If I told you a few months ago that Juventus would waste a commanding two-goal, first-half performance to drop points against Udinese to start the 2021-22 Serie A season, would you just have assumed that Andrea Pirlo was still in charge?
Because, despite the difference in playing style and overall performance, the 2-2 draw Sunday night ended up being pretty much a deja vu of so many similar games last season in which Juventus shot themselves in the foot just enough to manage to snatch a draw out of the jaws of victory.
And to be fair, there were large stretches of the game in which this team looked a lot better than what we were used to seeing them the last couple of years. It was a well managed, well played football match until, well, it very much wasn’t.
Offensive Player of the Game: Paulo Dybala
In an effort to continue retooling and improving your beloved Grab Bag and to fix a glaring weakness in the end-of-the-year MVP vote tally, we are adding the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Game awards.
This idea comes straight out of the National (American) Football League — a true model organization that makes no mistakes, in my humble opinion. If you’re not familiar, by the end of the year, the NFL awards the MVP award to the best player in the league, but it also awards the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards. You could argue that every year at least one of those awards ends up being superfluous as all hell. If the MVP — the literal best player in the league — is an offensive player wouldn’t that mean by definition they are also the best Offensive Player?
So, what the NFL ends up doing most of the time is that they treat the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards as runner-up trophies to the MVP. I think it's a neat idea, so we are using it here to give out points to the most outstanding player in a draw.
Last year, we gave out two points to the MVP of the game and one point to the runner-up in wins, zero points in draws and minus-1 to the worst player on the field in a loss. To make up for the newly created awards, this year we are awarding three points to the MVP, two to the runner-up in wins, one to the Offensive or Defensive Player of the Game in draws and losses remain the same.
With all that being said: Paulo Dybala is good!
Between his horrid season last year, his interminable contract negotiations and the discourse about whether he can play with Cristiano Ronaldo or not, people tend to forget that he is actually a really damn good football player. He scored the opener playing the role of poacher striker and then served a gorgeous pass to Juan Cuadrado for the second. He faded physically a bit in the second half, but even so he remained one of the most dangerous players on the field for Juventus.
Wearing the captain’s armband, Dybala did pretty much all you could have expected from him in the season opener, more than enough to deserve the win. The only reason he didn’t was because of the next guy we have to talk about ...
MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (1 Point)
Loser: Wojciech Szczęsny
So, do you think our friends at Paris Saint-Germain might want to do a friendly loan deal?
This blog has cut Woj more slack than most — and with good reason. Despite his shaky performances last year, the Polish International was coming off two very good seasons in which he established himself as a reliable and at times spectacular keeper. Sure, he struggled for most of the year, but so did most of the team.
The Juventus board seemed to be of the same mind as they did not close a deal for Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer during the summer and failed to bring any competition to compete with Szczęsny after Gianluigi Buffon left to start for Parma in Serie B.
The signal seem to be clear: Woj is the starting keeper and we believe in him.
(You can make the case Donnarumma wasn't technically “free” given the wages he would have commanded and the fees that would have been paid to super agent Mino Raiola. Add to that the precarious financial situation the club is in and perhaps Gigio was never even a possibility. Still ... I can’t imagine that if Juve really wanted to bring him in they wouldn’t have found a way to do so.)
So, what does Woj do on the first game back after a summer filled with reassurances of his standing at the club? He gives away the farm! It's hard to really point to anybody else that might have been to blame here — the team wasn’t spectacular in the second half by any means, but they did enough to deserve a win against a feeble Udinese side outside of the embarrassing display of the man with No. 1 kit.
VAR Controversy of the Week
Just ... whatever, man.
Así fue el gol anulado a Cristiano Ronaldo para la victoria de la Juventus en el minuto 94'. Fuera de juego señalado por el VAR. pic.twitter.com/cAeItDfJHR— Soy Calcio (@SoyCalcio_) August 22, 2021
I get that it’s the rules and Juve got bailed out earlier by a similar play by Udinese. It’s dumb, but them’s the breaks. My real gripe is that Cristiano Ronaldo still got yellow carded! That seems unfair somehow? How can you get yellow carded for excessive celebration for a goal that ends up being disallowed? Can you VAR that?
Naming Federico Bernardeschi, Aaron Ramsey and Rodrigo Bentancur — arguably the three most maligned players in the team — as your starting midfield to begin the season. CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT, JUVENTUS NATION?
But, hey, new season new players, right? Well ... about that.
To be fair, Bentancur did have a pretty good game. Finally taken off center midfield duty, he was his usual box-to-box one-man rampage and showed out with an assist for Dybala’s opener and had an overall good performance. And to his credit, Ramsey was completely anonymous, which is an upgrade from his usual form which is actively detrimental to the team.
Bernardeschi was also anonymous, but in a sadder way because, what is he even doing playing in the midfield? Allegri would rather eat his shoe than play the man on the wings on a full-time basis. Anyway, I need Weston McKennie, Adrien Rabiot and Manuel Locatelli starting ASAP.
Parting Shot of the Week
Granted, a lot of the excitement of the new season was washed out by the discouraging result, but we still saw a lot to hold your head and optimism for the rest of the year.
If Juve just got a smack-dab average performance from their starting keeper, we are talking about three points and a decent showing on top of it. Then again, it seems like for the last two years, that's been the line to justify pretty much every bad result from Juventus, if this had gone right ,then it would all have been OK!
There’s a lot of football left to be played, fellas, so let’s not get too crazy just yet.
See you Saturday.
(It feels good to be back.)