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Manu’s Grab Bag: Back to Basics

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We talk the Grab Bag MVP race, Ronaldo’s hunger, over hyping prospects and the Champions League race.

Federico Chiesa of Juventus FC and Andrea Masiello of Genoa... Photo by Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

That’s twice in a row! Twice in a row that Juventus has looked good and fun and actually won games! Sure, it’s at a point in the season where they are really playing for pride more than anything, but still, I don’t really know how many times — if at all — this happened during the 2020-21 campaign, so I will take it thank you very much.

Genoa ain’t nothing to write home about, but this team was dropping points against the likes of Benevento and Torino, so for all intents and purposes, Sunday’s 3-1 win over Il Grifone was a nice change of pace.

Speaking of pace the win also proved fundamental to keeping it in regards to the European spots race, so, all in all, it was a solid day at the office for the still — for at least another month! — reigning Italian champs.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Chiesa

You know the one race that is decidedly not done yet? That’s the Grab Bag season MVP race! With his performance on Sunday, Chiesa has tied Ronaldo with 12 points on the season leaderboard. In fact, checking the numbers this might go down to the wire.

Ronaldo and Chiesa are at 12, Morata follows them with 10 points thanks to his torrid start to the season. Johnny Square follows at 8 with Weston McKennie and Matthijs de Ligt tied at 6. A bunch of guys have a few points here and there, but looking at that list I’d say it accurately reflects the players that have been most important this season.

And this is a well-deserved MVP performance from Chiesa, who outside of his wasted counter-attacking chance was once again everywhere for Juve on Sunday. His sheer speed, pace and do whatever it takes attitude is a joy to watch and a testament to what a freak athlete he is that he can still put forth shifts like this after the unrelenting season schedule.

Putting it simply, Morata’s goal doesn’t happen if Chiesa doesn’t out-hustle and win a 50/50 ball over Ivan Radovanovic. And it sure doesn’t happen if he doesn’t have the speed to outrun the entire Genoa backline. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado – Got himself another assist on the opener, bringing his season total to 13. That feels like a good number, I think.

Season Leader(s): Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Chiesa (12 Points)

Redemption

If you were inclined to build storylines out of this match — and I’m very much inclined to do so — it would be of momentary redemption for the three goal scorers.

Dejan Kulusevski, Alvaro Morata and Weston McKennie have had uneven seasons. All three started the year brightly — more so Morata and McKennie, but Kulu was playing good ball early as well — and for a myriad of reasons they all saw their performances fall off a cliff in the second half.

McKennie got burnt out and hurt by the schedule which dented the outstanding season he had up until that point. Morata got hit with illness and his fire form from the first few months cooled significantly down. And Kulusevski, being played out of position and bearing a heavier workload that he had ever had before, lost all sort of confidence and made massive mistakes that cost the team games.

Add to all this the off the field drama that they also experienced — Morata and his transfer rumors, McKennie and his suspension/party and Kulu being labeled an overall disappointment — and they get a pass from me if they were to say they are not enjoying themselves a whole lot lately.

Who’s to say if their scores and all around solid performances will be a harbinger of better football to close out the year, but it can’t hurt, can it?

Speaking of redemption.

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

There’s an old football adage that says: “When in doubt, go 4-4-2.”

The most common, OG formation that there is, good old 4-4-2. It makes sense that this formation is a sort of safety blanket for manages everywhere and once again it is proving to be effective as the last couple of performances for Juve owe some of their success to the tried and true formation.

This is still Pirlo and he still likes to get cute with it so the team didn’t play it straight the whole game. It seemed that the team morphed into a 3-4-3 in attack with Cuadrado and Kulusevski shooting up the field. It was a small, but significant kink that allowed Kulusevski to play closer to goal where he is more comfortable and Cuadrado to be the do everything dynamo he is.

Two games do not erase a whole season and Genoa is not the opponent to measure yourself precisely. But this is a step forward in marrying Pirlo’s ideas and progressive system with something more traditional and pragmatic. I hope to see more of this moving forward.

Good Job, Good Effort

Cristiano Ronaldo did not have his best game. In fact I’d argue that he should have been subbed out instead of Morata late in the second half. Ronaldo never does get subbed out so the point is moot, but if we are talking about on-the-field performance there’s a strong case for doing so.

Despite his lackluster performance I do have to give him this: He is a nutcase and I mean this in a positive way. This is a dude who — controversially but probably accurately — has the all-time goal scoring record, leads the league in scoring and will probably finish yet another year with over 30 goals scored.

Objectively speaking, to have a subpar game and not score in a game your team is winning handily should not be super upsetting under the circumstances. But he was reacting and emoting almost the exact same way as when Juve was eliminated from Champions League. The dude is maniacal about scoring, it was the dying minutes and he was still trying to head in a nothing cross and bowling over Mattia Perin in his efforts to get one.

It leads to a reputation of being a somewhat selfish player, and while I think that is slightly unwarranted overall, you can never fault him for not caring. After all, it is that drive that has led to him being so successful as many other sports greats.

Still, maybe sub him out once or twice, come on now.

Still in the Future

With the state of Juventus midfield being where it is, it’s no wonder that every possible option is on the table. Up to and including young Nicolo Rovella, who’s currently on loan at Genoa.

While Rovella is undoubtedly talented, it’s worth remembering that he is still just that at this moment. Talented and a good prospect, that’s about it. And he showed it on Sunday with a up and down game against his potential future teammates.

He struggled defensible trying to contain Cuadrado and got completely sonned in the play leading to the first goal, yet, he also showed flashes of on the ball composure, good touch and got himself an assist on Genoa’s only goal of the day.

Clearly the appetite for a young, talented mid is strong in the Bianconeri faithful, but while Rovella might end up being that at some point, he’s clearly still not quite there. Am I saying that he was a bad buy? Not at all, but maybe the rumors of him reinforcing the midfield next season are a tad premature.

(Copy and paste that last paragraph in regards to Nicolo Fagioli while you’re at it)

Parting Shot of the Week

Despite the last couple of wins the fight for Champions League football is still wide open, with four teams vying for three spots all separated by four points.

The title race is all but wrapped up, but these spots seem like they will go down to the wire. Juventus could help themselves a lot with a win next weekend against an always tough Atalanta squad that is nipping at their heels in the standings. A loss in that match, however, could put their qualification in serious jeopardy.

Hold on, because this is far from a done deal.

See you Sunday.