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Manu’s Grab Bag: The Great Wall

We talk Juve’s top center backs, a career revival and an outstanding defensive performance.

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Ciro De Luca/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you just take a look at the numbers after Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Fiorentina without watching Sunday night’s game, you’d be forgiven if you thought this was an absolute evisceration in which a miracle happened for the Bianconeri to come up with the win.

The home side dominated pretty much every single counting stat available. Shots, possession, passes, corner kicks ... everything but the only one that matters: goals.

That’s the story the stats tell, but while it is true that La Viola was the team that had a lot more of the initiative. the game never felt in their control as Juventus pretty much gave Fiorentina the ball and dared them to do something with it. Which, by and large, they failed to do.

Not in small part due to the work of some of the names we are about to discuss.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Bremer

Let me start by saying that I loved Matthijs de Ligt.

I loved the signing, I bought the jersey, I thought he was really good for Juventus and I was legitimately upset when he left for Bayern Munich.

Bremer is better than de Ligt. What at the time seemed like a nice Plan B after the departure of the Dutch international is now looking like a legitimate upgrade. And like I said its nothing against de Ligt, but Bremer has been that good this season and this game was just another proof of that.

In a game in which they pretty much had to play a perfect game defensively, Bremer was a big part of why Juventus managed to pull it off. He had a silly amount of clearances with 13 (!!!) which led the team and embodied everything this Juve team seems to be building towards.

It was nasty, physical, flawless defending for 90 minutes from the Brazilian and you could tell how the rest of the team fed off it. Outstanding performance from the best defender in Italy.

Runner Up: Daniele Rugani - I mean, right? Give me a second, this needs a little bit more discussion.

Big Dan Rugani, Center Back Extraordinaire

I understand if you think this is a troll-y tweet. My first instinct was to laugh this off as a joke, too. But after this little run our man Daniele Rugani is on, this is far from something crazy.

Rugani is playing arguably his best stretch of football in ... four ... maybe five years? And doing it with extraordinary aplomb, too.

While he has failed to an extent to replicate Danilo’s distribution from the back, he has been just as good, if not better than the injured Brazilian as the third piece with Bremer and Federico Gatti in Juve’s three-man backline which has now authored another clean sheet. It’s their sixth straight after the Sassuolo implosion.

His physicality and skill in the air was a big part of why very few of Fiorentina’s 50 — FIFTY — attempted crosses Sunday night found their mark. And look, there’s a lot of reasons why Fiorentina never managed to break through, but them continuing to cross the football when you had Bremer, Rugani and Gatti in the box was pretty foolish.

This is a team that seems hell bent in their desire to win with defense first and foremost, and a big reason why that approach is currently working is the excellent work of the Italian who is — shockingly — still only 29 years old. I don’t want to say second career arc but ... Andrea Barzagli was just turning 30 when he signed for Juventus and became the Barzagli we all know and love.

(OK, I joke about the Barzagli comparison, but I’m a sucker for narratives and how cool would Rugani suddenly finding a second life as a top center back in a three-man backline like our old friend Barza?)

The Grit N’ Grind Juventus

The thing that I found enjoyable in Juve’s defensive performance was how much every single player in the team seemed to have bought into it. Not only the natural defenders were in on it, but every single player was killing themselves to make one last lunging tackle, one last ditch attempt to block a shot. They were celebrating clearances and winning goal kicks just as hard as if they had scored a goal.

Even players who aren’t necessarily recognized as defense first like youngster Andrea Cambiaso was putting in work on the defensive phase and bodying players left and right to win possession. Weston McKennie was a relentless presence all over the right wing. When he won a corner kick in the dying minutes and then went to the floor with a “cramp” the devilish grin on his face gave away how much he was enjoying it.

The blueprint for this Juventus to win is to defend like hell and get offensive opportunities on the counter. They are still too sloppy and inconsistent for my liking when it comes to counters — I forgot how many bad touches Filip Kostic had alone when trying to go for the break — but the one thing you can’t fault them for is the defense. They have that thing down pat right now.

Parting Shot of the Week

With AC Milan dropping points again, Juventus solidified second place in the table thanks to the three points they earned Sunday. With a looming clash against league leaders Inter Milan in two weeks time and lowly Cagliari on deck this weekend, it’s easy to look past them and start imagining a high voltage matchup against the Nerazzurri for the top of the table.

While that is the easy narrative, business still needs to be handled and with a win against Cagliari, Juve might put themselves top of the table again — even if it’s momentary — as they eye that much important matchup at Juventus Stadium.

See you Saturday.