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Manu’s Grab Bag: Keeping Pace

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We talk midfield rankings, the newest prospect on the street and fashion crimes.

ITALY-TURIN-FOOTBALL-SERIE A-JUVENTUS VS CROTONE Xinhua/Federico Tardito via Getty Images

Before Monday’s game and after Inter’s thrashing of former league leaders AC Milan, I tweeted the following:

There’s still a lot to left to go Juve’s way, but at least they convincingly checked one of those boxes with a rather comfortable 3-0 win over bottom dwellers Crotone. This result now marks the second match of the second half of the season in which they have managed to do better over the first, improving on draws against Roma and Crotone with good wins against both clubs.

I’m not going to go to the rooftops and scream to the ether about a victory over freakin’ Crotone, but after two bad losses it was a relief to see the team put a convincing end to that skid.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Cristiano Ronaldo

Had to be. After a bit of a dry spell for the Portuguese attacker, he was due for a night like this. He scored two really well-taken goals to put the game out of reach in the first half and with some better luck he could have had more. Just a good, solid performance from Ronaldo.

(That being said, please, for the love of God, take away the free kicks from him. Nothing good comes out of it ever.)

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt – When he’s on his game like against Crotone it seems like he multiplies. Just an absolute wall all over the place, big reason for the clean sheet on Monday.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (12 Points)

Winner/Loser: Aaron Ramsey

This man confounds me.

What a weird, weird player he is. I can’t quite wrap my head around his performance on Monday. If you only watched highlights, he’d be your man of the match, for sure. He had a few goal scoring chances, a beautifully taken assist for Ronaldo’s second goal of the evening and a number of good through passes that with slightly better finishing could have netted him another assist.

But, for large stretches of the game, he looked lost on that double pivot hybrid role next to Rodrigo Bentancur, he often makes silly mistakes that lead to the team losing possession and looks like the weakest link of an already really weak midfield.

In a weird way, this last game is the perfect encapsulation of the man. I cannot stress enough how world class he looked on the assist to Ronaldo. He had the wherewithal to follow the play after the initial shot was saved, win the ball and lofted a truly exquisite cross that was probably harder to miss than to score on.

If we could have highlights-only Aaron Ramsey the midfield issue would be solved already.

Midfield Ranking

  1. Arthur — Weirdly enough, his absence right when he was starting to turn a corner has been key in highlighting how important he has become to this team. A surging midfield with him has turned into mush without him. Didn’t think I’d be saying this when the season started, but it is what it is.
  2. Weston McKennie — Another goal and a good performance after a couple letdown games. I’d love for him to get some rest for his reported nagging hip injury, but with the way injuries and the calendar is going it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards.
  3. Adrien Rabiot — Don’t get why he doesn’t play over Bentancur, just simply don’t.
  4. Rodrigo Bentancur — Wasn’t bad on Monday night, insofar as that he didn’t actively cost his team a goal, but he’s clearly off right now.
  5. Aaron Ramsey — Covered above.
  6. Nicola Fagioli – Will be covered below.

The Mid That Was Promised?

The thing about rooting for Juventus is that you don’t often get excited about youngsters who have risen through the academy.

Right or wrong, the Italian champs have used their youth system to offset the gigantic costs of the senior squads with constant transfers to other clubs of their most promising players. So, it’s been rare for a guy from the youth system to actually make a dent in the senior squad the last few years.

Last player to do so before this year was Moise Kean, the phenom striker who broke out in Max Allegri’s last year … before being immediately shipped out to Everton for a huge profit. At the time, I hyped Kean as much as anyone and got bit by that same hype when he ended up playing all of 21 games for Juventus.

So, you’ll excuse me if I’m reticent about heaping praise on the new crown jewel of Juventus youth system. Fagioli looks good, don’t get me wrong, and he offers hope at exactly the same position that Juventus has struggled to fill for a few seasons now. But a couple of good shifts against essentially Serie B teams is far from enough proof that he will be the next Claudio Marchisio.

With Fagioli, I’m taking the exact opposite approach I took with Kean, I’ve been hurt before.

Kit Ranking

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

I legitimately don’t understand the decision process here. There really isn’t much of a color clash with the Crotone kits that would maybe have to make him change shirts quickly before the start of the match. And if it were the case, that probably means you have the full kit on hand not just the shirt, right?

Is this some sort of performance art? Is the salmon pink top and the gray shorts supposed to be an in living representation of a nice filet with the skin still on?

Same as how Cristiano Ronaldo sometimes decides to uncork some truly ghastly hairstyle choice, I feel that when you’re supremely talented you just feel you can get away with some things that the majority of regular folk do not. This is probably one of those heat checks for Buffon.

Swing and a miss, my guy.

Parting Shot of the Week

Just as a balm after a rough couple of matches, this was a good win. There will be no parades on the streets for beating Crotone — a team that will almost certainly get relegated — but considering that at this point every game is a must win for them, this was nice.

At this point, the most important thing for Juve is that the schedule finally eases up a bit for them in the sense they will have almost a full week between games … once. Listen, this season is hard on everyone, you are going to get your two days of extra rest and like it fellas.

On deck is the surprisingly feisty Hellas Verona — who already managed to battle them to a draw in the first half — with Inter looking to pull ahead it looks like another must win game.

See you Saturday.