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Manu’s Grab Bag: Luck of the Serbian

We talk deflections, the Stefano Sorrentino award and Coppa Italia heroes.

Dusan Vlahovic (R) of Juventus FC celebrates with Paulo... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

After the thrashing of Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia Round of 16 and the quick goal to go ahead of Sassuolo in the quarterfinals, I was ready to anoint Coppa Juventus as the best Juventus.

That was, unfortunately, not the case as Sassuolo roared back Thursday night to tie the game before halftime and ended up proving to be a tough customer, as Juventus barely squeaked by with a 2-1 scoreline at the Allianz Stadium.

Despite the defensive lapse that allowed the visiting goal and a generally bad first half after their early opener, Juventus composed themselves and played a pretty good second half to deservedly make it though the semifinals.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Dusan Vlahovic

Arguably not the best player on the field per se, but when it mattered most, he was the difference maker once again.

I know technically the goal to put Juventus ahead in the dying minutes of the second half is not going to be added to his tally because it was deflected from Ryan Trassoldi’s hand while trying to defend, but spiritually the goal was his.

The whole play starts from Vlahovic just overpowering Mert Muldur outside of the box and making something out of nothing for Juventus. Who cares if the last touch was by someone else? In my personal tally, he has two goals in two games with Juve and that’s that.

It was always more likely than not that Vlahovic was going to be a success for Juventus. The guy is too talented and he suits an exact position of need. It was as much of a slam dunk as any signing in recent years for the Bianconeri. Still, you never know, until you know. You know?

So, it has been really exciting and encouraging to see Dusan get so easily acclimated to the team and be a decisive factor in as many games as he has participated for Juventus. Care to make it three in a row, my guy?

Runner Up: Paulo Dybala - There is no one outside of the adoring BWRAO comment section that is as excited about Vlahovic as Dybala. He continues his trend of always being a better player when paired with a reference point in the attack and on Thursday he was as lively as ever. He already had plenty of suitors licking their chops if Juventus mess up the contract renewal, but if he keeps playing like this all the leverage is going to be on Dybala’s side come May.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (15 Points)

Winner: Mattia Perin

Mattia Perin is a really good keeper.

In an alternate reality, it is very easy to imagine Perin being the heir to the No. 1 shirt left vacant by Gianluigi Buffon after he left for Paris Saint-Germain. Games like these ones are always a good reminder of that fact.

(Always weird to remember that Buffon indeed played for PSG that one year. It’s a first ballot entry into the “Oh yeah, I remember that now!” Hall of Fame.)

In that fateful summer, Perin was brought over from Genoa in what was largely reported as an open competition for the starting spot with Wojciech Szczesny, who was backup to Buffon the season prior. Unfortunately for Perin, Woj looked like the more complete keeper in the early goings and, after he got hurt in his first season as a Bianconero, he never had another serious chance to compete for the job.

(He was the fan favorite to become the starter after Woj struggled badly in the beginning of this season, but cooler heads prevailed, Szczesny bounced back and that was that,)

He got loaned back to Genoa where he returned to pretty good form and bounced back to Juventus to be a backup once again this season. His contract runs out this summer and I doubt he will have any interest in re-signing for Juventus to continue to be the guy who backs up Szczesny. He’s too good and still young at 29, so he will start somewhere, no doubt in my mind. It’s still a bummer that we never got to see the full potential of Perin as a Juventus player. Hopefully, he gets to lead Juventus in a Coppa run as a parting gift.

Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award: Gianluca Pegolo

Yeah, you knew this was coming.

We had to bring the Sorrentino award back for my guy Gianluca Pegolo, who made his best impression of peak Buffon and Oliver Khan combined as he made miraculous save after miraculous save in the second half to deny the Juve attack.

The final scoreline indicates that Juventus won by only one goal, but if any other keeper alive is in Sassuolo’s goal my guess is that the final score should have been 3- or 4-1.

The saves he made on Adrien Rabiot’s header and Alvaro Morata’s 1-on-1 chance in the second half were legitimately world class, and while he got some help from the woodwork, too — Juve hit the posts twice in the second half, honestly a miracle this wasn’t a blowout — he did everything in his power to keep Sassuolo’s Coppa hopes alive. It was poetic faith that the only way he would be beaten in the end was by a deflected shot.

Pegolo is a 40-year-old veteran who spent the best years of his career defending the Hellas Verona goal in Serie B and had a couple of Serie A seasons as the starter with Siena and Sassuolo, the latter where he has stuck around as the backup for the last 8 seasons. For all intents and purposes, Pegolo has had a solid, though unremarkable football playing career, yet he still possesses the talent to have the type of games he just had.

This goes to show two things. One, there is no such thing as an “unremarkable” football career despite my previous description, to make it to Serie A in any capacity means that you have otherworldly talent. Two, I kinda want to see every single backup keeper get playing time more often.

Parting Shot of the Week

It was more difficult than it had any right of being due to Pegolo’s heroics and Juventus missing chance after chance, but the reigning Coppa Italia champions move on to the next stage and remain alive in hopes of defending their title.

In the semifinals round they will face ... Fiorentina! A team that traditionally has always hated Juventus and once you glance at the transfer history between both clubs its pretty easy to see why.

In a vacuum, this is a favorable draw for Juventus, considering that the other semifinal is Inter vs AC Milan, its logical to say that Juventus has the more manageable opponent. With that being said, I can’t imagine a more hostile environment than the Artemio Franchi when La Viola hosts Juventus for their upcoming matchup.

It’s going to be fun.

See you Sunday.