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Manu’s Grab Bag: Letdown City

We talk another borefest, the undefeated Juve and a keeper controversy that lives only in my head.

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Don’t look now, but your Juventus of Turin is undefeated in the first five match days of the 2022-23 season — they literally cannot be beat folks. A massive improvement over last year when they lost against Empoli — remember that? — the second week of the season. Yes, indeed, things are decidedly on the up and up for the Bianconeri.

The latest in the string of undefeated performances was a 1-1 draw at the always tough Artemio Franchi against a scrappy Fiorentina that made them earn that single point. Can’t win them all, but you can make sure that you don’t ever lose and that’s what it's all about.

With a midweek trip to the City of Lights in store, I cannot imagine a better shape that this team could arrive at that all-important first European matchup.

This is fine, people, we are all going to be alright.

Let’s cook.

Defensive Player of the Week: Mattia Perin


In all seriousness, we are probably not there yet when it comes to the spot for starting keeper for Juventus, but goddamn, Perin is doing everything he possibly can to force that conversation. After Wojciech Szczęsny had a short-lived comeback from one injury only to get injured again last week, Perin started once again and was brilliant.

Really, the only reason Juventus managed to rescue a point from the trip to Firenze was Perin, who got just enough of Luka Jovic’s PK to deflect it into the post and out of his goal. To cap his performance off, Perin had a striking save late in the second half of a dangerous shot by Sofyan Amrabat.

Perin has always been the more spectacular keeper to Woj’s more complete and safe game, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Italian international has the ability to pull off those types of saves. In a team in which not a lot is working, to know that at least the man between the sticks is playing at a great level is something. Not a lot, but something.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Dusan Vlahovic (6 Points)

The Watershed Moment

I had a friend in college who, as we all do, enjoyed partaking in adult beverages from time to time. And every time he did, there was a moment during the night when it became evident that he was deciding whether or not to get blind drunk if the proceedings continued the way they were going.

By then, we all acknowledged and recognized the signs. He got weirdly chipper, started proposing increasingly wilder plans — “Let’s go to the World Cup! Let’s backpack through Europe! Let’s open a bar!” — the playlist became exclusively electronic dance music and the (quiet at first, but consistent in the long run) suggestion of taking some shots started to appear.

So, we had to play this delicate dance depending on the mood of the group. Sometimes we also wanted to get blind drunk, so hell yeah, let’s do shots. But sometimes it was a Tuesday and the plan was to have a couple of beers and play some video games and I have to wake up the next day for class and there is no chance I’m going to a dive bar tonight, so let’s pump the brakes, here, huh?

It was a weird thing — we all knew it was happening, we all acknowledged it, we were seeing it right in front of us with our own eyes. Yet, nobody said anything. Probably because we were all sheep and dumb and young and nobody wanted to put the kibosh on a potentially fun night. Also because he was our friend and didn’t want to make him feel self conscious that we all knew he was getting drunk, especially because he tried hard to look casual about it.

Anyway, unrelated, but Juan Cuadrado sure is looking rough these last couple of games, huh? Not making any accusations, but he is 34 years old and he has a lot of mileage on those legs and we just haven’t seen that extra gear he used to have.

Not going to say the “washed” word just yet, but we are all looking at each other in the dorm while Cuads is loudly playing “Levels” by Avicii at the moment.

Deja Vu

I’ve mentioned it before but back in high school — this Grab Bag is just a compilation of stories vaguely attached to Juve analysis at this point, huh? — I signed up for a 7-on-7 tournament at a local pitch with some of my friends. We were unremarkable and mostly terrible and lost every match but the thing I remember the most was that the team that won the tournament was not the best team but the most athletic one.

(The best team was Scratch Du Oro, named after the Brazilian national neam. Their median age was probably 45 and at least half the squad was either overweight, balding or both, but goddamn they had magic on their feet. A rumor circulated that some of them were former pros that played in Mexico’s second tier, and to this day I have no reason to doubt that.)

They won because they just high pressed the living hell out of everyone, and considering the league was composed of untalented high school and college aged dudes, weekend warriors and the aforementioned middle aged dads reliving their glory days, this was a pretty successful formula.

In theory, a high press is not impossible to beat — your players must know how to pass and receive the football under pressure until you find the space left behind by the overzealous defenders and you can exploit the holes being left by the press. You need a healthy mix of talent on the ball and positional smarts to do this which bad teams usually don’t have.

So, Juventus struggled badly against a team with a high press.

When was that the last season that wasn’t true? Maybe 2017? When Miralem Pjanic was operating at the peak of his powers and Sami Khedira found the last legs of his prime form?

New signee Leandro Paredes — getting his first start — was supposed to be the prototypical player to beat a press, but he was mostly unremarkable in his first minutes as a Juve player. Manuel Locatelli — in theory freed of the central midfielder responsibilities — was anonymous for the whole game and Weston McKennie had arguably one of his worst performances in black and white. The nadir of McKennie’s performance was a point-blank shot opportunity that the American international bafflingly wasted with a lame duck pass to the heart of the Fiorentina defense.

The fact that Viola’s goal came right after that wasted chance was just the icing on the uselessness cake.

(I was missing the composed nature of Adrien Rabiot’s game on this day. Tough times.)

The tactics were not ideal and there is plenty to blame Max Allegri for, but some of the passing and decision making Saturday afternoon was embarrassing to see from players that are in theory high level enough to be able to beat a goddamn press once in a while.

Crunch Time

Max Allegri has lost it, the game has left him behind, his tactics are outdated he gives weird, inconsequential, infuriating quotes in his press conferences, the horror!

Look, nobody is happy with how Juventus is playing right now. Three draws and two wins out of the first five games is nobody’s idea of a successful start to the season. Especially when some of those results have come with the team playing in an extremely underwhelming manner. And when times are tough nobody wants to say that we should sit tight and hope for some improvement.

But let’s be real for a moment, Allegri is not getting canned, he is just not. Especially not after five freaking games, all of them without their biggest summer signing, Paul Pogba, and without Federico Chiesa, who is still not back from injury. Again, this is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t be pissed off, do it, go nuts, this is what the internet is for.

But we have at worst 33 more Serie A games, six more Champions League matchups and at least one Coppa Italia tie. That’s 40 matches that we still have to witness with most likely a few more in the Coppa and hopefully Europe, too. That feels like a lot of time for me to completely punt on the season because the first five matches haven’t been all that great.

(And last season! I hear you already typing. This is an almost entirely new squad than the one that played last year, maybe give them a chance.)

I know there hasn’t been that many reasons to be optimistic in the last few years for Juventus, but, hell is it that insane to suggest things could get better rather than worse? Maybe think that Paredes finds his footing — this was his first game with Juve, after all — Pogba and Chiesa come back, the team continues building defensively — two goals allowed in five games is not bad no matter how you want to split it — and maybe, maybe we don’t have to punt on a season that is barely over 10 percent done.

Or lose all hope, it’s all the same, I’m sure Allegri wants to drop points and play poorly. Bad results just tickle the guy, he loves them. We are still going to tune in and watch this team, might as well hope for the best rather than the worst.

Parting Shot of the Week

It is a weird, weird point for Juventus to go into Paris and face Paris Saint-Germain midweek. Their toughest game of the European season coming right off the bat can only mean one thing.

If things go south, there is nowhere to go but up. But, if for whatever reason Juventus pull off an unlikely upset, it could be a shot in the arm for their season. Either way, the difficulty has just ratcheted massively from the Spezias and Fiorentinas of the world. Sink or swim, boys.

See you Tuesday.