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Manu’s Gab Bag: Semifinals Bound

We talk defensive efforts, being a cup team and Europa League dreaming.

Sporting CP v Juventus - UEFA Europa League Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

With the verdict regarding their 15-point deduction being announced just hours before kickoff in Portugal where the Bianconeri were looking for their ticket to the Europa League semifinals, Thursday was as key a day as there’s been for Juventus in the lat few years.

It could have all gone very badly, but this time luck was on Juve’s side, as the ruling to give Juventus back their 15 points was accentuated by a hard-fought 1-1 final scoreline in Lisbon that was enough to see the Turin based club punch their ticket to the next round in European competition.

Let’s cook.

Defensive Player of the Week: Gleison Bremer

This could have easily gone to any member of Juventus’ defensive backline because it was a true team effort in keeping Sporting off the scoresheet from open play. But it was Bremer who was particularly impressive, as he did not put a foot wrong during his entire time on the pitch.

He was unfortunately subbed out after tweaking his hamstring — which Juventus is probably hoping that is not a big deal because to keep advancing further in the competition they are going to need to rely on the Brazilian international to be their defensive anchor.

This was very much a grit-your-teeth performance with Sporting being the much more offensively inclined team as they chased the goal that would sent the tie into overtime. The efforts of Bremer and Co. meant that while the pressure was on, Sporting was never able to produce clear cut scoring chances with regularity.

The Duality of Contract Year Adrien Rabiot

With his first-half strike on Thursday, Adrien Rabiot now has 11 goals in all competitions, tying him for the team lead in that department.

It’s been a while since Juventus had a midfielder with such high scoring numbers under their employment, but what Rabiot doing is no fluke. He’s been consistently one of their best players and his feel for when to make runs inside the opponents box is a big reason why he’s found himself on the scoresheet.

Unfortunately for him and despite all the praise we’ve thrown his was, he was also the main culprit of Sporting scoring their lone goal in the tie as his foolish and reckless tackle on Manuel Ugarte to give away a PK in the first half. A PK that Marcus Edwards dutifully scored to make things a lot tighter than they needed to be.

Back when the season started, the alleged salary demands for Rabiot seemed absolutely crazy, but a guy capable of scoring in double digit while remaining extremely dependable on the injury side should command a pretty penny. I remain convinced that Juventus will not be the team paying said pretty penny, but it’s hard for me to imagine that considering the performance he’s put forth this season he’s not worth whatever he’s going to get.

Cup Team

With Thursday night’s 1- draw, Juventus remain unbeaten in Europa League play with three draws and three wins as they continue to move forward in the competition.

Juventus has failed to be consistent all throughout the year — especially the first half — but they seem to be finding their groove in the cup competitions. That is not entirely out of character for a team that has shown that on a good day they can beat anybody and lose to anybody, too, unfortunately.

But it is worth giving some recognition to a team that is making the most out of their horrific crashing out of the Champions League and mounting a pretty respectable cup run. It wasn’t a complete domination by any stretch of the imagination but I do think it was a well deserved two legged victory over a pretty good team in Sporting Lisbon.

It’s perhaps not the European trophy that everyone wanted Juventus to make a run at, but to be two games away from playing a European final again for the first time in six years is nothing to scoff at, either.

The competition doesn’t get a ton easier either with Sevilla convincingly dismantling Manchester United to set up a tough matchup in the semifinals. To beat the permanent Europa League powerhouse Spanish team is not going to be easy, but this team has earned some benefit of the doubt when it comes to this competition.

Europa League has been by far the best competition this year for Juventus. Who knew?

Parting Shot of the Week

On a day in which Juventus could have been effectively out of any chance at European football next season, they managed to see both results through on and off the field and find themselves in the best position they’ve been all year.

With everything that has been going on this season, the fact that Juventus are somehow still in contention to lift a couple of big trophies in the Coppa Italia and Europa League is a pretty decent place to be all things considered.

Especially in Europe is fun to be in the final round of a competition after the recent knockout round letdowns in the Champions League. It might not be quite the run that we would have liked when the year started but if you can’t get excited for a big time European semifinal round — no matter the competition — I don’t know what to tell you.

Europa League is fun! Get with the program, people.

See you Sunday.