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Manu’s Grab Bag: Series Win

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We talk the joy of Federico Chiesa, the return of Paulo Dybala and an unnecessary controversy.

Paulo Dybala of Juventus Fc celebrates after scoring a goal... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

For the first time in what feels like forever, watching Juventus play was an enjoyable experience. That’s not nothing! At the end of the day, watching football is supposed to be a leisure activity in which the aim is to derive some measure of enjoyment.

Call Juventus whatever you like the last few games, but enjoyable was decidedly not something I would describe them by recently. With Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Napoli, Juve accomplished both being a fun watch and securing a desperately needed three points all in one swoop. Progress!

As we head down the last part of the season in which the team has very little to play for, it was nice to see them resemble something like entertainment once again.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Chiesa

He’s so good, you guys.

Count me in as one of the many who had his doubts when the Chiesa signing was announced last year. Sure, he had potential and talent, but the transfer fee was pretty steep, and did you really think Juve needed another wide player? Was that the best use of the money at the time? I think those concerns are now fully gone.

His assist for the opening goal was a thing of beauty, just completely overpowering two Napoli players to deliver a gimme for Cristiano Ronaldo to tap into the net. He followed that up by running and fighting like a man possessed on the left flank to secure the win. We talked about finding joy watching Juve play at the top, and Chiesa is one of the few players that for the most part this season has consistently provided that joy to the Bianconeri faithful.

Runner Up: Paulo Dybala – He’s back! This is a bit of a homer pick, fine, but … you know what, let’s get into it.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (12 Points)

Return of the 10

I’m already exhausted by the upcoming drama that will be the Paulo Dybala transfer/swap/ugly divorce/renewal we have coming up this summer.

It has already started in a way. The dumb party controversy, his freak injury that kept him away from the field for far longer than anticipated, the almost two-year-old contract negotiation drama, the awkward fit with Cristiano Ronaldo and, oh my god, his girlfriend finds Torino boring! The horror!

Lost in all this is the plain and simple fact that Dybala is a good player, a really good player even. Good teams should want to have good players on their team, and watching good players play is better than not watching them at all. At its core, that’s what was so great about seeing Juventus’ No. 10 lace them up again Wednesday night. He stopped being a name you hear exclusively in tabloids to one that is shouted by the Juventus Stadium PA system.

I would have been happy if he just didn’t get injured again in his sub appearance, but he ended up scoring the game-winning goal with one of his trademark left-footed curlers that we have seen so many times as a Bianconeri. For my money, there are few things I enjoy as much on a football pitch as seeing Dybala score one of those shots. And the ecstatic celebration following the score showed a player and a team that really needed something like this.

His performance after the goal wasn’t anything to write home about, which was to be expected after such a long layoff, but it was enough to get Juve the three points and to bring a measure of calm back to Juventus Stadium.

Who knows what will happen with the Dybala saga in the summer, but for now, I’m just happy that we have a good player on the field again.

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

I don’t lend too much credence to the rumors that pointed to Pirlo being sacked if he failed to win the Napoli game. As a whole, I think firing a coach over the result of one game is an extremely dumb and reactionary decision, a telltale sign of a poorly run organization. You fire a guy because of his whole body of work, not because of one game, if Juve had lost Wednesday night, does that make Pirlo a different coach than today? Of course not, but that’s a point for another article.

Either way, the rumors were out there for a reason. Pirlo has a had a rough first season as a manager, something that we maybe should have expected considering all the relevant factors, but it’s not for nothing that his job could be on the line. Regardless if the rumors were true or not, this was a massive game to have because of its implications in the top four race and to their credit the team was ready to play.

Much like Dybala, we will see what the future holds for Pirlo as a Juve manager, but he and his team definitely came through on this one to win the rubber match against the Partenopei.

Controversy between the sticks?

No.

But it is the topic of the day, so I guess we’ll get into it.

It’s no secret that Woj had a bad game a few days ago against Torino. He was, at best, partially to blame for both goals and when Pirlo was asked about who would start against Napoli he vouched for his starting keeper signaling he would start.

Pirlo is not the first coach nor the last to stand behind a starting player after a bad game. That’s Coaching 101, but unfortunately you can’t say that and then have Gianluigi Buffon start the following game. I guess they teach that at Coaching 201 and Pirlo still hasn’t taken that one.

After the game it was framed as a decision of rest taken between coach and player, which makes sense, Woj had just started in international play for Poland and it’s fair to say he was due for a breather. Still, putting in the backup after saying Woj was starting and especially after Woj made two massive blunders will always stoke the flames of controversy.

For what It’s worth, I do believe that Szczesny should be the starter and will remain so for the remainder of the season, he’s the better keeper overall at this point in their respective careers and this was a very specific circumstance. However, I do wonder, with Buffon’s reported interest in moving to a different club where he can be the actual starter — bad idea, Gigi! — and Juve’s widely reported financial straits they might consider flipping Woj for profit. A number of reports have circulated regarding Juve’s interest in their former youth product Emil Audero, as well as still-technically Juve player on loan Mattia Perin.

Could we see an Audero/Perin/Pinsoglio keeper room next season?

Juve fans have been accustomed to standout goalkeeping for two decades straight. As many things we have grown used to, this might be the last year we see something like that.

Parting Shot of the Week

With the league gone, these last nine league games will be about making Europe next season. But they will also be a test of the team’s mettle and plain professional pride. They could easily just go through the motions and not care until the Coppa Italia final, but if this game is anything to go by in what we can expect for this team I’m kinda hopeful.

It was the positive result, sure, but it was also the attitude they showed on the pitch after a truly ghastly last couple of weeks that make me think that these last few games might be more fun than I was anticipating.

Second place in the league and Coppa winners is not terrible all things considered now, is it?

See you Sunday.