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Manu’s Grab Bag: Shorthanded Victory

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We talk the positional flexibility, Morata’s resurgence, midfield ranking and the big game up ahead.

Juventus v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

With a starting lineup featuring a fullback masquerading as a centerback, a fullback as midfielder and a winger as fullback — try saying all of that three times fast. There was an early mistake leading to a goal, no Cristiano Ronaldo and a non-called handball in the box. So it’d be perfectly reasonable to assume that a game with those particular sets of characteristics would not have gone great for Juventus.

Yet, against all odds, when the final whistle blew on Saturday, Juve found themselves the victors with a comfortable 3-1 scoreline against their Roman boogeyman, Lazio.

It was a noteworthy win not only due to the opponent which has proven to be a tough nut to crack for the Bianconeri the last couple of years, but for the extraordinarily shorthanded, makeshift lineup Juventus trotted out. They only had one natural center defender and one natural midfielder in the starting XI — which, unless you’re playing a truly revolutionary formation, usually is not a great indicator.

Through all of that, with some gritted teeth and force of will, Juventus managed to stay alive in the Serie A race for at least one more week.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Alvaro Morata

It’s back-to-back very well deserved MVP games from the Spanish International. Despite still not having 90 minutes in his legs as he comes back from illness, Morata once again proved to be the difference with a brace and an assist on the evening.

Those seem like pretty good numbers to me, dunno about you guys.

I’ve said it ad nauseum, but with an actual target man up front this team as a whole looks so much better. It doesn’t hurt that said target man is currently in the middle of the best season of his career. In a summer that, in hindsight, is looking like one in which Juventus made some pretty smart moves, Morata’s transfer looks like one of the better ones.

Runner Up: Federico Chiesa – Another transfer win from the summer, his motor and pace were pivotal for the team today as it was his hustle on a nothing looking play that led to the second goal of the evening for the home team and the floodgates opening.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (12 Points)

There’s no I in Team

That often overused, slightly corny but grammatically correct coaching pillar was as accurate as ever on Saturday and a key reason for Juventus win.

I alluded to it at first, but it really is staggering that just under half of the starting lineup was playing out of position:

  • Alex Sandro
  • Federico Bernardeschi
  • Danilo
  • Dejan Kulusevski

In any other day that’s a recipe for disaster, yet somehow the team not only survived those position changes, but they looked kinda good?

It wasn’t as spectacular as his two-assist sub appearance last game, but Bernardeschi was fairly decent as a fullback operating on the left side of the pitch. Granted, he had a couple shaky moments defending, but it wasn’t anything egregious, especially when you consider that his “natural” position is as a right winger.

As much crap was heaped upon Sandro after allowing the equalizer against Hellas Verona a couple matchdays ago, he was as stout as ever filling in the middle of the defense and Danilo continued his revival season by putting forth a reasonable impression of a pivot midfielder.

Kulusevski is the only one who continued to look out of sorts as a second striker but at this point the fact that he’s out there and still fighting and running and clawing every single game is kind of worth giving credit anyways.

(Plus, with Morata coming back, I think Kulu will finally get some rest and maybe a chance to get himself back on the right track.)

Pirlo’s “position-less” football has its pros and cons, but I definitely think that it has helped a lot of guys feel more comfortable playing where they usually don’t and looking at least somewhat competent.

Thing’s I Google’d During the Game

  • Juventus Injury List
  • Morata transfer add ons?
  • Serie A 19-20 season capocannoniere
  • Porto Schedule
  • How to let your hair grow out
  • How to do your hair like Andrea Pirlo
  • Aaron Ramsey transfer value
  • Cancelo Danilo transfer details

Win-Win

Quick story, back when I was a college one of our courses was focused on negotiation techniques. It ended up being a pretty useful and interesting class, despite the fact that the lectures were scheduled every Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., which made it a course that no one wanted to take since it coincided with peak early drinking hours.

Either way, our final exam was a simulation in which you and a classmate had to close a were presented with a scenario in which you had to get certain conditions going your way — money, intellectual property rights, distribution areas, etc. — and negotiate within a set time limit in front of the class.

