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Manu’s Grab Bag: Bitter Draw

We talk Nicholas Beans, Angel Di Maria being in his bag and the suddenly leaky Juve defense.

Juventus v Atalanta - Serie A Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Just a week after Juventus suffered its worst defeat of the Serie A campaign, the Bianconeri were looking to bounce back in league play Sunday night against a feisty Atalanta side that has been a tough nut to crack for the Turin based club.

While getting back on track after getting trounced by one of their rivals would be motivation enough, Juventus had even more reason to go out there and get a result after the off field verdict to dock the club 15 points as punishment for last spring’s plusvalenza investigation.

And to be fair, fire was not a thing that was lacking for the Bianconeri, as their offensive playmakers came alive in a three-goal performance that showed plenty of fight for a team that is currently — pending appeal — marred in 10th place in the table.

Unfortunately, their defensive players didn’t get the memo as howlers in both the first and second half of play gifted the visiting side a couple scores that were more than enough for Atalanta to escape the Allianz Stadium with a 3-3 draw.

Let’s cook.

Offensive Player of the Week: Angel Di Maria

Say what you will about Angel Di Maria, but when the guy is on, he is on.

The Argentinian winger — and newly minted World Cup champion — put forth a remarkable performance and was the fulcrum of Juventus offensive performance. His contract might be a bit bloated and injuries haven’t really allowed him to be this type of player we would have liked on a consistent basis, but he remains in a class above of almost every other offensive player not named Federico Chiesa.

He scored a PK to bring Juve level and was involved in the other two goals of the evening, setting up Nicolo Fagioli beautifully in the second score and perfectly playing the dummy on the free kick that Danilo ended up burying in the second half.

It’s almost a certainty that he will be a one and done as a Juve player — which is unfortunate because watching him operate at peak levels has been a true delight. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Water Finding Its Level

Two weeks ago, Juventus had allowed only seven goals all season.

Two matchdays later, they’ve allowed eight goals.

What gives? Was Juventus an overvalued defense all along or is this a statistical anomaly in what should continue to be a point of reference for the club? It was always going to be hard to expect this team to continue with their clean sheet streak, but for said streak to end in such a spectacular fashion was something that very few predicted.

Max Allegri’s unconventional approach to a three-man backline always felt a bit gimmicky with only one natural center back in Bremer flanked by his fellow Brazilian nationals Alex Sandro and Danilo. Then again it’s hard to call something a gimmick when it produced such excellent results and saw both converted fullbacks put forth some of their strongest performances.

I think when you look at the way both Atalanta and Napoli both found the net, I lean a bit more towards Juve — hopefully — returning to their defensive standard sooner rather than later.

In both the Napoli game and now against Atalanta, a lot of the goals allowed are the result of good players making dumb mistakes. Wojciech Szczęsny is too good and too experienced to be giving up easy shots like the one he did to Ademola Lookman and he’s shown the ability to bounce back quickly after mistakes in the past. I’m not too worried.

Alex Sandro and Danilo have found a career renaissance as converted center backs but both had pretty rough moments to allow Atalanta to score. I’m confident that Danilo won’t be making direct passes to the opposition too often and while Sandro has never been particularly great defending in the air sometimes you just get beat by a great cross and end up looking silly. Could he have done more? Sure, but that was also a pretty nifty cross and a good move.

Juventus caught a few breaks on their way to their clean sheet streak and some of those breaks have gone against them in this two game onslaught. If I had to bet, I’d bet on this team posting clean sheets again in the near future.

Winner: Nicolo Fagioli

Fabio Miretti took a larger share of the spotlight and of the minutes in the early going of the season, but its the Bean Man who’s been looking better and better recently.

(Which is fine, by the way. Young players have ebbs and flows, Miretti is struggling a bit right now but that doesn’t mean that he is not a talented player and vice versa. These are the type of things that are normal when you develop youth and I for one am happy that Juve can rely on veterans here and there while a youngster steadies his form. Miretti should still be part of this team for some time to come.)

di Maria provided a lot of the flash in the run up for the second goal, but Fagioli was the one that delivered the perfect cross to Arek Milik and that’s not nothing. Besides the assist, Fagioli is a perfect compliment to the rest of the midfield and continues to play with remarkable poise for a guy who was this time last year playing in Serie B.

With the whole plusvalenza scandal looming over Juventus and what is sure to be a quiet transfer window in the coming summer, the fact that Fagioli is starting to come into his own solves a lot of squad issues for Juventus.

Fagioli being a homegrown talent who seems to harbor genuine affection and love for the club is only the cherry on top of the sundae for the young Italian who is quickly carving himself a role in this team and becoming a fan favorite with each passing performance.

Parting Shot of the Week

Until the appeal and trial resolve themselves its going to be hard to remain invested in the Serie A race for Juventus faithful. Barring a complete and utter collapse from the leading pack, qualifying outright for any sort of European competition is going to be quite a challenge for Juventus.

With Juve currently 11 points off Lazio and the prestigious Conference League spot, their best path to Europe next season might be to take it all the way in the Europa League, but that’s a different conversation altogether.

(Although, I’d be lying if I wasn’t kinda looking forward for a once in a lifetime run in the Conference League next year to be quite frank.)

With Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic in line to return to the lineup as well as the slow but steady reintroduction of Federico Chiesa, Juventus should be a team to watch for in the coming weeks. Unfortunately until we know the faith of their pending appeal, we are about to see spirited cup runs, but a crawl to the finish in league play.

And we thought things couldn’t get worse after Naples, huh?

See you next week.