How many different ways can you say the same thing?
I have struggled with that question many, many times in recent Grab Bags because I don't necessarily want to repeat myself. But what else is there to do but repeat myself when Juventus seems intent on playing the same game over and over again this season?
In — yet again — another lackluster, grind of a performance Saturday night in Sardinia, Juve managed to beat a relegation-battling team in Cagliari by a 2-1 scoreline.
There were some good points, some low points, a frustrating ref decision and once it was all said and done, nobody had a good time ... but they secured the three points. You could accurately describe at least 75% percent of Juve’s wins this year in some form with the previous sentence.
If there’s one thing that Juventus has managed to do this season successfully, it has been to push yours truly to the limit when it comes to trying and find any sort of interesting and/or insightful commentary while reviewing what seems like the same game over and over again.
MVP: Matthijs de Ligt
The biggest bright spot of the second half for Juventus — arguably one of the few, if any? — has been the arrival of Matthijs de Ligt as the true top tier defender that we were all expecting when Juventus signed him three seasons ago.
Gone are the days of de Ligt playing solid ball only to commit silly mistakes out of nowhere. Gone is the shoulder injury that hampered a good part of his first season with Juventus. Gone is the rollercoaster of form that was his year under Andrea Pirlo. Ever since the calendar turned to 2022, de Ligt has been an absolute stud, no equivocations, no caveats. Just a tremendous defender and football player.
The big Dutchman didn’t put a foot wrong on defense and scored the equalizer with a beauty of a header. Federico Chiesa is the most spectacular, Manuel Locatelli is a fan favorite, Dusan Vlahovic is a killer, but out of all the names that can be considered building blocks in the current Juve squad, no name should be higher than the Dutch international.
Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado - Was not spectacular, but he did get the assist on de Ligt’s header and provided some semblance of a spark. Pretty nuts how often the game seems to hinge on whether or not he’s effective or nut. Also, quietly out of a contract by the end of the season. Paulo Dybala part deux?
Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (17 Points)
Grab Bag MVP Leaderboard
As we head down to the business end of the season it feels appropriate to give an update on how the prestigious Grab Bag MVP award is going. In just its second iteration, the coveted trophy is probably the only thing in the mind of the Juve players in the race, I’m sure.
(Apologies to last season’s Grab Bag MVP winner Cristiano Ronaldo. HIs trophy was sent to a Turin address and for whatever reason he wasn’t there to receive it. Unfortunate, but I’m sure things are going great for him in Manchester, yes sir. Good on ya, GOAT.)
Without further ado here is your top five at the moment:
- Paulo Dybala - 17 Points
- Matthijs de Ligt - 16 Points
- Manuel Locatelli - 14 Points
- Alvaro Morata - 12 Points
- Juan Cuadrado - 9 Points
This feels like a pretty accurate summation of how the season went. Dybala has been one of the better players on the field when healthy, de Ligt the most consistent and Locatelli started the season on an absolute tear that won him a lot of points even if he couldn't keep it up.
It is worth noting that 14 players overall tallied points, which speaks to how no player alone dominated the results for the season. I also feel compelled to mention that Dusan Vlahovic — despite not being a Juve player until January — is making a case for a Top 5 finish with eight points in only a handful of games.
Stay tuned for how the race to the top unfolds, I’m sure it will be just as riveting as anything else in the last couple of months of the remaining season.
Out of Ammo
I believe that before the season started the four most important/talented/pivotal players for Juventus this year were in some order Dybala, de Ligt, Locatelli and Chiesa.
Three out of those four guys missed significant time dealing with injuries. Chiesa — arguably the most talented of them all — was a non-factor on the season as he missed time in almost every month of 2021 and ruptured his ACL in early 2022.
Not only the most important players missed time, but pretty much everyone did. If you had anything to do with Juventus in the 2021-22 season you were bound to at the very least miss a couple games at some point. People walking past J Medical probably pulled a hamstring just by being around that godforsaken place.
It’s honestly easier to make a list of the guys that didn’t miss time this year. Either by getting the ‘Rona or any plain ole’ injury, this is the list of Juve players who did not get injured during the season:
- Dusan Vlahovic
- Juan Cuadrado
That’s it, that is the whole list. This is not even an exaggeration, even Carlo Pinsoglio missed time with COVID and had to miss two games. Look it up — every player on the active roster missed at least one game due to something health-wise. Considering all this, are we shocked that we are so often undermanned on the bench? That the team almost always looks gassed and that the options to bring someone from the bench are so limited? That the team has failed to develop any sort of cohesive style for large periods of time?
What can you say when your coach looks at the bench to try and make a change and his options are either disappointments — Federico Bernardeschi and Moise Kean — or past their prime defenders — Alex Sandro and Leo Bonucci — or Daniele Rugani?
(I swear to God, Rugani has been better than expected, but the jokes are so easy to make. Can’t stop, won’t stop.)
This has been a season from hell. If they can end it with a top four spot I’m good, thanks.
- Manuel Locatelli - Guy lobbied to come to Juventus, played his heart out all season long and in the biggest game of the year got beat like a bad boxer and injured in 45 minutes. Tough break.
- Weston McKennie - Insane how much the team has missed him. Fabio Paratici made a lot of bad moves while presiding Juve’s transfers, but getting a guy like McKennie for almost nothing has to be recognized as a pretty good one.
- Adrien Rabiot - Missed five games between getting COVID and some ankle issues, but he has been as dependable as they come given the circumstances. He’s not always great, but he’s at least there and in a year when being there was half the battle he gets the last podium place by default.
- Arthur - Biggest boom or bust guy in the current midfield. Similarly to Rabiot, after recovering from surgery has been available more often than not.
- Denis Zakaria - Played a couple of good games and got hurt. He’s been forced to play all over in the limited appearances that he has made. Not really his fault and this is not the place he should have based on talent alone, but lowkey one of the biggest bummers in a season that’s been full of them.
- Aaron Ramsey - He’s coming back, isn’t he? He definitely, absolutely, 100% is coming back.
Parting Shot of the Week
With Roma coming back late to beat Salernitana, Juventus remains five points clear in the race for the last Champions League place. With a relatively manageable schedule ahead, I think we can start breathing a little easier when it comes to European spots.
The thing that will haunt Juve fans for the entire football-less summer, however, was how much closer the title race should have been. Napoli, Inter and Milan all dropping points left and right so late in the season as they were begging for someone else to come in and steal a title right from under them and Juve could never capitalize.
The point has been made that Juve failed to get good results against the above mentioned teams — and that is fair — but the true kick in the gut is how they didn’t even need to do well against the other title contenders to be in the fight.
Just don't lose against Empoli and Hellas Verona. Don't drop points to Venezia, Torino and Udinese. You do that and you’re right in the thick of things.
There’s only so many times you can call a season frustrating but, man, I really, really want this one to be over.
See you Saturday.