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Manu’s Grab Bag: Better Late

We talk last minute salvation, the future of the Juventus defense and a confounding, frustrating Sunday game.

Atalanta v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

At least, this was better than nothing.

In a game that every Juve fan had circled in the calendar as a must win game, Juventus played an uneven, weird, frustrating matchup that could have very well ended up being a loss or even a win but was anything but enjoyable as they split points with Atalanta 1-1 on Sunday evening.

Given the recent excitement for Juventus thanks to their big January transfer window, there was a sense of optimism lately for the Juve faithful and paid with a couple good results elsewhere in the league it had a few amongst us kinda peeking at the Serie A table to see where the leaders stood before this match.

“Hey, a win here and who knows?”

Well, this was the perfect game to remind you that despite the new additions they can still easily be the frustrating team that we have been accustomed to recently.

Let’s cook.

Defensive Player of the Week: Matthijs de Ligt

Goddamn, how good is this freaking guy?

Against the always shorthanded yet still dangerous Atalanta attack, de Ligt was the lynchpin in the Juve effort to contain La Dea. And whenever Atalanta did break through — as they do — de Ligt was there to stonewall the hosts. The only way Atalanta was passing de Ligt on Sunday was if they avoided him completely, which is what they did on Malinovskyi’s screamer of a goal.

Because of the high profile of the player, the man who happens to be his agent and the age we live in today; his name was always going to be brought up in transfer rumors even in the best of times. Given that Juventus is decidedly not in the best of times right now it shouldn’t surprise us that de Ligt’s name will be brought over time and time again in the headlines in for things other than his excellent play.

Still, if Juventus is even remotely serious about going back to being the class of Italy and Europe, the Dutch player has to be a cornerstone of the team moving forward. He’s already so good and he’s still so young, I need the guy to sign a 10-year extension yesterday.

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

Loser: The Future of the Juve Defense

Never forget that at one point in the not so distant past Juventus had Cristian Romero, Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt all under contract and somehow, someway we still ended up giving Daniele Rugani minutes this season.

(Thats a stray shot against Rugani, who to his credit has been pretty decent this season all things considered. Still, it’s a testament to the above point that he even had the chance in the first place.)

The Romero loan deal remains pretty defensible at least from a depth chart perspective. There was a logjam in defense and he was the odd man out given how much more they rated Demiral, how much they invested in de Ligt and the still top notch level of their veteran stalwarts. Adding to that his less than impressive stint at Genoa while on loan, it remains very much reasonable that he was let go.

Demiral on the other hand is a little bit tougher to defend. Sure, he hadn’t necessarily secured a starting spot and he was still raw and made a ton of mistakes but there was nobody else that could fill his role and at worst he was a great fourth choice center back.

We know how the story went with Romero. He flourished under Gian Piero Gasperini and became one of the best defenders in Serie A, his dirt-cheap option to buy was triggered and Atalanta flipped him to Tottenham on a deal that could be worth upwards of €55 million.

After Sunday’s display, Demiral looks like he could very well be on the same trajectory as he remained glued to Dusan Vlahovic and was big reason why Juventus struggled to find open spaces to score. He was one of the best players on the field for Atalanta and with him having a €28 million option to buy at the end of the season it seems rather unlikely that the Turkish international will return to Juventus.

Regardless of how this season ends, it remains dumbfounding that Juventus were — in paper at least — set in the center back position for years but managed to still rely on Rugani when it was all said and done.

(Sorry, Daniele. Again.)

Midfield Ranking

  1. Manuel Locatelli - Regardless of where he plays, the man remains the most talented midfielder in the team. Though he has been pretty good in front of defense, I’d still like to see him a bit more ahead offensively.
  2. Denis Zakaria - The newcomer was in my opinion deeply missed in this game. I know he’s acclimating and had a lot of minutes in his first two games but it already feels like he’s a must start.
  3. Weston McKennie - Might have struggled a little against Atalanta if we are being honest. Still, one below average game doesn’t erase the good form he had in the last month or so.
  4. Adrien Rabiot - Was objectively really good in that box to box role. Hopefully he gets more time in that spot as I still believe that is his true calling in this squad.
  5. Arthur - On paper, he’s exactly what this team needs. On paper, being the key term here as he continues to consistently underperform most of the time he is on the pitch.

Parting Shot of the Week

There’s an argument to be made for this result being both good and bad.

Juventus missed a bunch of chances — especially early on — and with some better finishing could have put themselves on the scoresheet significantly earlier than they did. They also held Atalanta fairly decently and the Bergamo based team only got their own score on an absolute screamer from a set play. There’s a very easy path to talking yourself into thinking Juve should have won this game.

They also lost control of the game for large stretches of the match and Max Allegri took way too long to make substitutions in the second half. If not for de Ligt, Atalanta could have scored much sooner too.

All in all, it feels like a fair result given what we saw on the pitch. Both teams had some good and bad stints and on the aggregate I don’t think either team can complain too much. Unfortunately for Juventus, given how badly they started the year these types of results will not help their hopes of mounting a late Scudetto challenge which now seems like it is very much in life support.

You can’t win em all, I guess.

See you Friday.