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Manu’s Grab Bag: Better than nothing

We talk a glass half-full approach, a striker making a difference and a youngster stepping up.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A TIM Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The most hyped, most important game of the 2023-24 season to date for Juventus came and went Sunday night, and despite all the speculation and possibilities it all ended exactly where it all began.

With Juventus still within reach of the top of the table but not quite there, the final 1-1 scoreline split the spoils for both clubs. Inter and Juventus dueled in a cagey affair that was not exactly a joy to watch but that did leave some lasting thoughts for the rest of the season.

Both starting strikers, Dusan Vlahovic and Lautaro Martinez, scored within five minutes of one another in the first half and both teams kinda shut it down in the second half.It wasn’t the kinda game that you will tell your grandchildren about, but it did help clarify at least one thing for yours truly ...

Juventus can play with anybody in Italy. And after the last few seasons in which they have crumbled against the top competition in Italy, that’s not nothing.

Let’s cook.

Offensive Player of the Week: Dusan Vlahovic

My biggest criticism of Vlahovic’s tenure as a Juve player has been his lack of a killer instinct in front of goal. Too often Vlahovic has been wasteful during his tenure and for a striker playing in a system in which there’s not going to be a ton of chances to begin with it was a legitimate hindrance to his scoring numbers.

(As much as we might not love the guy here at Juventus land, Cristiano Ronaldo might be one of the best to ever do it in this regard. You could shut the guy down for 89 minutes, but the second you gave him an opening you knew he was going to make it count.)

Vlahovic has shown flashes before of being the type of guy that will make you pay if you give him just the slimmest of chances, but it hasn’t been consistent enough. Well, he was decisive enough in this game, that’s for sure.

Considering Juventus had all of four shots in the entire game, Vlahovic could not afford to miss any of them — and he sure didn’t, capping off a beautiful play in transition and scoring effortlessly from a Federico Chiesa pass.

Not only was he the goal scorer but he’s continuing to show strides in the build-up and hold-up department, which have also been glaring holes in his game. This is especially important considering how much a striker is supposed to do of exactly that when playing in Max Allegri’s current 3-5-2 formation.

It was a great game from a great player when the team needed it most. That’s what they brought him to do, and that’s exactly what he did.

Winner: Hans Nicolussi Caviglia

Sometimes it’s all about not screwing up.

Young Hans was given his very first start as a senior level Juventus player against the best team in the league in as much of a high pressure environment as you possibly can. It could have gone really, really poorly. It did not.

Don’t get me wrong, Nicolussi Caviglia was not lightning the world on fire with his play, but he did a perfectly replacement-level player job deputizing for Manuel Locatelli and didn’t make any sort of backbreaking mistake that could cost the team the game.

For an example of what could have happened, I give you one game of former Mexico international defender Diego Reyes. A young Porto FC player who was coming along, Reyes was getting spot starts here and there against the minnows of the Portuguese league. Slightly more experienced that Hans at the moment, he was called in to step up against Bayern Munich in the knockout rounds of the Champions League because of injuries and the guy was so overmatched, so shook, so worked by a prime Bayern Munich that he had to get subbed out at halftime after being thoroughly burned for 45 minutes.

Considering that most of Nicolussi Caviglia’s experience in Serie A came with Salernitana )12 games last season), it’s not nothing that he was OK enough to give Juve a chance in this game. He still has a lot of room to grow, but considering that my personal curve was essentially set at “Don't cost us the game” he passed with flying colors.

Glass Half Full

During our preview episode of this match of The Old Lady Speaks, the words “disaster,” “catastrophe” and “blowout” were uttered several times.

With the memory of last year’s evisceration at the hands of Napoli still fresh and Juventus’ unfortunate crunch in terms of player selection, this game could have gone badly for the Bianconeri. Instead of that, I leave this game thinking that despite everything, Juventus matched pretty well against the title favorites.

Stylistically, perhaps we should have seen coming the grindfest that was the second half. Simone Inzaghi’s Inter is — much like Juve — a team that is much more comfortable giving the other team the ball and exploiting the space left behind with their strikers. After the initial 45 minutes, it was essentially a chicken game between the two teams to see who will blink and try to take a risk to go for the win. Neither team blinked.

Should Juventus have tried to go for the win? Perhaps. They were at home and with the top of the table at an arm’s length, there’s an argument for it. Then again, that risk would have meant to play exactly into Inter’s hands and do what they pretty much were begging them to do. Lautaro Martinez’s equalizer came from a moment in which Juventus were on the front foot and they managed to hit them when there was space behind the defense.

(It was also a pretty nifty play. I hate Inter as much as anyone, but credit where credit’s due.)

Allegri got some flak for saying in his post game press conference that the objective was not to lose. And while we can beat our chest and say that that is wrong, when you consider the fact that the team was super short handed, that there’s still a ton of season to go and that Juventus has the advantage of no European play, I don’t think playing it safe here was necessarily a bad idea.

Inter will drop points at some point — that’s what Europe does to you, its just a fact — and if Juve can remain within reach they will take advantage of it.

Patience is the name of the game.

Parting Shot of the Week

Juventus can challenge for the title this season.

That was the big question we all had coming into this game and now that it’s over it’s the main conclusion I have. They are not out of their league against the top teams and if Locatelli had been available from the start perhaps a different result could have been achieved.

For a team that was considered to be a top four contender this year if not little more than that by almost everyone, so far I think they are exceeding expectations.

Just don’t drop points against Monza, please.

See you Friday.