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Manu’s Grab Bag: New Year, Same Me

We talk consistently disappointing results, a much needed generational shift and missing old friends.

Juventus v Napoli - Serie A Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Happy new year!

While objectively speaking, there is nothing inherently different in people when the clock hits midnight on Dec. 31, I believe that as a species we crave some sense of closure and finality.

Sure, is it a bit silly to expect people to finally get in shape, read more books, eat healthier and become more well-grounded, better humans just because the calendar shifted one number in the year column? It absolutely is, but it's also harmless and New Year’s resolutions are meaningless fun at worst and an opportunity for self improvement at best. Why could not this be the year when we all finally, collectively as a nation — or humankind as a whole even — get jacked?

I’m an eternal optimist, so I like the whole concept of a new year meaning something, despite having over two decades of evidence that it hardly matters at all. So, I foolishly talked myself into 2022 Juventus being different than 2021 Juventus. Sure, it was only a few days short of a three-week break, but again, why not believe in miracles?

To be fair, with a number of key players returning to the lineup, the hope of Juventus showing improvement wasn’t entirely built upon good wishes and little more. Still, much like people deciding that they can wait just “one more day” to finally start working out, Juventus played their first game of the new year in a very similar manner than they had played pretty much all of last year, ending Thursday night with a 1-1 draw against Napoli.

Frustratingly, disappointingly and overall just a bummer.

Here’s to 2022, everyone!

Let’s cook.

Offensive Player of the Week: Federico Chiesa

It’s been a bit of a letdown season so far for beloved fan favorite Federico Chiesa.

After a tremendously successful first season with Juventus and a torrid summer showcase in the Euros that culminated in lifting the cup for Italy, a lot was expected from Juventus No. 22. However, between nagging injuries and weird formations, Chiesa hasn’t lit the world on fire as we all expected he would.

Entering Thursday’s game, the Italian international had only three goals in all competitions with three assists to boot. Not horrible numbers necessarily, but an underwhelming number for a guy many people — including yours truly — had tabbed as the next great Juve player and someone who could easily become the best player in the league this season.

With all that being said, Thursday’s game showed how good Chiesa can still be when healthy. as he was Juve’s most dangerous player going forward and nabbed a goal to increase his season tally to four. Any and all hopes of a Juve top four finish are going to rely heavily on Chiesa being the guy we know he can be for the rest of 2022.

If the first game of the year is any indication, Juventus still has some hope.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (10 Points)

(Retroactive) Winners: Juventus Forwards of the last 8 seasons.

As a whole, Juventus most significant issue remains scoring goals.

(You can make the argument that the lack of scoring proficiency is due to the subpar midfield that continues to be an issue for the team as well. Even so, I’d argue that the recent form of both Manuel Locatelli and Weston McKennie has moved the midfield to be below average rather than horrid. Which is, as weird as it sounds, an improvement.)

They are easily one of the least potent offenses among the teams vying for European spots and their goals scored on the season (28) looks more like an offense that belongs to a team battling in the lower part of the table than one with league-leading aspirations.

This was always a risk that the team was willing to run when they decided to go into the season with Alvaro Morata and Moise Kean as their main strikers. Kean is young and has potential and Morata can have his moments, but neither of them are anything close to surefire 20-plus goal scorers — and it’s showing. With Paulo Dybala and Chiesa struggling with injuries, the team has been remarkably toothless as they are in real danger of posting their worst offensive season in years.

Which brings me to my main point: Man, does Juventus miss their old strikers, huh?

Ever since Juventus signed Carlos Tevez in 2013, the team has always had a guy that had a proven track record of scoring goals. From grinders like Mario Mandzukic, to the aforementioned Tevez who mixed a workmanlike attitude with flair and finishing to boot. To superstar caliber players like Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, who were a guarantee to score between 25-30 goals a season with little to no issue.

(Fun fact, Tevez is technically not retired! It’s true! His contract ran out with Boca Juniors in July of last year and has been without a club ever since, but he is not officially out of the game yet. Quick six-month contract for a minimum wage — what do you say, Carlos?)

Ronaldo, specifically, was as divisive figure as anyone in the recent history of Juventus and despite his acrimonious exit and the personal distaste that many people had for the guy as a person, it’s undeniable that his exit left a vacuum of scoring that no other player on the roster has been able to fill.

As Juventus continues to play sort of adequate football with no finishing, the lack of a top-tier striker becomes more and more evident. Our beloved club is currently in a position in which they seem to have glaring needs in almost every line of the roster, but have the largest wage bill in Italy and are broke. Good times all around.

Loser: Alex Sandro

Despite the goal not being entirely his fault as he was caught in a 2-v-1 situation, this game is more proof that Sandro is no longer the best left back on the team — not by a long shot.

He had a short revival early on in the season, but outside of that run of games, Sandro has continued to look like his best days are firmly behind him.

With Luca Pellegrini out, Sandro was the clearcut favorite to start, but if you're getting subbed out late and in need of a goal for Mattia De Sciglio of all people, I think we can confidently say that our beloved Brazilian fullback is, as the kids say, washed.

Parting Shot of the Week

The hits keep on coming as Juventus travel to Rome to face off against AS Roma on Sunday in — yet another — key matchup.

And, look, I know it’s barely into January and there is a lot of football left to be played, but I think we can officially call it, right? Unless we see a historical collapse from the teams at the top of the table, Juventus will not be anywhere close to challenging for the title for the second year in a row. That’s something we haven’t really been accustomed to in Juventus land for quite a while so it feels like a pretty big letdown yet again, but to still believe this team has some sort of turnaround in them is more wishful thinking than anything else.

Fun way to start the year, huh?

See you Sunday.