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Manu’s Grab Bag: Time Lost

We talk another case of career revival, a bright spot in the January gauntlet and old timers.

AC Milan vs Juventus - Serie A Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On the umpteenth episode of the ongoing reality TV show Juventus: What Will They Do Next?” ...

Mere days after blitzing Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia to the tune of a 4-1 final score, Juventus failed to put a shot on goal in a 90-minute grindfest against AC Milan that ended up in a scoreless draw on Sundya night.

I get that Milan is a significantly better team than Sampdoria, I really do, but still not a one shot on goal? Not even a token, easily savable long-range effort to just check the box on the stat sheet?

Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain: In what was a much-anticipated matchup between two historic teams vying for European spots, what we got was 90 minutes of our life that we will never get back.

Let’s cook.

Defensive Player of The Week: Giorgio Chiellini

Few things are as reliable as Juventus stalwart and captain Giorgio Chiellini man marking opposing No. 9 strikers into oblivion. Despite the injuries, despite the age, despite everything there are very few defenders in football history who were as good as Chiellini when it comes to doing that.

Due to the offensive ineptitude of the team, the Juve defense needed to pitch a shutout if they had any hopes of going back to Turin with at least something to show for their efforts and with a backline featuring Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani and the extraordinarily out-of-form Alex Sandro that seemed like a tough ask.

(More on Rugani in a moment, because this was a stray hit my guy just caught and it was undeserved. I admit that.)

And yet, Chiellini once again, as he has many times before, answered the call and was the top defender we have had the pleasure of seeing him be for the last decade.

Juventus has had both a lot of luck and a bit of a curse with their historic pairing of center backs still playing at a high level deep into their 30s. On the one hand, you always want to have good players on your team, and both Chiellini and Leo Bonucci have been for the most part good to really good. On the other, their late-career performances have prevented Juventus from handing over the reins to younger guys. Because why would you, when you still have two of the best to ever do it in your team performing at a high level?

That’s a debate for another time, what is important right now is that we still can see that number 3 on the lineup sheet and know for a fact that the defense is well secured once again.

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

Winner: Daniele Rugani (!!!)

In the now-traditional squad power ranking at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, I made the very reasonable point when speaking of Daniele Rugani:

Do you understand how old our center back line is?! ARE WE ALL AWARE THAT WE ARE ONE (1) MUSCLE INJURY AWAY OF OUR 37-YEAR-OLD CAPTAIN OF HAVING DANIELE RUGANI BE A FACTOR IN OUR SEASON?!

And, I’m chalking that take up as a push, because yes, obviously our old-ass backline was bound to break down at some point and indeed Rugani was trusted to start meaningful matches like he has been doing for the entire month of January.

It is my opinion that I was right to be concerned. Rugani had shown flashes early in his career, but for the most part had been a downright average to below-average defender during his later years as a Juve player and was rightfully shipped out of the club and deemed as surplus.

Yet, due to mismanagement and being a broke club, they had to bring him back and had to rely on him as the break in case of emergency center back and how could you not be nervous about putting him out there in big matchups when you have a history the guy being not so good?

However, because this year is just full of surprises, Rugani has been pretty good! Not only this game, but in general. He has stepped up and performed pretty well the whole month as part of Juve’s defensive revival.

His case is rather similar than the one for both Federico Bernardeschi and De Sciglio. They are capable of being good players, you don’t make it to that level without showing a lot of pure talent. So, of course they can string together a few decent matches here and there, but in order to play and stay at one of the best clubs in Europe — allegedly — you need to show that form consistently, which has eluded the aforementioned trio.

We are seeing it already. After his fast and furious December — that earned him the player of the month award! — Bernardeschi’s crashed down to earth in January. Ditto for De Sciglio, who had a couple good showings and was then bullied by both Rafael Leao and Alexis Saelemaekers when the level of competition stepped up.

Much like the other two guys, I don’t think this month of Rugani’s good play is a harbinger of a career revival. However, I’m happy that him being a big part of this team ended up being a positive rather than a negative as I thought it would be early in the season.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Early in the year, I complained that the Max Allegri 2.0 era was not going great because we were getting all the bad things that come with an Allegri led team, but none of the good ones.

The team was not winning — ugly or otherwise — was not defending to the level that we were accustomed to and were making dumb mistakes that cost them points in multiple occasions.

While this team is still not on par with the old Allegri teams of yore, at least some of the identity is back. This is a team that even at its worst, is going to defend properly, is going to be compact, is not going to make (too) many mistakes and will essentially not beat itself which is already an improvement.

In the long run, teams with those qualities tend to win more than they lose.

If you are of the opinion — as I am — that there is only so much you can do with this squad as it’s currently constructed, this month has been as a whole a positive step for the Allegri 2.0 era.

Parting Shot of the Week

Now that the January gauntlet is in the books, Juventus finds itself still trailing in the hunt for European spots but not by that much and have shown that they can compete with all the top teams vying for the Serie A title.

This is not super encouraging, I know, but still this is not the Juventus powerhouse that we have come to know the past ten years or so. This is a team that is on par with the other top teams in Italy, not heads and shoulders above them as it used to be the case before. A Coppa Italia run and a European spot is this team’s ceiling, I admit that’s not great but it is what it is.

Knowing how good I am at predicting things, I’m sure Juve now will go on an all-time Champions League run and win the whole damn thing.

See you after the break.