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Manu’s Grab Bag: Keeping Pace

We talk momentum swings, rest is for the weak and the famous eye test.

UC Sampdoria v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Getty Images

As it turns out, Juventus is actually capable of scoring more than one goal a game. What a concept! And they did it with star striker Dusan Vlahovic on the bench for most of Saturday night’s game, too!

It was a relatively composed, professional 3-1 win over Sampdoria that helped the Bianconeri solidify their Champions League place and keep pace with the rest of the Serie A field as they continue to build on their 15-game unbeaten streak. A streak that — I cannot stress this enough — has come with a large majority of their team out injured.

It’s not always as pretty as we would like, but you cannot argue the results.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Alvaro Morata

In a game in which Vlahovic was given a very deserved break, the team had to rely on Morata to be the offensive leader for the team. And because, for whatever reason things just seem to be working out for Juventus recently, Morata answered the bell with a really good game in which he found the back of the net twice to help the Bianconeri secure the win.

Morata has been significantly better since Vlahovic was signed in late-January and we all know what streaky guy he can be, so to see him playing this type of game without Vlahovic for most of the match is a very reassuring sign that Morata is heating up at the right time.

The last few months have been absolutely wild for the Spanish international. From almost leaving the club in January, to carving himself a new role with the team, to Max Allegri singing his praises, to the latest reports that indicate that Juventus could very well be trying to negotiate with Atletico Madrid to make Morata’s deal permanent.

Whatever the future holds for Morata, he’s at the very least doing everything in his power to put forth good performances. In a business in which your future can be dictated by so many things out of the control of the players, he’s controlling what he can.

Runner Up: Wojciech Szczesny - I've always had the relatively unpopular opinion that there is no bigger momentum changer than a keeper stopping a penalty kick. Even more than scoring a goal, to have your keeper stop a PK is always so much more exciting and in my opinion influences the game so much more. Good thing for Juventus that Woj has now stopped three PKs in a row, huh?

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

Loser: Dusan Vlahovic’s Legs

It was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

After playing pretty much every available minute since signing for Juventus, Vlahovic had to rest at some point. And to Max Allegri’s credit, sitting the big Serbian against a feeble squad like Sampdoria was a good spot for him to do so. Even more considering that Juventus is next scheduled to play in the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup against Villarreal on Wednesday night in Turin.

And, lo and behold, the gamble paid off! Juan Cuadrado was key offensively in the opening goal, Morata had a fantastic game as already mentioned and even Moise Kean was playing well as he got fouled in the box to gift Juve the PK that meant that they were going into the break with a two-goal lead.

The second half was a pretty controlled showcase for Juventus, too. It was nothing spectacular, but they were managing the game handily and it looked like Vlahovic was going to have a nice, chill evening on the bench.

Then, for whatever reason, Allegri decided to introduce Vlahovic in the 65th minute. There’s an argument to be made that giving Vlahovic some minutes was good considering the relatively long break that Juventus just had, but I don’t know.

The guy looked a bit off and I’m sure he’s not particularly used to coming on from the bench the last few years. Plus, given the heavy workload he has been under, any sort of rest you can give him I’m sure has more value than whatever he can bring to the table in 20-plus minutes with the game well in hand.

Winner: Daniele Rugani

Is ... is Daniele Rugani good? Many people are saying that Daniele Rugani might be good.

I made it no secret of how little I thought of Rugani when he came back to the club after his loan stints last season. In my mind, he was a promising young player that never really developed and that had shown that he was never going to be be a top level player for Juventus.

Rugani being in the squad was due to poor squad planning and a team that had no financial resources to upgrade at the position — nothing more, nothing less. When the expected happened and veteran stalwarts (and guys in their mid-30s) Giorgio Chiellini and Leo Bonucci missed time due to injury, I was completely expecting Rugani to self-implode almost immediately.

Rugani was pretty decent in his first few games starting this season, but as both Chiellini and Bonucci both continued to struggle with injuries, Rugani got more and more confident as the season went along.

After suffering an injury of his own that kept him away from the field for a couple of games, Juve’s No. 24 was back and better than ever as he led the team in clearances against Sampdoria with a whooping 11 and looks like a natural pair with Matthijs de Ligt.

I would have been happy with Rugani being just OK. I did not expect that I would start considering thoughts of him starting a Champions League decider and being more than fine with it.

Old Friends, New Places

Sebastian Giovinco was the first guy I stood on the table for.

He had two stints as a Juve player, first as a youngster just back from being out on loan the season prior in 2008 in which he showed flashes of the dazzling talent that he possessed. I was devastated when Juventus loaned him to Parma, but that’s where Giovinco got the most consistent playing time and authored the best season of his career in Italy. A cracking 15-goal, 13-assist season that brought him back to a title-winning Juventus side.

Announcers called him the heir to Alessandro Del Piero and expectations were sky high for the Atomic Ant, and while he had a decent season for an Antonio Conte-led Juventus — as he was a starter for the title winning side — he could never quite match those expectations.

He only played two more years for Juventus as a squad rotation guy and moved to MLS, where he won pretty much everything he could possibly win with Toronto FC. Looking back on his Juve career, it is astonishing how little he actually played for the club, yet his highs were so high that he’s still remembered fondly by Juventus faithful everywhere.

I dunno how his second stint in Serie A will go with Sampdoria, but I for one will always remember him as that dynamic, charismatic, über talented player for Juve.

Parting Shot of the Week

With AC Milan winning their matchup against Empoli later on Saturday, it looks more and more unlikely that Juve will mount a late-season title challenge. It was always going to be pretty challenging considering how behind they were in January, and the dropped points along the way were always going to come back to haunt them.

With that being said, it looks like Juventus is solidifying their top four spot and has found a relatively decent form in which they can grind out results. This is not going to be the most exciting end of the season, but at least it looks like the worst case scenario will be avoided.

See you Wednesday.