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Manu’s Grab Bag: Strong Finish

We talk finishing the calendar year on a high note, a continued career revival and staying positive.

Juventus v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Much like in their previous match against Bologna over the weekend, Juventus needed to come away with the three points against a team that on paper they should be beating handily.

And much like in that weekend game, Juventus delivered Tuesday ngith. Not with an incredibly impressive performance, but by doing just enough to get the win as they bested relegation-battling Cagliari 2-0 in front of the half-empty Allianz Stadium.

In a year in which almost nothing has gone the Bianconeri’s way, finishing the year potentially only four points off European spots is honestly a pretty decent result all things considered.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Bernardeschi

Yes, that is the second time this season in which Federico Bernardeschi has won the MVP honors. It has been that kind of year, folks. And ,like the previous time, the less talented of the wingers named Federico earned the honors with a crackling performance, a goal and an assist.

(Which might not be tabulated as an assist due to technicalities, but on my personal ledger he got it.)

Are we ... are we renewing Bernardeschi? And most importantly, is it the right call? It feels insane to suggest, but even at his worst he’s been a decent depth piece, and if this stretch of play is an indication of Bernardeschi getting his swagger back the rumors of his renewal — at a lower wage, of course — might not seem as crazy as before.

I still have a healthy dose of skepticism, he’s playing really well right now, but considering the sample size, there’s still a lot more evidence of Bernardeschi being an average player rather than the dynamic winger he’s shown himself to be the last couple of months. Still, if he keeps this up, it wouldn’t shock me to see Bernardeschi in black and white stripes for the long haul.

Runner Up: Wojciech Szczesny - Almost entirely due to one save, but what a save! Thanks to that moment of brilliance Juventus was able to keep a clean sheet and force Cagliari to keep attacking which ended up leaving the door open for the counter that killed the game. Quite a turnaround from the Polish international as he seems to put his early season struggles in the rearview mirror.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (10 Points)

Winner: Moise Kean

His goal was a decent example of solid reflexes and instinct to react to the Bernardeschi shot/cross and arguably he should have had a brace with a bit better finishing luck but the last few games have been a significantly better showing from the young Italian international.

His comeback season as a Juve player has been a bit of a letdown, as he hasn't unsettled entrenched starter Alvaro Morata and has had some really poor performances along the way. Still, Juventus made a sizable financial bet on Kean becoming the guy that he has shown flashes of potentially being and recent performances are a whole heck of a lot more encouraging than what he was showing lately.

The kid is playing with some decisiveness and swagger again, historically that has been a good sign of things to come for Juventus No. 18.

Winner: Dejan Kulusevski

Speaking of a guy that played with some swagger!

Kulusevski has been a bad fit for Juventus pretty much from the moment he was signed, as he is at his best when he has room to bomb down the wings as a counterattacking specialist. The chances to be that as a Juve player have been scarce but he was just what they needed in the dying minutes of the match and his pass to set up the Bernardeschi score was absolute perfection.

Whether Kulusevski ever manages to carve a spot for himself as a Juventus player or the rumors of his exit prove to be true remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s nice to see him have a good showing and to remind everyone of the dazzling talent and potential he still possesses.

Hope Remains

After arguably one of the worst sustained periods of Juventus football in at least a decade, Juventus will finish the first half of the 2021-22 season with a very decent chance at finishing in the top 4. I hate to play the optimist here, but considering all the horrible results and performances we have had to sit through in the last six months, this is not as bad of an outcome as we might have expected.

Granted, a lot of it is more because of other teams giving away points left and right, but Juventus is very much in the thick of things in December.

Is it completely insane to suggest that perhaps a turnaround is in the cards for the Bianconeri in the second half? Given who they play once the season restarts we are going to find out pretty quick, but given that this is the last Grab Bag of the year I want to believe that some hope still remains.

Parting Shot of the Week

Despite their faceplant against Venezia, Juventus ended up closing out the year in a pretty decent manner, notching up back to back wins to keep the pace in the league and thanks to a miraculous Zenit performance finished first in they Champions League group.

This year has been rough for the Juventus faithful, with many frustrating performances and only a few encouraging ones in a first semester that was as up and down as they come.

The Max Allegri 2.0 era has fallen well short of the expectations that many people had when the returning manager was announced and we are still not quite certain if Allegri will be able to turn it around. Luckily — or unluckily depending on how you look at it — we will be fairly certain of where Juventus stands once the season resumes in January with a daunting schedule that sees them face Napoli, Inter, Roma and Milan in the month of January alone. Time to put up or shut up for Juventus.

See you in 2022.