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Manu’s Grab Bag: Super Subs

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We talk Bernardeschi’s redemption, Morata’s importance, a slumping Swede and stopping penalty kicks.

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

Once it was announced that Matthijs de Ligt had pulled up in warmups prior to the start of Tuesday’s matchup against Spezia, I legit thought of not watching the game.

This was already a burnt out, undermanned, overworked team trying to bounce back from an already deflating result only a few days ago. Now they were adding to that litany of woes losing their best defender minutes before kickoff. What could I possibly gain from watching such a bummer of a spectacle?

And for the first 35 minutes or so, it was pretty much as advertised, the team did little, played sloppy and allowed a Spezia team — cosplaying as Napoli with their blue kits — to hang around and get a couple semi-dangerous chances on their goal.

Weirdly enough, it was two criticized figures as of late in the Juventus team that turned things around in the second half. As Andrea Pirlo aced his substitutions — not that he had many options, but still — and the much-maligned Federico Bernardeschi fueled the comeback that would eventually lead to a comfortable 3-0 win.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Alvaro Morata

It’s insane how much better this team looks when Morata is on the field.

He’s in the undeniably advantageous position of being the only real natural striker on the team, so there is no way of knowing if it’s Morata being really good at his position or just being the only man with his skillset. Either way, Pirlo’s setup and tactics just look much more fluid and effective when there’s an actual No. 9 there to help out.

His absence is one of many that have handicapped Juventus as of late, and while there are still names out there that make you believe at first glance that Juve can survive without him the truth is that he might be — along with Arthur? — the most irreplaceable player on the team from a tactical standpoint.

Good to have you back, Alvaro, hopefully it’s for a long time.

Runner Up: Federico Bernardeschi – Super sub Bernardeschi? His impact in the game was equally immense as Morata’s in what was decidedly his best performance this season and maybe in years as a Juventus player. More on him in a second.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (12 Points)

Redemption Tour

OK, yeah fine, this was about a different game, but still! I’ve tried to will a feel good bounce back moment from Bernardeschi for so long that it was bound to happen eventually!

In all seriousness, this was such a great performance by a guy that desperately needed something like this. It’s no surprise that he has been an overall disappointment after the lofty expectations that his transfer generated in 2017. And while there’s been flashes — Atletico Madrid second leg anyone? — unless something drastically changes his signing won’t be seen in the most favorable of lights.

Does a terrific 30 minutes against Spezia change all of that? Of course not, but if you wanted to be optimistic about the rest of this season at least, having a plugged in Bernardeschi could definitely help a team that is not quite brimming with options on that side of the field.

I don’t know if this is a flash in the pan — odds are, it is — but there was something a bit different about his play Tuesday night. The pass to Federico Chiesa that led to the second goal was proof of it. How many times have we seen Bernardeschi take on a guy and dribble his way into the box like he does on that play lately? At least the confidence is there which it most certainly wasn’t earlier in the year.

Speaking of lacking confidence.

Loser: Dejan Kulusevski

The usual caveats are in place.

He’s playing out of position, he’s 20 years old, it’s only his second season as a pro and the grind of the season is most likely taking a toll on his legs as with everybody on the team.

It is not fair to ask him to lead the line day in and day out at this stage of his career.

With that out of the way, my god, did Kulu look rough Tuesday. He was so hesitant. At least twice he received a ball in the box with good space to one time the shot but instead of letting it rip, he tries to dribble, set it up properly, lose all advantage and gets his shot blocked.

There’s something not quite right with Kulusevski right now and in ideal circumstances I would love for him to get a break for a few games, get his legs back and put him in as a sub late in games where he can maybe find more space in counter attack opportunities.

Obviously, Juventus is far from being in the ideal circumstances right now, so whatever is going on with him as of late will have to be worked out on the pitch.

A legit, sink or swim moment for the young Swede.

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

With so many injuries he barely had enough players to fill out his starting lineup.

However he nailed his subs as they both played a huge role in securing the win. There’s an argument to be made about why he didn’t start Bernardeschi instead of Gianluca Frabotta, but that’s hindsight after seeing Bernardeschi have the best performance of his season.

What was already a tough job considering the circumstances of his hiring and the overall weirdness of the season has become only tougher given all the injuries that seem to never end for the team. Who knows how the season will finish with so many big games still up ahead but with what he has shown so far I think Pirlo has the chops to be a good coach for a long time.

Winner: Wojciech Szczęsny

First of all, he is following in the footsteps of the GOAT in breaking out the field player’s kit, which has always been one of my favorite Gianluigi Buffon quirks. He should be a winner today for that alone as he was rarely tested by Spezia for the vast majority of the game.

However late in the game a penalty kick was — wrongly, in my opinion — awarded to Spezia. Now, at this point, the game is on the dying seconds, you have a three goal lead. It objectively doesn’t matter if they score or not, the win is staying home, whatever.

Yet, only to add the cherry on top, he did the other thing I love to see keepers do and that is to hold until the last second during PKs.

I have no evidence to back this up, but I always feel that keepers would be better served holding on the shot since so many players now tend to shoot easily stopped shots once they realize the keeper jumped one way or the other. I think it’s because keepers don’t want to look silly standing there doing nothing if a shot is too fast, I get it, but if the shot is well placed there is very little you can do even if you guess right.

Anyway, good stuff from Woj all around.

Parting Shot of the Week

Decent win for Juve who now look ahead to a well-rested Lazio team for their weekend matchup. Unless the Milan clubs start dropping points — and soon — this was a win they needed if only to keep pace and make sure they finish in Champions League spots in case that potential Milanese choke job never happens.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Juve lineup for their next match as the pivotal return leg against Porto is scheduled immediately after that game. They are still technically in the hunt and if you believe the players and the coach they still very much believe they can win their 10th straight Scudetto.

That’s up for debate, but whatever happens I just hope that we don’t see a completely exhausted Juventus team this time next week.

See you Saturday.