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Manu’s Grab Bag: A win, but at what cost?

We talk going back to back for the first time this season, childhood dreams and the dilemma around Juventus No. 10

Juventus v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

I’m going to cop to it.

I did not watch the game live. It was at 5:30 in the AM on a Sunday. And look, I care about doing this blog post after every game, I do, I consider myself a committed, professional person in general. But, with that being said, I’m not enough of a professional to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on the Lord’s Day to watch a football game. I won’t do it, sue me.

However, I did watch the replay! That’s better than nothing — it’s called the next best thing, people. And I got to say, I did not regret watching the game even if I already knew the result beforehand because there was a lot of good stuff to take out of Juventus 3-2 victory over Sampdoria.

(That’s a personal pet peeve of mine. If I already know how the game turns out, I don’t watch it. One of the major appeals of sports is the fact that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, if you take that away from it, might as well watch a movie or something.)

A lot of the problems that we all know by now are still very much present in this team, but we are also starting to see a lot of good things being put forth by Max Allegri’s Bianconeri 2.0.

Also and for the first time this season Juventus have two wins in a row, so…


Let’s cook.

MVP: Manuel Locatelli

Between the millionaire wages and transfer fees, the egos, the Superleagues and all the stuff that complicates our love for the game, it’s sometimes easy to forget that it is indeed a game. A game that many, including myself, started playing as children with dreams of someday suiting up for our favorite team and scoring a goal in front of thousands adoring fans.

For the vast majority of us, that ends up being just that, a dream. Due to a lack of resources or injuries or, as it was my case, a tragic lack of talent, 99% of football fans don’t end up fulfilling those visions of glory. Instead, we live vicariously through the chosen few that do make it.

And if you didn’t get a least a little bit emotional after seeing Manuel Locatelli score a goal for his boyhood club, maybe football is just not for you.

The prestigious Grab Bag MVP points go to Locatelli, but not just for sentimentality alone. He actually played another pretty good game, and he has very quickly established himself as the best midfielder in this squad by a decent margin.

Locatelli continuing to settle down under Allegri’s scheme can only mean good things. Hell, he made Rodrigo Bentancur look pretty good at times as that duo showed some good periods of play. Something that as Adrien Rabiot can tell you, is no easy feat.

The midfield continues to be the feeblest unit in this team — though the defense is sure giving them a run for their money lately — but Locatelli settling down quickly is a very positive step in the right direction.

Runner Up: Paulo Dybala – I know he played 20 minutes, but he did more on those twenty minutes for Juve’s attack than almost any other player on the team. You know what, let’s talk a little bit more about Dybala…

MVP Grab Bag Season Leader: Manuel Locatelli (5 Points)

The Jewel Dilemma

We saw Paulo Dybala at the peak of his powers against Sampdoria. Pretty much every time he touched the ball he was making good things happen for Juventus. His opener was absolutely vintage Dybala, a dribbler from outside the box that at first seems like an easy save, until you realize it's so perfectly placed that there’s no way the keeper gets to it. If Federico Chiesa and Alvaro Morata have slightly better finishing skills on Sunday, La Joya ends up with a goal and two assists in the first quarter of the match.

And then ... he got hurt. Again.

I’ve been driving the bandwagon of “PAULO DYBALA IS NOT INJURY PRONE” and I’ll just say the wagon is slightly less confident of itself right now after this. To be fair, and according to the latest reports, it seems like the injury he sustained is not as bad as it initially looked, and thanks to the lucky scheduling of an international break, Juventus might only be without their vice-captain for two games.

Still, this was yet another setback for Dybala, who ever since the latter days of the Maurizio Sarri era has struggled with fitness and form — something that had never really been an issue in his first few years is now a recurrent theme when talking about Juventus No. 10.

As his contract renewal negotiations go on for the umpteenth week, Juventus has to ask themselves wether it makes sense to build their project around a guy who has been all starts and stops for two years now. The Argentinian is 27 years old, so theoretically he should be entering his peak performing years. And, again, this does seem to be a minor injury, so perhaps this is just a valley of poor luck that will eventually turn into a peak.

Paulo Dybala has shown time and time again he can be the best player on the pitch for Juventus ... when healthy. And that’s always a scary sentence to have to put in, but given what we’ve seen lately, a warranted one.

Wally Pipp Time

If you are not an American or a baseball fan the name, Wally Pipp probably rings no bells. For those of you who don’t know, Pipp was a professional baseball player with a career that lasted over ten years playing for three different organizations including the New York Yankees, arguably the most well-known team in the sport.

With the Yankees, he led the American League in home runs for two years as he was a key piece of a team that won three AL pennants and one World Series. He was by all accounts a very successful player. Yet, he is mostly remembered because one day he had a headache and a young Lou Gehrig — one of the best and most famous baseball players to ever live - subbed in for him that day.

Gehrig would never relinquish the starting spot and players started referring to losing your place due to injury as getting “Wally Pipp-ed.”

While I will always argue Pipp got a rough deal by now being a trivia answer for all the wrong reasons, it’s a good analogy in the sense that an injury to an entrenched starter inherently means a chance for someone to step up and take that spot.

The two guys with the most to gain from Dybala’s and Alvaro Morata’s injuries are Moise Kean and Dejan Kulusevski, who will now be thrust into the starting lineup in the biggest game of the season to date for Juventus as they host defending European champs Chelsea.

Kulusevski is not really an equal to equal replacement for Dybala as they have different profiles, but Allegri will probably turn to him to provide some of the offensive creativity void left behind by the Argentina international. To Kulusevski’s credit, he performed decently against Sampdoria. Kulusevski has failed to impress in his Juve career, while he has shown flashes, he is far from the guy that was a the best young player of the league with Parma.

Kean, however, would be the most obvious candidate to Wally Pipp the hell out of Juve’s current starter. I’ve defended Morata many times and I absolutely think that he’s the best pure striker on the team. While Kean may have the higher ceiling, he struggles with all the little things that Morata excels at and that makes Alvarito just a better all around player and fit for the team.

With all that being said, Morata is still on a loan from Atletico Madrid and his option to make him a Juventus player for next year is not cheap. Given the economic conditions of the club right now and the fact that the team is already on the hook for a big payment for Federico Chiesa, there’s a high likelihood Juve doesn’t bring back the hot and cold striker. That probability only increases if Kean starts to look like the real deal upfront.

Thankfully, it appears that neither Morata nor Dybala will miss an extended amount of time, but Pipp’s headache probably went away within a few hours, too.

Parting Shot of the Week

It feels good to finally have a little momentum going forward for Juve. After their disastrous league starts a couple of wins are just what the doctor ordered and while there is still plenty to work on, at least they are not dropping points for now.

The Bianconeri were always going to be the underdogs against Chelsea. The English side is more talented, more cohesive, has been playing under coach Thomas Tuchel’s system for longer and yeah, they won the Champions League last year. However, now they have to face that tall order without arguably their two most in-form attackers and with a defense that seems to be unable to stop leaking goals.

I’m of the opinion that Juventus always performs better in Europe when the odds are stacked against them, but even some odds are too big to do much about. If they manage a draw I’ll be really happy, if they somehow pull out the W I’m putting money on a treble campaign.

(Always remember, I suck at gambling.)

See you Wednesday.