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Manu’s Grab Bag: Easy Does It

We talk grinding out a win, controversial celebrations and final shots.

Juventus v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

In Max Allegri’s 300th game on Juventus’ touchline, we got an almost too perfect Allegri performance — a grind-it-out, flash-less, kinda-boring 2-0 win over Udinese at the Allianz Stadium.

It was a win that, outside of a couple stints of sustained possession from the opposition in the second half, was never really in doubt.

After the roller coaster of a week that included the loss in extra time to Inter Milan in the Supercoppa, the Bianconeri just had a relatively uneventful win over a relegation battler is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

Ohhh, we got spicy Paulo on Saturday night, huh?

Before dwelling into the contract renewal drama that currently envelopes every conversation about the Dybala, let’s give him his due for the truly superb game he had against Udinese. He scored the opener and had the hockey assist for the second goal with a great cross-field pass to Mattia De Sciglio that left him wide open to serve the assist to Weston McKennie.

With Federico Chiesa out for the rest of the season, there are very few — if any — players on this Juventus roster that have the offensive talent and vision that Dybala has. And he showed it on Saturday, as he was all over the pitch playing as a nominal attacking midfielder.

He dropped back to the middle of the pitch to circulate the ball, he changed the field with long passes and was incisive throughout the game. In a match that was more of a grindfest than any sort of celebration of the Beautiful Game, Dybala was the only guy that was trying to be a difference maker — and he was.

Now, the contract renewal ... you know what, let’s save that for later.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt - The one good thing to come out of the recent injury/illness struggles from Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini has been de Ligt stepping up as the guy in the backline. Outside of his handball shenanigans against Roma, he has been a rock lately and he was once again on Saturday. Even when the old stalwarts return, de Ligt has to keep being the first name on the scoresheet.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (13 Points)

The Never Ending Story

As Editor in Chief Danny Penza has written before, the first mention of a renewal for Dybala in this here site was in December of 2019.

That’s spanning three seasons, three coaches, two years and one pandemic ago.

Between economic impasses, Dybala’s agent Jorge Antun and his unending travels back and forth between Italy and Argentina and rumors galore, it feels unbelievable we are sitting here in 2022 and we still don’t have an answer about the continuity of Juventus’ No. 10.

I understand that contracts probably have a lot of nuance and are not a super easy thing to do. I get that the pandemic has affected Juve’s financial capabilities. I obviously empathize with Dybala wanting to get paid considering how long he has been at the club and the sudden lack of star power the team currently has.

And, of course, you have to take into account that Dybala has been an injury prone player the last couple of seasons, so do you want to take a risk on giving a guy that has been showing those red flags lately a lot of money?

With all that being said, the mere fact that we are currently in the public subtweeting phase of the negotiations mere months away from potentially losing one of the most talented players on the team for free is absolutely asinine.

Even with all the knocks he has suffered this year, he still leads the team in goals and he has shown time and time again how talented he can be. Without Chiesa on the field, I think it's inarguable that he is the most offensively talented player in the squad.

Whatever the outcome ends up being of this absolutely maddening saga, two things are certain. For one, if Juventus fails to resign Dybala and loses him for nothing, it will make the shortlist of the dumbest moves that this team has done on in the last few years. And second, Juventus will be a worse team next year without La Joya on the squad than they would be with him.

Loser: Dejan Kulusevski

In general, it’s not great when, after your name is constantly being shopped around for months, suddenly it’s withdrawn exclusively because the guy who had the starting spot gets injured, not because anything you did on the field.

Such is the case of one Dejan Kulusevski, who despite a lackluster Juventus career so far, has one more golden chance to show why he was so highly touted only a couple of seasons ago when he was bursting onto the scene at Parma.

Now that we know for a fact that Chiesa will not return this year and given the recent use of Juan Cuadrado as a fullback, it looks like it’s going to be Kulusevski or bust for Juventus.

And if his showcase against Udinese is indicative of something, it’s going to be a rough couple of months for Juve faithful everywhere.

You know how every time Chiesa takes the ball up the field it seems like any move he makes has a chance to pan out? Even if that move sometimes means taking three dudes at once, we’ve seen him do it and come out on top. He's the type of player that just by sheer will and talent alone seems like he’s going to make the play happen somehow.

Currently, the opposite happens when Kulusevski is on the ball. Even if the play somehow ends up being a good one, it always feels like he's flirting with disaster — his touch is heavy, he is indecisive with his decision making. He’s just not that great.

In his defense, he has never really gotten an extended shot at the position in which he is meant to play during his time with Juventus, and with the managerial upheaval you'd be forgiven if you are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on calling him a bust. To me, this is it, this is his golden chance to either prove he belongs or for Juve to start thinking about cutting bait for real.

You have a half a season, my guy, make it count.

Midfield Ranking

  1. Weston McKennie — He’s now scored goals in back-to-back games and he's looking a whole heck of a lot like the guy he showed he could be in the beginning of the 2020-21 season. This was a much-needed performances from the American international
  2. Manuel Locatelli — In my opinion, he’s still more talented than McKennie, but his form has dipped from extraordinary to good lately — which, in this midfield, is more than enough to make you a key player. But we know he can be so much more than that.
  3. Adrien Rabiot — Thought his game against Inter was pretty sharp, did a lot of the dirty work defensively that a lot of the times he hasn’t been doing. Grading on a curve obviously, but he’s been OK.
  4. Rodrigo Bentancur — He was fine on Saturday, did his job well and didn’t make any egregious mistakes. It’s still probably curtains on his Juve career if there are any willing buyers, but he’s been better as of late.
  5. Arthur — Equally capable of looking good and then immediately disappearing for large stretches of the game. He’s such a puzzling dude, and it seems like there’s a really good central midfielder in there somewhere, but it’s only theoretical so far.
  6. Aaron Ramsey — He caught COVID recently, so that sucks. He’s currently stuck in the most loveless marriage ever with Juventus — literally staying together exclusively because of financial reasons, despite everyone seeing that the best thing they both can do is move on.

Parting Shot of the Week

If Napoli were to drop points or lose against Bologna on Monday — a tall task, I’m aware —Juventus could find itself nipping at the heels of a Champions League spot.

It feels like it’s going to go down to the wire in the competition for the top four, with a lot of the teams vying for those coveted spots showing a lot of inconsistency as of late. Despite the loss in the Supercoppa and the draw against Napoli to begin 2022, if Juventus manages to beat AC Milan next Sunday, they might be in a much better position than we all thought heading into February.

All we can do is hope.

See you Sunday.