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Manu’s Grab Bag: Lights & Shadows

We talk that free kick, the new teen starter and losing the clean sheet run.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

After last Monday’s letdown, it was going to be easy for Juventus to look better than that just by looking mildly lively. The bar was that low.

And the bar was cleared within a couple of minutes when Dusan Vlahovic opened the scoring with the best free kick we have seen in a second from a player wearing the black and white jersey. Things seemed to be finally looking on the up and up for Juve on Saturday only for them to come away with a disappointing 1-1 draw against — maybe — title contenders Roma at Allianz Stadium.

Some of the old mistakes came to haunt them once again but there was also a few reasons to maybe think this is the first sign of a heartbeat for the Turin based club.

Let’s cook.

Offensive Player of the Week: Dusan Vlahovic

Well, Max Allegri did say that he’d be happy with him if he had one touch but it was for a goal, so ...

Vlahovic is known for many attributes, but count me surprised as counting free kick taker as one of them. It is well known that Juventus has struggled with free kick effectiveness in the last couple of years — for some reason — so it had become the norm for Juve faithful to see a free kick as just another chance for the team to waste.

So, yeah, it was incredibly refreshing to see the team score from one for a change.

But the gorgeous free kick to open the scoring was only the mood setter of a determined Vlahovic performance in which he fought for every single minute he was on the pitch. He was a nuisance on the air, using his physical attributes to win aerial balls for the team. His positioning was great all game long, not only getting chances for himself but opening space for other players making runs.

This was a very good performance from one of the guys that are going to bear heavy loads if Juventus has any chance to make something happen this year.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Angel Di Maria and Dusan Vlahovic (3 Points)

Winner: Fabio Miretti

The biggest and most important takeaway of Miretti’s first start for Juventus this year is this:

He belongs.

We all knew that Miretti had talent, as he had shown it in his previous opportunities last season and the minutes he had in the first two games. But this was an incredibly mature and composed from a kid who is two years away from legally being able to buy a beer in the United States.

He is a much better counterpart in the box-to-box rule to Adrien Rabiot than Weston McKennie since he brings a vision, technique and offensive skill that none of the aforementioned guys had. Not only does Miretti have a tremendous amount of talent, but it’s the poise and composure to rise up to the moment and look completely unflustered in front of a sold out crowd in what is to date Juve’s biggest game of the season.

It looks like in the battle of the young midfielders, Miretti seems like he is going to be the one to come out on top as he has gotten significantly more playing time than either Nicolo Fagiolo or Nicolo Rovella.

(Also, this is yet another example of Max Allegri having no issue in trusting young players when they are good enough to play. He is not the most youth friendly coach admittedly, but if you are good enough you’ll get minutes.)

Swiss Miss

Things are looking rough for one of the most recent signings for Juventus as Denis Zakaria had another tough performance coming in as a substitute late in the second half.

Zakaria was the other marquee signing that Juve made in the last winter transfer season and on paper he looked like a perfect fit for what the midfield was missing. Not only was he a good fit on paper but even financially it was a savvy move as the Swiss international was just about to be out of a contract with Borussia Monchengladbach so he came to Juve for an exceedingly affordable fee.

A tried and true center midfielder, it seemed that Zakaria would slot in the No. 5 spot and allow more offensively inclined players to move further up to the pitch. Unfortunately, that hasn't come to fruition. Allegri has lined him up in a box-to-box midfielder role exclusively where he played decently but nothing that would put him above the players already on the roster. Then he got injured and was pretty much a non factor in Juve’s crawl to the finish. And this season looks like it won’t be different.

While Zakaria has always been that old school central midfielder, Allegri has always preferred players with much more technical skills in the position even if they are not as solid defensively. And Zakaria for all his other abilities has never shown himself to be that profile of a player.

(Think of Miralem Panic and Manuel Locatelli.)

The few minutes he has had this season has been once again as a box-to-box player and has looked decidedly out of sync and uncomfortable. His name is now in transfer rumors as a possible outgoing player and if he is going to continue to look like he has that might not even be that bad of an idea. A make-or-break moment for a guy that at one point looked like a really good fit in this club and now seems surplus to requirements.

Unbroken No More

Well, the clean sheet streak is over. Granted, it was only two games but still!

Despite Juventus playing by far their best first half of the season, to only have one goal lead to show for it was always going to be trouble against a team like Roma that has a number of players that only need one chance to make you pay.

And they got that one chance in a corner kick that found Paulo Dybala — still so weird to see him in that Giallorossi kit — who got enough of it for a recross to Tammy Abraham to tie up the score. It was really the one big chance that Roma had all game but it was all they needed.

In Serie A you’re never going to dominate a team for 90 minutes, they are going to have at least a couple chances and Juventus had done well to snuff those chances out so far. Unfortunately, due to the strict VAR enforced erasure of Locatelli’s peach of a goal, Juve never managed to get an insurance goal and this happens.

Say what you will, though, Juve still have the best defense in the league with only one goal allowed and despite the disappointing result that’s not a bad thing considering how leaky this defense had been last season.

(OK, fine, best defense tied with four other teams, but it’s still true, though!)

Parting Shot of the Week

This had all the makings of a bounce back win for Juventus when Locatelli’s shot hit the back of the net in the first half. The Bianconeri were playing exceptionally good football and dominating the away side and the two goal lead felt like it was waiting for it to grow further.

Unfortunately, it did not happen. Juve could not capitalize their chances, Roma clawed back, got the equalizer and did not look back. It was a fine encapsulation of where Juventus is as a team at the moment.

They can find good passages of play here and there but they still can’t hold that consistently. Compared to last week’s borefest this was an improvement, but its still nowhere near good enough where they need to be. Let’s see if that improvement comes.

See you Wednesday.