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Manu’s Grab Bag: Three Joyless Points

We talk the grind to the finish, a feel good moment and the extent of the injury crisis.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-SASSUOLO-JUVENTUS Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

What’s that saying ... good teams win but great teams win while playing awful?

I might be paraphrasing a bit and Juventus is far from a great team, but with the Bianconeri once again claiming a win only a mother can love I have to give them some measure of props, no?

Every single counting stat went Sassuolo’s way in their Monday Night Calcio matchup at the Mapei Stadium. Yet, it was the visiting side that claimed the spoils in a 2-1 win. It was a similar style of play as the Fiorentina match that saw them go through to the Coppa Italia final, and while the end result ended up being positive, the actual development of the game was far different.

Both games saw Juventus defend, cede the initiative and hope to get their opponents on the counter. Against Fiorentina it worked brilliantly as Juve were effective and quick in their counterattacks and consistently threatened more than their counterparts. That aspect of the game was completely gone against the Neroverdi as they struggled to produce much of anything and their defending was far shakier than what they presented in the Cup competition.

Yet, they still managed to win! What a world! I will never be able to figure this team out, they continue to baffle and with the season winding down it looks like I will never figure them out.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Denis Zakaria

Leave it to this current Juventus side to have their best player in the game be a midfielder playing out of position.

I had to double check — again — but I’m pretty damn sure that Zakaria has mostly played as a center midfielder. I’m also fairly sure they brought him in to fill the giant central midfielder hole that has ailed Juventus for the better part of three years. Yet, Max Allegri just refuses to play the guy in the hole. Just adamant about it, it’s honestly maddening.

Then again, I’m giving him the MVP points, so what do I know? Truth of the matter is that nobody on the team had a particularly brilliant match, but Zakaria was one of the better performers as he tried to at least hold possession and disrupt Sassuolo’s passing lanes. He’s quite athletic and can bring some interesting offensive play with his long strides and like I said, he had a nice game today. But I really want to see him be given a shot in his natural position, especially given that the team has literally no other available midfielders and we are using Danilo as the nominal central mid.

Zakaria’s effect was not as pronounced as many — yours truly included — had hoped for because of his injury just barely after he signed with Juventus, but he has still put good performances when he has seen the field and I look forward to seeing him next season with a full offseason under his belt and hopefully playing in a freaking central mid role.

Runner Up: Moise Kean - He is alive! Scoring his first goal since February never felt so good for the young Italian international. It’s no secret that he’s been a bit of a disappointment since his prodigal son return this year, but his game winning goal was pretty much everything that made him an exciting prospect a few years ago and a glimmer of hope that he can still put it together.

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

One Step at a Time

For a while, I got into running quite a bit, mostly because it was the only exercise that I could do during the pandemic that wasn't doing weird HIIT workouts in a cramped living room.

I was never great at it — never ran more than 7K at once — and I never really liked it per se. I knew I had to workout and I knew this was kind of my only way to do it so I did it but I never quite found what the whole “runner’s high” thing was all about. Never, not once, ever thought to myself “Boy, I sure want to start my run today!” It was a means to an end.

I’d usually start getting tired at, like, the 4K mark and at that point it was all about bearing with it, one foot in front of the other, ignore the pain in your feet and your calfs, ignore the sweat running through your ear and getting into your headphones, ignore the cars and traffic and smog. Just gut through it, grind it out and it is bound to be over at some point.

This closing of the season for Juventus feels a lot like that moment. They started the game against Sassuolo without four out of their best five players.

(Matthijs de Ligt, Dusan Vlahovic, Federico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli. if you’re counting at home.)

They have lost every single player of the initial squad for at least one game, they are far away from the title race and reasonably comfortable in one of the European spots. They are not playing fun football, they are not playing enjoyable football either. A significant amount of the players getting minutes right now will not even be playing for the team next year.

Juventus — much like myself halfway though a run — knows that they have to finish the race and they are just grinding it out. It’s not pretty, but it’s got to get done.

The Fabio Miretti Effect

Minute 88, Juve’s hyped youth prospect Fabio Miretti comes in the game for Federico Bernardeschi who the best thing you can say about his performance is that he was there.

Not a minute after that, Moise Kean scores the winner.

Coincidence?!

Yes, almost for sure, yes. Miretti was not even involved in the play and in the ver few minutes he got on the pitch probably touched the ball a couple of times. Still, it was nice to see the youngster get some — albeit a few — minutes. I’d still like to see him get more run and actually get a chance to make an impact. The optimist in me hopes that with manageable games coming up he will get said opportunity. Though, knowing Allegri, I’m sure we are in store for more Danilo as a center mid.

Parting Shot of the Week

With an eight-point cushion over Roma, Juve will probably not need to wait until the very last day like last season to ensure their ticket to the Champions League for next year.

With that being said, they are also eight points off the top of the table so join as Juventus play out the string for the following weeks with very little to play for. Maybe they finish third above Napoli just for the fun of it?

I can’t remember being so unexcited for the end of the season in a while. Thank God for the Coppa Italia final, huh?

See you Sunday.