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Manu’s Grab Bag: Dead Cat Bounce

We talk doing the bare minimum, mishandling the youth and a suddenly halfway interesting title race.

Juventus v US Salernitana - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

For a team like Juventus, beating Salernitana should be the bare minimum.

And the bare minimum they accomplished indeed Sunday afternoon, beating the Serie B-bound Salerno squad 2-0 at home, largely fueled by a dominating first half display that proved to be more than enough to claim the spoils.

The above description might sound like a shot at the team, but it's really not, and you’d be surprised how many times in life you encounter people, businesses and institutions failing to accomplish the simplest tasks.

Not more than a few months ago I had a craving for a sandwich for lunch and decided to procure the local Subway franchisee to quench this craving. You can imagine my surprise when the person behind the counter nonchalantly informed me that they were out of bread. An item that feels to me to be pretty key in a store that sells sandwiches.

(They offered me a salad instead, which I passed on with less grace than I’d like to admit. This was not an effectively managed Subway franchise.)

In another glaring example, just this past weekend I attended a bar with my girlfriend — the type of place where every drink is over 20 bucks and they use the term “mixology” with liberal aplomb — and was informed that they did not have any beer. Not a specific kind of beer or a brand of beer, just beer as a whole. This was a bar that did not carry one single bottle of the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world.

(They offered me an overpriced gin and tonic, which I also passed on quite emphatically. My girlfriend did get one, and it came with a cinnamon stick in it which they light on fire when they place the drink on the table. After tasting it, we both agreed this had no effect on the drink’s quality or taste and was mostly done for social media purposes exclusively. I had sparkling water with lime. It was not a good bar.)

So, yes, it was the bare minimum but Juventus actually did it, which is not nothing given how so many games this season have gone.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Dusan Vlahovic

Is that good? It feels good.

Vlahovic claims the points largely thanks to his first-half performance in which he played a role in both of the scores for the Bianconeri. He was never going to be able to sustain the torrid start he had for the club, but he continues to produce regardless of opponent.

Outside of the back-to-back fixtures of Atalanta and Torino, he’s consistently been one of the better players on the field for Juventus and he has kept pace on the chase for the scoring title.

Obviously, his scoring prowess is the reason Juve gave him the big bucks in the January transfer window, but personally what I find most refreshing about him is his never-ending motor. He will not give up on any single play, no matter the odds, no matter how long he has to go out to get it, it’s truly remarkable to see. In that regard, he is a lot like Federico Chiesa, who also chases after every single ball like if it was the last of his career.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain were talented players but they never had that quality quite like Vlahovic does. The best recent comparison I can come up with of his playing style is Carlos Tevez or Mario Mandzukic, but Vlahovic is a better athlete than Carlitos and more technical than our beloved grumpy Croatian..

That’s a pretty damn good player right there.

Runner Up: Paulo Dybala - Like Vlahovic, he gets it because of his first half alone. Scored the opener, should have had a brace and was a creative force to be reckoned with. Salernitana are a crappy defense, but he made the most of his playing time. Not to bring back bad memories, but he sure could have helped midweek. Stupid injuries.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (17 Points)

The Kids are Not Alright

Koni De Winter has one of the weirdest Transfermarkt pages.

His season stats reads as such:

  • Serie C - 18 appearances
  • Coppa Serie C - 3 appearances
  • UEFA Champions League - 2 appearances

I can’t imagine which other player has played in both Serie C and the most prestigious club competition in the world in the same season, but I can’t imagine that list is particularly long.

De Winter was considered mature and talented enough to get a start in the last match day of the Champions League against Malmo. A start that came thanks to an injury crunch, but a start nevertheless. However, after that shining moment, he was essentially a non-factor for Juve’s senior squad.

(He got COVID-19 in January and hurt his shoulder in February, so that had something to do with him not being relied upon during the biggest stretch of injuries for the club. But, it’s still bizarre he got no playing time when healthy after making his senior debut.)

In Sunday’s game, Max Allegri handed Fabio Miretti his senior debut, subbing him on in the 90th minute to run around a bit in a similar way in which he gave Matias Soule his debut a few months ago.

It’s not a secret that Juventus has struggled with developing youth products in the last few years. You have to go a long way back in memory lane to think about the last Juve youth product to stick with the senior team for an extended period of time.

(I honestly can’t remember. Emil Audero? He was the backup goalkeeper for a few years, I guess, does that count? Is it Claudio Marchisio? It’s been dire, quite honestly.)

But this year, the primavera squad is doing well in the UEFA Youth League and the Under-23 side in Serie C where Miretti, Soule, De Winter and Marley Ake start is a decent mid-table team. Which doesn’t sound like much, but for a team comprised entirely of youth products is not nothing.

Allegri has a checkered history with young players. On the one hand he has had no issue giving playing time to super talented guys like Paulo Dybala or Matthijs de Ligt despite their age when both of them arrived at Juventus. Even a young Rodrigo Bentancur was given a key Champions League knockout start against Real Madrid. When Moise Kean was lighting it up in his debut season for Juve, Allegri did not hesitate to ride him during that stretch. And to a certain extent, he’s the only coach to give Luca Pellegrini extended running time since his transfer to Juventus.

However, he has also struggled with trusting the academy products with minutes. There was a revolving door of young players acquired by Juve that never even got to suit up for the club in Allegri’s first stint and while he gave chances to the aforementioned guys, other names like Marko Pjaca or even Daniele Rugani come to mind as guys he never quite gave a shot.

Soule already has been a few call-ups to the Argentinian national squad under his belt and Miretti and De Winter are standouts in the youth ranks. I don’t know if they are going to amount to anything on the next level — and after all, Allegri is the guy that watched them day-in and day-out in training — but a game well in hand against Salernitana seemed like the perfect chance to give the young guys some run and Juve’s manager did not take it.

(Nicolo Fagioli and Nicolo Rovella’s are the other two highly touted Juve prospects. Their loans end this summer and there is an expectation that they will be part of the team next season. It will be very interesting to see if they amount to anything and how many minutes the likes of Adrien Rabiot get over them.)

Parting Shot of the Week

With the win Juventus continues to solidify their top four spot and the much coveted European spot as they now put eight points of distance between them and Atalanta in fifth place.

(Atalanta does have a game in hand, but still.)

The interesting part is now in the battle for top three as the Bianconeri find themselves within striking distance of Inter and Napoli at one and four points respectively. AC Milan leads Juve by seven points which might be too much at this stage of the season but who knows, no team in the top three has looked unbeatable with pretty much all of them having close calls in recent games and — Inter, specifically — dropping points left and right.

I still think the Scudetto is a far fetched dream, Milan would have to catastrophically choke with Juve pretty much being perfect the rest of the season. With that being said never say never and if we somehow manage to finish ahead of Inter or even Napoli I think that’d be a pretty decent finish to a season in which the team hung around the mid-table for far longer than we would like.

See you after the break.