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Manu’s Grab Bag: Roman Holiday

We talk own goals, football measurements and a prospect to keep your eye out for.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

One of the fun things about writing this here Grab Bag is to go back and see what I wrote for the last game against the team from the Italian capital in the first round of games and then compare it to the second matchup.

Last year with Maurizio Sarri it was more or less the same, and even in the second half of you could see a lot of the good things were still good and a lot of the flaws were still noticeable. This time around, well, there are noticeable differences and that’s half the battle.

With a breezy 2-0 victory on Saturday night, Juventus managed to beat Roma in a way that was not only calm for the majority of the game but in a way that showed that Andrea Pirlo took all the lessons from the first game and applied them to this one to get the W.

Let me tell you, for all of us in the Max Allegri Hive, seeing a coach be flexible enough to adapt his tactics to his opposition is the sweetest thing in the world.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Giorgio Chiellini

When Chiellini came back after injury problems that cost him pretty much the majority of the first half of the season, I was just giving him points for being out there. Not getting hurt was literally all I wanted from Juve’s legendary No. 3.

Now, it’s time to acknowledge what we are seeing on the pitch and that is some damn good play from the captain. With Saturday’s result, Juve has five clean sheets in the last six games in all competitions and a big part of it is due to the defensive chops that Chiellini has brought to the table. In a game in which Juve focused on their defending first and foremost, the Italian international was the leader.

Runner Up: Adrien Rabiot – 100% accuracy in passing, team leader in tackles and added three clearances. That’ll do most of the time. When he puts it together he can be such a good player, hope we see this more often than not.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (10 Points)

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

One of the things about watching football exclusively on TV is that the dimensions get kind of distorted. The pitch looks way bigger, the players a lot smaller and the goals themselves are decently sized relative to the rest of the field.

However, if you have ever gone to a live match — remember those? — or seen a pitch in person, you quickly realize that things are different.

The pitch looks smaller and much less imposing, but it’s the goals that really change. They are freaking huge, standing in the middle of them and looking at the posts it makes you think how on earth does a human being stop a shot ever and, more importantly, how does a player miss? There’s so much freakin’ space there, so just hit a squib shot to one of the posts and there is no way anybody can get to it in time.

You want to know who thinks the same way I do? Cristiano Ronaldo, that’s who. As his goal on Saturday was my exact theory displayed in a real live action game. At first sight, his shot looks like the most easily stopped little dribble, but he put that so far away from Roma keeper Pau Lopez that he could do nothing as it settled into the bottom corner.

Strikers of the world, just do what I think and Ronaldo does and hit it to the far posts. Football is easy, and I don’t see a flaw in this problem.

Loser: Roger Ibañez

One time, back in the halcyon days of my youth, me and some friends decided to form a 7-a-side team and enter a local tournament. Out of the 14 or so guys that joined, maybe three or four of them were decent at football, which leaves you at a predicament if you are going to field seven people.

Pure mathematics ended up making yours truly a starter in defense despite my notorious and documented awfulness at playing the sport I love.

The league we signed up for had a website in which you could consult the calendar, see the standings and the statistics. We thought that was a neat little wrinkle and wondered out loud what the stats would be by the end of the tournament.

When that faithful day arrived, mine read as follows:

Nine games played, zero clean sheets, one yellow card, one assist and one own goal.

(I’ll be honest, the assist was a panicky clearance that somehow found a streaking teammate and set him up for the score. Did I act like I intended to do it after the fact, though? Reader, you know I did.)

The zero clean sheet number was appalling on its own, but it was the own goal that bothered me. You could gloss over the other numbers but that own goal was unique, it jumped out of the page if you will. It made a perfectly forgettable season seem so much worse.

With that in mind, I give you the lineup graphic for Roma from Saturday’s game, courtesy of our Google overlords:

That’s tough, I feel you Roger, I feel you.

(It was a fantastic own goal for what it’s worth. A very weak cross came to my area of the field and as I heard one of my fellow defenders shout that there was no one near me, I thought to head it back to the keeper for an easy clearance. A classy clearance even. What I didn’t see – or hear - was the keeper rushing out to get the cross himself which left him in no man’s land as I calmly headed the ball to an empty net. Hung it right on the angle too. Pure class, Jared Borgetti eat your heart out.)

Talk Flexible to Me

Alluded to it at the top, but bears mentioning again. Translation courtesy of our very own Calvin:

“We waited for them at times and attacked them at others. We basically did a reverse of the way Roma played against us earlier this season, because you need that in your locker and can’t always be aggressive with a high press”

“I’ve learned that not every game is the same, especially in a very tactical league like in Italy, so you need to have different variations and alternatives, because otherwise the opponents can read you too easily.”

Winner: Leonardo Spinazzola

Hey, that kid Spinazzola from Roma looked really good. He was solid defensively and went forward with conviction. Has a lot of pace and isn’t afraid to take guys on.

Keep an eye out for him, with Juve’s issues on the wings I bet he could be a real asset for this team. Do you think Roma would consider a swap or something? Maybe a deal around a young prospect like Gianluca Frabotta or Luca Pellegrini?

Seems worth trying as I came out very impressed with him on Saturday, I hope we can see the left back in a Juve shirt at some point in his career.

On the real, though, it’s very easy to judge transfers after the fact. When the move was made, you have to assume that Juve brass thought that Pellegrini would be a better player in the long run and with Alex Sandro still manning the wing competently for a couple more years they made a move for the future. It was defensible at the time is my point and I guess if you’re an optimist the jury is still out on Pellegrini — who played sparingly at Genoa before getting injured and is freaking 21 years old — but man it was a real bummer to see a guy who wasn’t given much of a chance in a Juve shirt be a legit player on a rival side.

Parting Shot of the Week

With the win, Juventus keep pace with the league leaders from Milan and put some distance with the other clubs vying for a shot at the Scudetto.

Two games are gone from the daunting February gauntlet that started the month and so far the results are encouraging. It’s tough to ask for teams to play champagne football with games every three days and heavy rotation going on, so for now, the key is to keep winning and that’s exactly what Juventus is doing.

Up next is the return fixture for the Coppa semifinals, and regardless of the result Juve will have some respite from the competition. If they were to advance to the final — which is obviously the preferred result for your correspondent — they forget about the competition until mid-May for the final and if they were to be ousted, well, they forget about the competition for longer.

With some luck, that breather will serve them well to rest some guys, take it easy and … oh, they still have to play all the time because of the Champions League? Good luck, lads, your legs will surely need it.

See you Tuesday.