out Juventus has indeed won seven straight away games in the Champions League group stage. They beat Bayer Leverkusen and the aforementioned Lokomotiv Moscow in 2019, Dynamo Kiev, Barcelona and Ferencvaros in 2020 and picked up wins against Malmö and Zenit this year.

There is zero chance in hell I invest a single minute more googling if there is maybe another team that has won more than seven because that number feels weirdly low. But, I guess it is harder to win as the visiting team and Juventus has had the luck to play relatively feeble competition lately with the only real “big” away win of that streak coming against Barcelona or Bayer Leverkusen if you are feeling charitable.

Tune in to the next Champions League matchday where Juventus plays away from home when they put their extremely prestigious record on the line against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next month. I’m sure the Blues are itching to snap the streak, if they are aware of it at all.

Parting Shot of the Week

Three wins out of three games with zero goals allowed. Kinda hard to ask for more from them, isn’t it?

Say what you will about Juventus, but they keep you guessing. The Bianconeri siting pretty with a perfect record at the top of Group H after the first half of the group stage is not something that even the most optimistic amongst us thought was very likely. But there they are.

Thanks to this win, Juventus are now in the very comfortable position of looking to get four points in three matches to mathematically secure a spot in the Champions League Round of 16. A drama-free Juventus European group stage? We are not quite out of the woods, but we are a hell of a lot closer.

See you Sunday.