You know those early moments in the morning after a long weekend or holiday when you’ve just woken up? When you're physically, technically awake but your brain, body and spirit is still operating at a slight delay?
It’s nothing too bad, but there’s definitely a general sloppiness going on in the proceedings. A bit of spilled ground coffee here, some less than elegant moves to get out of bed there, and the sudden realization that you’ve been staring at the sock drawer for about five minutes and have nothing to show for it.
It doesn’t really matter, its normal up to a certain extent. But what matters is that the grogginess doesn’t ruin anything too important and that you're good to go when the important stuff starts to happen the rest of the day.
Juventus just experienced their morning five minutes against Hellas Verona on Saturday, as they struggled to do pretty much anything at a high level but still managed to come away with a 1-0 win to secure the much needed three points.
It wasn’t pretty, but hey, they are coming back from an international break. It’s OK. The only thing that matters is that they got it done and are hopefully awake when the important stuff starts to happen later on.
MVP: Manuel Locatelli
It took a while — and perhaps it’s still not necessarily the greatest use of his skills — but Manuel Locatelli is finally looking like the complete central midfielder that Max Allegri envisioned when he shoehorned him in that position a couple seasons ago.
Allegri has a fixation for taking players with established positions and forcing them into new ones. From Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic back in the day to converted center backs Danilo and Alex Sandro more recently this season.
Some of those moves work, some don’t, and some of them maybe take more time than others. We might be seeing a case of one of the latter examples with Locatelli, who recently has looked exactly how a top-tier center midfielder should. Locatelli has the range and passing skills to be a good distributor from the back and his defensive chops have grown immensely in the last few months.
The play that ends in Juve’s lone goal against Hellas Verona showed exactly why Locatelli can be such a dangerous player. He is involved from the very beginning of the build-up to the assist while singlehandedly breaking down Verona’s defense.
In a grey day all around for Juventus, Locatelli was a much needed bright spot.
Runner Up: Wojciech Szczęsny - I’m as guilty as anyone of fanning the inexistent flames of a goalkeeping controversy in regards to Mattia Perin and Wojciech Szczęsny, but credit where credits due. In a game in which scoring chances were at a premium, Woj is a large part of why Juventus managed to come away with the win as her contributed key saves down the stretch to keep his goal in zeroes.
Youth Gives and Youth Takes Away
The fact that Enzo Barrenechea — a guy that most Juve fans had little to no familiarity with six months ago — is quietly racking up starts for Juventus this season is a fun subplot that most of us were not expecting.
Mostly because he is a 21-year-old player who’s mostly been with the U-23 Juve side during his stint in Italy, and because, well, we mostly expected another Argentinian International to be taking most of reps in that spot when the year started.
(The less we talk about Leandro Paredes, the better.)
Still, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a guy with three Serie A starts under his belt struggles when playing consistently against top competition. Barrenechea and his lackluster play was a large part of why the Bianconeri failed to create any meaningful attacking chances in the first half.
As one youth prospect faltered, another took his place once Fabio Miretti was subbed in at halftime and completely changed the makeup of the game and the midfield unit. His easy chemistry with Nicolo Fagioli and Locatelli was easy to see and his beautiful no look pass to the latter was as important as anything in the build up to the goal.
Both Miretti and Fagioli had similarly poor performances earlier in the year which is normal for young players to go through. If Barrenechea is a guy that can potentially compete for first team minutes moving forward he will bounce back and learn just as the aforementioned Italian duo did. Time will tell.
Hellas Verona had some of their most meaningful attacking opportunities in the first half in counter attacks or when dispossessing Juventus during the build up.
So, when Juventus finally broke through and ceded initiative to the visiting side it made a lot of sense. Give the ball to a bad team and dare them to do something while you counter them to death to get a second goal. Sub in talented, fast guys like Angel Di Maria and Filip Kostic and you have a pretty decent squad on the field to do just that.
On paper, the strategy worked like gangbusters, as Verona struggled to put significant pressure on Juve’s goal and the home side had uncountable break opportunities during the second half. So, why is it that the game ended only 1-0?
Well, a lot of the blame has to go to the general sloppiness that embodied this game as every Juventus break was wasted via bad passes, rough first touches and general poor play. I lost count of how many 2-v-2 or 3-v-3 chances the Bianconeri had in that second half only for the ball to end up harmlessly in the feet of whichever Verona defender was closest to the play at the time or all the way out of bounds.
This team has gotten a lot of flak for their passiveness when closing out games and while that is generally true, defending a lead is not always a bad idea especially if you can unlock counter attacking chances along the way to put the game to bed.
(Friendly reminder that Napoli slaughtered Juve earlier in the year deploying that exact same strategy once they took a lead. The big difference being that the Partenopei were lethal with their breaks and finished off the game in a hurry.)
Juve’s strategy was on point, the pity was that the execution was so off on Saturday evening.
Parting Shot of the Week
Could this game have been a more enjoyable 90 minutes of your Saturday? Sure, that’d be ideal, but at the end of the day the only thing that mattered for this match was to get the win and avoid any major injuries considering the major crunch of games that Juventus has on deck this month.
With the Europa League quarterfinals and the Coppa Italia semifinals coming up, Juventus will be playing twice a week for the entire month of April. Some clunkers are to be expected just by virtue of burnout.
If we had to slug through this game to have fresher and more motivated legs against Inter this upcoming Tuesday, well, I’m willing to live with that.
See you Tuesday.