It ended up being a pretty nerve-wracking activity in front of a packed class — some teams settled before they should have, others were super aggressive and ended up with no resolutions, at least one girl in the class came close to tears after facing off against a particularly agro couple. My team closed a so-so agreement that I didn’t like so much but got what I thought were the most important aspects of the deal right.

When I received my grade — a solid A-minus, thank you very much — I asked the professor for some feedback on how our team did and if anyone got their objectives 100% fulfilled. She explained that it was impossible to get everything right since the objectives for both negotiating parties were designed so that you had to make concessions in some areas, focusing on what was most important to your specific goal. So, while no team could feasibly get everything they wanted, there was a way for both teams to get the things that were most important to them in particular.

That’s sort of how I feel about the Danilo-Joao Cancelo deal two seasons after the fact.

Juventus parted with the more player who had more potential and a higher value in the deal, but they also got some financial flexibility with the extra money Manchester City kicked in and a decent player in Danilo. At the time, it was looked as a bit of an underwhelming return, but now? I think everyone came out a winner.

Danilo has been a revelation this season under Pirlo, playing everywhere and doing everything in the Italian manager setup and Cancelo has found the perfect outlet to his offensive game in Pep Guardiola’s high-flying Manchester City.

All in all, I don’t think anyone feels robbed and I don’t think anyone feels like they got away with something. Professor Baez would be proud.

Winner: Alex Sandro

Wanted to give an extra shout out to Sandro who was more than decent as a makeshift center back today.

Before the game I wondered why not give Radu Dragusin the opportunity as he had looked solid in limited Coppa Italia playing time, wouldn’t an — admittedly raw — natural center back provide better cover than a converted left back? Especially going against the reigning capocannoniere in Ciro Immobile?

I guess Pirlo knew better.

With Leo Bonucci on his way back and Matthijs de Ligt apparently being kept out of this game mostly for precautionary measures, I doubt we’ll see Sandro have to fill out as a center back again, but it’s good to know that if worse comes to worse he can do a solid job at it.

He also wore the captain’s armband and showed some understated confidence and leadership. It’s weird to think about it, but outside of Giorgio Chiellini, Sandro along with Paulo Dybala are the longest-tenured Juve players on the roster. 2015 feels like it happened yesterday and that it happened about 20 years ago simultaneously.

(I guess I should say longest continuous tenure for Juventus. Obviously both Leo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon have been Juve players for longer but their respective years away take them out of that category.)

Midfield Ranking

  1. Arthur – He’s back! For 20 minutes and he looked kinda rusty, but he’s back!
  2. Adrien Rabiot – As the only natural central midfielder on the pitch Saturday night, he had to bear a big brunt of the responsibilities, but he was pretty good. He has a knack for scoring top-class goals and he once again showed it today.
  3. Weston McKennie – Limited minutes for him as that hip injury has really hindered his play recently. Have to wonder if and how long can he go against Porto?
  4. Aaron Ramsey – Another weird, wonky performance from him. At times he can look like the only guy on the field who can see that defense splitting movement or pass, other times he looks like the team would be better off playing with 10 men.
  5. Rodrigo Bentancur – He got COVID -19. Bentancur really needs this season to be over.
  6. Nicolo Fagioli – The Juventus rare disease/injury bug is hitting the U-23 kids, too! When will this end? Someone — literally — think of the children!

Parting Shot of the Week

All eyes on Tuesday, fellas.

This really is the make-or-break point for the rest of Juventus season. A pass to the quarterfinals would be a much needed shot of confidence for the team and would represent an equally needed money influx into the currently barren piggybank that is the Juventus financials.

It would also give this team more time to get healthy and resemble once again the on the come up squad that we were witnessing in the later days of January and early February. I’m not saying that squad could feasibly mount a charge for the Champions League trophy but they sure as hell have more of a shot than the shorthanded team that will play midweek.

If Juve were to get bounced from the Round of 16 for a second year in a row it would render the rest of the season an exercise in hope for something truly miraculous to happen in the league and running down the clock until the Coppa Italia final in May.

Don’t go out sad, that’s all I ask.

See you Tuesday.