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Manu’s Grab Bag: Redemption

We talk hot takes, water finding its level and the new Juventus idol.

Empoli FC v FC Juventus - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It almost seemed preordained.

On a matchday in which every team at the top of the Serie A table seemed to struggle against teams they should have beaten on paper, Juventus had a hell of a tough time against Empoli, a side that sits in 13th but has been in relegation-like form the last three months.

And while they ended up picking up the three points in a tightly-contested 3-2 win on Saturday night, it’s hard to say that Juve was not close to also dropping points against a team that they shouldn't have,

Like everything this season, it was arguably way harder than it had any right of being. It is what it is at this point.

Let's cook.

MVP: Dusan Vlahovic

You get a double, you get the MVP points. It really is as easy is as that.

Then again, there are a lot of different off-the-field factors that make this call a little bit more nuanced.

Sure, Vlahovic was his usual clinical self, bagging two goals with scary precision. To get his first goal, he broke the hips of half of Empoli’s defenders to slot in an easy shot to put Juventus ahead.

Starting the second half, the Serbian international picked up a less-than-perfect through ball from Alvaro Morata to chip Empoli’s keeper and author his first brace as a Juve player. This feat would be impressive enough, but it was the way he got the two goals that got Juventus faithful everywhere excited once again about their new signing.

There’s been a relatively popular take that this team just doesn't want it bad enough. That there is some ineffable quality inherent to winning Juventus squads that make them get the result that is needed. People like to name it grinta, an almost mythical skill to just want it more than the opponents, to play harder almost exclusively because of the crest printed in their kit.

Personally, I don't believe in said mystical skill. Almost every professional football player is wildly competitive, I don't really think they don’t care about the end result, of course they want to win, why wouldn't they? It's their job after all.

Then again, every now and then there is a player out there that will make you reconsider — and that player is Dusan Vlahovic. The guy lives to score goals and to do everything that he can to win his team football games. Like I said, I do believe every player wants to win games, but Vlahovic seems like his entire existence is predicated on doing everything he possibly can to make his team win, but also make sure that everyone and their mother knows that he did everything in his power to make it happen.

Given all we have went through with this freaking team last couple of years, I cannot expect anything more from a Juve player.

Runner Up: Leo Bonucci - He’s evidently not 100% healthy, but he put up an excellent shift and set the example of what a Juventus captain should look like. Bonucci catches a lot of crap because of his checkered recent history, regardless I can’t imagine any true Juve fan standing by him given his recent play.

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

J Medical, the Club

NINE PLAYERS.

Nine first team players are out for Juventus due to injury right now. I’m no expert, but that seems like less than ideal, no?

There is a decent starting squad to be build entirely out of the players currently out for the Bianconeri.

I understand that every team battles injuries. This is not a Juventus-specific thing necessarily. But off the top of my mind, I can’t imagine another team that has so many guys that would ostensibly have so many players injured at this point in the season.

Then again, lord knows this season has been so crazy that nothing is off the table, is it?

Catching Up

My beloved National Mexican Soccer Team was the eminent force in the region for many, many years, blitzing through pretty much every single team in CONCACAF and setting the standard for teams above the South American contingent.

Pretty much starting in 2002 — when the USA bounced Mexico from the World Cup in Korea-Japan — Mexico has not been able to fully reclaim their title as the all being team in the region. Teams are not rolling over anymore when they see Mexico in the calendar. Getting a positive result in the legendary Estadio Azteca stopped becoming something unthinkable for opposing teams.

Now, don't get me wrong, despite this observation, Mexico remains a favorite to make it to the World Cup every year and, more often than not, they remain lording over the smaller teams in the region.

That doesn't mean its not a whole heck of a lot harder than it used to be.

I can't help but to make that analogy with Juventus as they struggled on Saturday to put away an Empoli side that, on paper, they should not be struggling to beat.

Look, Juventus is not playing great football, there is no question about it. But it’s also undeniable that the rest of Serie A seems like it has caught up a little recently. Both Milan and Inter dropped points this weekend and Juventus — who is no stranger to dropping points agains teams that every bookie in the world makes them a lock to beat — was pretty close to joining them.

A lot of it has to do with the Bianconeri playing poorly, but also due to the other teams in Serie A just improving recently. A lot of match days that should be on paper cakewalks have become a tough matchup lately.

Juventus came up with the win on Saturday, but don't be surprised if the rest of the league continues to catch up. After all, there is only so many times you can walk over a team until they decide they have had quite enough.

Parting Shot of the Week

Hey, don't look up now but, Juventus has narrowed the gap in the race for the Scudetto to single digits!

As alluded up top, all the top Serie A teams seems like they are trying everything they possibly can to give up their lead on the top of the table. Juve tried their very best to do just that as they barely scraped by a scrappy Empoli sided but with no squad separating themselves too much in the business end of the season, there is no telling what might happen.

At worst, Juventus is going to have a chance, after the horrid start oft season we got, this seems like the best case scenario,

See you Wednesday.