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Manu’s Grab Bag: Monday Night Football

We talk the new season, overqualified subs and pleasant surprises.

Italian Football Serie A - Juventus v Sassuolo Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Despite having to wait a whole weekend to finally get Juventus’ turn at meaningful, Serie A football, the very first game of the season is always special. No matter how underwhelming the preseason or the injury situation ends up being, we are all starting fresh. Anything could happen.

To their credit, Juventus did not disappoint, repaying the Bianconeri faithful with a convincing and strong outing in a 3-0 victory over a Sassuolo team that, despite being frisky at one point in the first half, never really competed with the home side.

And, hey, don’t look now, but …


Let’s cook.

MVP: Angel Di Maria

After being one of the lone bright spots for Juventus during the preseason, Di Maria continued his excellent run of form in games that actually matter for a change. There was a lot of discussion about whether Di Maria was washed, whether they overpaid for him or if he’d really move the needle for this team.

Early reviews are in and the verdict is in order, no he isn’t, no they didn’t and yes, he can.

(OK, maybe they still overpaid a little, but what the hell.)

We all knew El Fideo had technique for days, so a lot of what we saw wasn’t really unexpected. But what was shocking to me was how plugged in he seemed throughout the entirety of the match. This is a dude in his mid-30s that has won pretty much everything there is to win and was seriously considering going back to his natal Argentina not a few months ago. It wasn’t completely crazy to suggest that Di Maria was looking for one last big payday and that was it.

Yet, there he was pressing, running and fighting for every single ball. Both of his counting stats were slightly lucky, as no matter how talented he is I don’t think he planned to strike Alex Sandro’s cross — more on him later — straight into the ground in such a way that the ball takes a crazy spin that ends up chipping Andrea Consigli for Juve’s first goal. And the assist comes thanks to a massive mistake of the Sassuolo defense that gave him the gift of a lifetime in a blunder and allowed Di Maria to make an easy pass for Dusan Vlahovic’s brace.

Still, either way, he deserved a debut goal and the assist based on his body of work. Because we can’t have nice things apparently, Di Maria is now out between 10 to 30 days. If he’s going to keep playing like this, let’s all hope it’s closer to 10 rather than 30.

Runner Up: Dusan Vlahovic – An opening-game brace for the big striker. He closed last year in a rather underwhelming manner and there were starting to be rumbles here and there about what would happen if he started the season slow. Thankfully, we got to put those complains to rest early, as Vlahovic won and converted a PK to score his first and coldly converted Sassuolo’s blunder for his second. Hopefully a sign of a monster season to come from Juve’s new No. 9.

Winner: Alex Sandro

Shoutout to my guy Sandro for authoring his best performance in the entirety of 2022 after everyone groaned when he was listed as a starter in the pregame match sheet.

To be fair to the fickle nature of Juventus faithful, Sandro looked as cooked as ever during the preseason friendlies. And, frankly, it wasn’t just the preseason — Sandro had been looking worse and worse after being at the peak of his powers in 2017, so it was fair to wonder whether he would ever be back to being an above average fullback.

Does one good game against a pretty bad Sassuolo side change that trend? No, probably not, but it’s better than the alternative, that’s for sure. If Sandro can go back to being serviceable then it adds an extra piece to the puzzle to the man who we will talk about next.

Winner: Max Allegri

Mr. Allegri has been reading your comments, you heathens, and he came back with a vengeance.

Not offensive enough? How about three goals to start the season.

Not aggressive with tactics? Twenty minutes into the first half, Allegri switched up the entire lineup to change the game up and pretty much dominated from there on out.

Not trusting the of the youth? That’s Fabio Miretti, Nicolo Rovella AND Matias Soule getting upwards of 20 minutes to get their feet wet in the second half.

I’m only half kidding, obviously. It’s only one game and some of these actions had a lot more to do with the circumstances of injuries and impact on the depth chart or just plain blunders by the other side. With that being said, this was a significantly different attitude from the Juve that closed the previous season.

It’s still way too early to make any grand proclamations of Juventus being all the way back, but all we have to go by so far is one game and the early indications are much more positive than what they were a few months ago or even this time in 2021.

Winner: Mattia Perin

That was our second goalkeeper back there — hard to believe, huh?

It’s been flying way under the radar that Wojciech Szczesny — Juventus’ entrenched starter in goal — is part of that already dangerously building list of injured players, and in most cases, your starting keeper being out should be a worrisome sign to start the new season. However, I was frighteningly OK with Woj taking as much time as he needs because of the man who happens to be his substitute.

Perin could be starting for 10-12 Serie A teams — maybe more — and he showed why on Monday evening’s season opener. While Sassuolo does not have a particularly impressive attack this season, Perin had a number of nifty saves and looked composed and in control of his defense all night long.

There was a reason why at one point it was considered a toss up between Woj and Perin for the starting spot at the club, and while I do think that ship has sailed for the Italian international this stretch of games he will start are as good of a showcase as any to make his — slim — case.

Parting Shot of the Week

In a Serie A season that looks poised to go down to the wire, every single point counts. We saw just last year how dropped points early can be just as costly for you in the first as in the last game of the season.

Pretty much every single team that will be fighting for the title won this past weekend, so it was important that Juventus held serve in their first match of the season. Whatever happens from now on is left to be seen, but at the very least it’s already better than last season’s opener

Feels good to be back.

See you next week.