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Manu’s Grab Bag: Gritted Teeth

We talk the first Serie A win of the season, another blown lead and a gutsy comeback.

Spezia Calcio v FC Juventus - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

JUVENTUS WON A SERIE A GAME. THE SEASON — For real this time — STARTS TODAY.

JUVENTUS ARE NO LONGER IN THE RELEGATION ZONE.

JUVENTUS DIDN’T BLOW A SECOND HALF LEAD ... TWICE.

Look, our beloved club is not providing us with too many reasons to celebrate, so you’ll excuse my exuberance, but: Hell yeah, I’m happy about Wednesday’s 3-2 come-from-behind win over fellow relegation battlers Spezia.

The team is still not playing great, still can’t defend and are still finding out new, exciting ways to choke away leads, but they finally put themselves in the win column when it comes to domestic competition. And, for once, I can write a column with a bit of pep in my step.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Chiesa

Federico Chiesa was goddamned if he was losing this game.

After Juventus went down 2-1 in the second half, there was definitely a sense of urgency that we have not always seen with this team. It was like if they suddenly realized that losing this game would see them make history as the worst start for a Juventus team ever and somehow, someway they found it within themselves to go pedal to the metal to avoid that from happening.

And Chiesa is the human embodiment of “pedal to the metal.” That’s a guy that is physically incapable of doing things half-assed and that play up there exemplifies that perfectly. The GIF cuts up before Chiesa goes on to steal the ball from Daniele Verde right on the corner flag, bulldozes his way to the box, dribbling and sprinting over what seems like the entire Spezia defense, finding help with some nifty hold up play by Alvaro Morata and then scoring the equalizer.

Chiesa was not the only one that suddenly found third gear when things got iffy, but he was definitely the spark plug that generated the chain reaction that delivered Juventus their first win of the season.

Runner Up: Manuel Locatelli - The rare sub appearance that garners points in the MVP tally. This midfield — and team — is better with him on the field and it was immediately noticeable once he came on. I sure hope the folks at J Medical are giving some primo recovery therapy because Juve is going to need him a lot this season.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Alvaro Morata (4 Points)

Loser: Juventus’ Defense

It’s been over 15 matches that Juventus haven’t been able to keep a clean sheet in Serie A.

That’s almost a half a seasons worth of games that the vaunted — in names only — Juve backline can’t stop leaking goals. Sure, some of them are bad luck and some of them are goalkeeping gaffes and what have you. But that’s two seasons and two coaches and they still cannot keep a zero on the scoresheet.

This is officially a problem.

There was no more telling sign of the massive decline in the department that the way the team conceded the two goals of the evening.

All the factors are there, in both scores there are slight deflections that are definitive factors in the goals. BAD LUCK!

But in both scores there’s also some legitimately woeful defending happening to even allows those deflections to take place as Danilo is another spectator in Emmanuel Gyasi’s curler to open the score. Later on, Leo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt combined to do a piece of performance art that could be generously described as “defending” in letting Janis Antiste put the hosts temporarily ahead.

(Look, Bonucci gets beaten way too easily and he gets turned around like he’s facing peak Ronaldinho when he tracks back, but what de Ligt does is just baffling as well. He backs off the streaking Antiste to cover the box in case of a pass ... despite no Spezia player being anywhere near the play. Just a shocking lack of awareness by the Dutch International.)

We just saw Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini pitch the football equivalent of a no-hitter in the Euros during the summer. We know how talented de Ligt is. How is this team leaking goals at this rate? Last week, we talked about water finding its level, if we subscribe to the theory that these players are actually good, will we see a streak of 15-plus clean sheets in a row at some point in the season?

I wouldn’t put my money on it, but I’m a pretty terrible gambler. Speaking of the Wunderkind.

Winner/Loser: Mathijs de Ligt

Matthijs de Ligt had a pretty weird week!

His name made the rounds before the game started as the literal Devil’s Advocate, Mino Raiola, decided to give Twitter clickbait accounts some chum in the water and brought up the fact that de Ligt’s release clause kicks in next summer and that sure, he’s a Juve player but WHO KNOWS WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE, AMIRITE? Because sure, what you want in the midst of a historically bad start to a season is to be talking about the transfer season in freaking September.

(Raiola also dangled the idea of a #Pogback in that very same interview. Because the Devil gives and he takes.)

The game itself was another rollercoaster as de Ligt — as mentioned above — was part of Juve’s comedy of errors in defense to give up the lead. BUT, was also part of the bat out of hell comeback as he scored the winning goal off a corner kick.

Lord knows that if Juve will ever snap their negative clean sheet streak they will need de Ligt to start playing up to the level that we know he can.

Midfield Ranking

Your favorite (???) ranking is back this season! Grab Bag veterans know the drill, but if you don’t its not super complex either. Throughout the season we do the pecking order of Juve’s midfield from best to worst. Given that the midfield has been less than stellar since we started doing this, well, the ranking shifts a lot. Without further ado, here’s how things shake up in the first check in of the season:

  1. Manuel Locatelli - Almost by default, but also because he is flat out the best player in the unit and it’s not particularly close.
  2. Rodrigo Bentancur - I guess? I mean, he hasn’t been as bad as he was last year, and when played as a box-to-box guy he’s shown flashes. I can easily be talked out of this BTW.
  3. Adrien Rabiot - His performances are very lackadaisical and that rubs people the wrong way, but the quality is there and at worst he can be a better version of Blaise Matuidi. There are worse players out there.
  4. Weston McKennie - He gets dented for his cameo as an attacking midfielder in the Empoli game which was atrocious, but overall not much better or worse than the two guys above him on this list. You can make a case for these three guys being in any place between Nos. 2 and 4 pretty easily.
  5. Aaron Ramsey - He’d be bad if he was earning what a youth player makes. He makes slightly more than that.
  6. Federico Bernardeschi - Is not a midfielder, but he’s being played as one more often than not. I don’t get it.
  7. Arthur - Got in a car crash - not of his own fault apparently! - which is now the second time he crashes a luxury sports car in his career. There’s a metaphor there, somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Winner: Emmanuel Gyasi

Game recognizes game. That’s a hell of a troll job, good stuff, 10/10, no notes.

Parting Shot of the Week

That was a win on Wednesday, if we can win on Sunday against Sampdoria that’s two in a row and if we can win a third one midweek in Europe that’s a winning streak.

Who do we play in Europe ... oh, right.

Well, two in a row would still be pretty good! IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

See you Sunday.