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Manu’s Grab Bag: Another One

We talk Next Gen flexing, a bad streak for our starting striker and some worrying symptoms for the end of the season.

Juventus v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

This was just your good ole, regular six-goal shootout during another quiet Serie A matchday for Juventus. Who said our beloved Italian league is boring?

With a 4-2 victory, the Bianconeri managed to defeat a feisty but relegation-bound Sampdoria squad at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday night to continue their improbable run to European spots. Thanks to their win over Sampdoria, Juve have now put the heat on Atalanta in sixth place and a coveted spot in the premier tournament competition in the world — the Europa Conference League.

(There’s an extremely real possibility that’s the only continental competition Juventus plays next season and I WILL start gassing it up just in case.)

Let’s cook.

MVP: Adrien Rabiot

It is no exaggeration to say that contract year Adrien Rabiot is one of the best players on the team. The French international had himself a well-taken brace, which took him to seven goals in Serie A and nine overall in all competitions.

(Yes, in case you were wondering, that is by far the most he’s ever scored in his career. Last season, the guy made 45 appearances and scored zero times. Zilch, nada, nothing. Unbelievable hustle from Rabiot to secure the bag. Respect.)

Leading the line as the only experienced player in an exclusively Next Gen-developed midfield, Rabiot stepped up big time when his team needed him most. With every good performance, Rabiot gets further and further away from a possible renewal with the Italian side and closer to some oil-rich club — or Oligarchy, pick your poison — in England.

Despite that fact, hopefully Juventus can take advantage of Rabiot’s form and ride the guy as much as possible the rest of this season. What if he had played like this for his whole stint in Turin? What if, indeed.

Runner Up: Filip Kostic - Another assist for the Serbian international, who is quietly having a pretty great season in terms of counting stats. He now has 11 assists in all competitions. Despite being signed without great fanfare, Kostic has proven himself to be a consistent presence in the left wing and one of the few players that have been mostly steady and secure this season. Good stuff.

Loser: Dusan Vlahovic

Man, our favorite No. 9 is currently on one (in a bad way), huh?

Vlahovic followed one of his worse performances all season against Freiburg on Thursday night in the Europa League by once again failing to score a goal and even missing a penalty kick on Sunday.

The weird part is that Vlahovic didn’t play half bad! He put himself in solid positions and was much more involved in the build up than he was midweek. But, when you are in bad form, it feels like the goal is sealed shut and no matter how much you try nothing goes your way.

Take the game against Sampdoria. Everything you need to know about Vlahovic’s form can be distilled into his last shot of the night. He does everything right as he times his run and fakes his defender perfectly only to get a completely open header right in front of goal.

A striker of Vlahovic’s caliber buries that nines times out of 10. But, in this game, he heads it too low, it bounces off the pitch, gets parried by the keeper, hits the crossbar and bounces out and straight into the path of Matias Soule, who ends up getting the goal. Even Vlahovic’s first reaction is of disbelief and annoyance only to realize that this was Soule’s first Serie A goal and celebrating with the youngster.

Every striker is going to have a streak of poor form eventually, but the elite players power through it and sooner rather than later break their duck. Hopefully, Vlahovic busts out of his slump soon.

The Youths remain alright

I know I just wrote about how good some of the young guys for Juventus have been in the last Grab Bag, but I have to mention it again because look at the starting midfield against Sampdoria:

Fabio Miretti, Nicolo Fagioli AND Enzo Barrenechea all starting! I know this is against Sampdoria — who are quite literally the worst team in the league — but still, getting so many young guys involved is something that is worth mentioning and should be celebrated.

Add to that the fact that the aforementioned Soule got himself on the scoresheet as a senior level player for the first time in his career and you’d have to excuse the Juve Next Gen account if they wanted to flex a little:

Good stuff.

Shaky Foundation

The calling card for Juventus this season had been, until very recently, their defensive stoutness. However, this game is another one in the recent bad trend of allowing goals against teams you wouldn't think they’d be allowing goals.

Some of the blame has to go to injuries as their best defensive form came with Alex Sandro, who is currently sidelined. But even then, you’d expect them to not be giving up so many easy goals.

It’s a worrying trend especially as the business end of the season approaches and the knockout rounds of both the Europa League and Coppa Italia where one mistake can be the difference between moving to the next round and wondering what could have been.

Parting Shot of the Week

For a second there this had all the makings of Juventus self imploding and dropping points against a team that will almost certainly be playing in Serie B next year. But, to their credit, they took Sampdoria’s best punch on the chin, got their act together and dominated the second half in convincing manner to get another three points and remain in the mix for a European spot.

It seems like we say this all the time but the biggest game of Juve’s season is coming up next Thursday as the Bianconeri travel to Germany to try and seal their ticket to the Europa League quarterfinals. God bless us, but I feel quietly optimistic. Can’t wait to see how Juventus ruins us once again.

See you Thursday.