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Manu’s Grab Bag: Keeping Pace

We talk differences in years, a beleaguered starter and the win against Napoli.

Juventus v Napoli - Serie A Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu via Getty Images

With the memory of the recent lack of good results against Napoli fresh in everyone’s head, Friday night’s matchup between the defending champions and a streaking Juventus was anything but a sure result for the home side.

However, Juve managed to keep their run of positive results going with a hard-fought 1-0 win that extends their unbeaten streak to 10 games and allowed them to keep pace with Inter Milan — who cruised past Udinese on Saturday — in the race for the Scudetto as well as building up their cushion in the top four to double digits.

As the season progresses and teams start to separate it’s clear that while the overall goal of the year was to secure a top four spot, this team can be in contention for a whole lot more than that.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Andrea Cambiaso

This was a simply outstanding matchup from the young Italian, who was arguably not only the best player for Juventus but the best player overall on the night. Despite not playing in his natural position on the left wing, he’s showing that he can be an impactful player on either wingback spot, as he authored his best game of the season on the right flank.

Cambiaso served up a peach of a cross for the assist on Juve’s game-winner, but he was also a menace all game long offensively and didn’t put a foot wrong defensively, either. With Timothy Weah still out injured and maybe out until around Christmas, Cambiaso can do more than enough to get the job done until the American comes back.

Runner Up: Federico Gatti - Another game, another game-winning goal for Gatti, who is consistently finding himself in good spots offensively and making his chances count. He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite, and it truly is insane that this guy was playing in the lower rungs of Italian football not that long ago and is now a starter for one of the best defenses in the league. Awesome story, awesome guy, love having him around.

A tale of missed chances

Perhaps it wouldn’t shock a ton of people to hear that Juventus won by a 1-0 scoreline if you only look at it in a score bug. That is the most popular scoreline this year for the team — corto muso, all of that you know it by now.

But watching Friday night’s game, it was shocking that there was only one goal scored. Between spectacular saves (that couldn’t or didn’t), harrowing misses and everything in between, both teams could have and should have probably been on target more than they ended up being.

This game, however, was the starkest example of how generating chances is only half of the battle. Finishing your opportunities is just as important, and in the end Napoli will be left to rue the misses they had in front of goal — especially the howler of a miss by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the first half that could have changed the whole complexion of the game.

Differences

Last year’s Napoli was a vastly superior team than Juventus and they showed it in both games last season. This year, however, I think it’s fair to say that Juventus was the better team — and showed it as well.

One of the starkest differences between this year’s Juve and last year’s version has been their performances against the top teams in the league. Last year, Juve also had an impressive run of unbeaten matches, but it was mostly against a soft schedule that propped them up. This run, however, now includes wins over AC Milan and Napoli as well as the draw against Inter Milan.

They are doing it the best way they know how to as well. Against Napoli, Juventus had a remarkably low possession, barely 33%, but they had more shots on goal than Napoli and only two fewer shots overall. They are not doing it in the prettiest of ways, but this is a team that knows how to win ugly, to grind games to where they like to have them. This is a team that sacrifices and that plays as one.

There’s still a lot of games left on the schedule, but with 15 matchdays now gone, this is not a fluke.

Loser: Filip Kostic

One of the biggest arguments for the continuity of Kostic in the left wingback spot is his reliability. Sure, there’s guys with higher upsides or that bring a different set of skills that could be more appealing than Kostic, but Max Allegri has shown that he prefers the steady hand of the veteran instead.

I don’t know how many more games like this one Kostic can have before that calculus changes.

The Serbian international had a rough night — he committed a number of mistakes in possession and in transition while adding nothing offensively, either. For a team that should be getting chances from counterattacks, Kostic messed up a number of potential chances by just misplacing passes that you’d expect a guy of his caliber to make.

With the current injury crunch, I doubt he’s is in any danger of losing his starting spot, but once Weah comes back and if his form doesn’t pick up, there’s definitely an argument for sending him to the bench and giving his minutes to Cambiaso.

Parting Shot of the Week

The top of the table thrill lasted all of 24 hours before Inter demolished Udinese to reclaim atop the league table. Still, the win over Napoli helps with building a larger cushion over the other top four teams and some differences are starting to build between the two best teams in the league and the rest.

Juve's schedule gets a bit softer with visits to Genoa and Frosinone over the next two weeks, with the top of the table remaining within a two-point difference they cannot afford to take the foot of the gas.

See you Friday.