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Manu’s Grab Bag: Slump Buster

We talk Dusan getting back on the scoresheet, Juventus back on the win column and the most unlikely MVP of the season.

Juventus v US Lecce - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

A win is a win is a win.

Who cares if it’s against a team that’s barely above the relegation zone and it’s happening in the middle of the goddamn workday on a Wednesday? It had to happen. As the Serie A season heads into crunch time, every single point is vital, and Juventus found themselves on a four-game winless skid entering Wednesday. That’s why this game was as key as any to maintain their current tour four spot.

The 2-1 victory over Lecce was just what the doctor ordered for the Bianconeri, and given how the season has gone so far all wins are well received in Torino at this point.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Leandro Paredes

Textbook definition of too little too late, sure, I get it. He was still the best player on the field on Wednesday and this here Grab Bag does not play by the season long narratives but just by who shone the brightest in a game and this was the highest level the Argentininan international has shown.

He scored a (mildly lucky) free kick goal to boost up his performance, but playing with Italian youngsters Fabio Miretti and Nicolo Fagioli in midfield, Paredes looked just like the dynamic center midfielder that Juventus was in need of this entire season.

We’ve talked about how this team just kind of doesn’t find a correct configuration to get the best out of all their talented players, but this sure felt like a setup that played to the strengths of every member in the midfield.

At this point, Paredes’ stint in black and white is assuredly over come the end of the season and will be — rightfully so — considered a disappointment. This game, however, was a bittersweet reminder of what could have been and maybe of the talent that led to Juventus picking him up almost a year ago now.

Runner Up: Wojciech Szcezcny - Talk about healthy competition! Every time the fan tide seems to go towards Mattia Perin, Woj reminds everyone of why he’s still the number one keeper under the sticks. He ended up playing a huge role to pick up the win in a game in which Juventus could have had a bulkier lead.

Confidence Game

As part of my workout routine, I attend boxing fitness lessons.

It’s important to bring attention to the fitness part of it. The place I go to is very far removed from a grimy, gritty boxing gym where champs are made off. The space is a mirror-covered studio. filled with 30 numbered punching bags hanging from the ceiling and a podium like area where the instructor tells you what to do.

You can tell the class is starting when the lights are gradually dimmed and the strobes and EDM music start getting louder and brighter. Instead of a hardened coach in the mold of Mickey from the Rocky movies, you get an outrageously fit quasi influencer that screams out vaguely inspirational quotes while giving out basic combinations to throw at our punching bags.

It’s fine, you work up a decent sweat and it’s over in an hour, which is an effective use of my time as far as I’m concerned. Back in the day, however, I used to practice boxing a lot more seriously. Sparring sessions, couple of fights here and there. I’m not saying that I was on track to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez any time soon but I know my way inside of a ring.

So, whenever I go to this studio, I get to experience a cool thing that I hope most people get to experience at least once — and that is to be the best person in a room full of people doing the same thing. And let me tell you something, nothing gets a pep in my step like realizing that fact. Who cares if — by and large — the people taking those lessons have never put on gloves before? It’s still good vibes, it makes you feel better, you have more confidence to do other things in your life with a lot more aplomb.

Technically you are just the same guy, but a different mentality can make you perform so much better, so, when I go to the actual boxing gym, I walk in with a lot more confidence than I otherwise would if I hadn’t had my previous shot of confidence at the studio. It’s a nice thing to feel good about yourself here and there.

Anyway, Dusan Vlahovic finally scored a goal — a pretty good one, too! — and sure as hell looked happy and relieved to be back in the scoresheet. Hopefully that puts a pep in his step as well.

Cautiously Optimistic ... again

Paul Pogba played pretty well!

Despite the coaching staff actively saying that the French international is still not fit enough to play a full 90 minutes — in May! — Pogba tallied another appearance under his belt and probably looked the best he has looked all season.

(Never thought four appearances in a month would be the biggest reason for optimism regarding Pogba this season, but it is what it is.)

In his 17 minutes on the field, he looked every bit the dynamic, game-changing midfielder that we all thought Juventus was getting last summer. It might not feel like a lot, but having a guy with his talent available for the business end of the season could be the difference. Especially in knockout ties where even the slightest advantage can mean the difference between a final bid or another disappointing exit.

(And with Europa League powerhouse Sevilla waiting on the wings and roaring back lately, Juve will need every single edge they can get.)

Parting Shot of the Week

The absolutely brutal string of games of April is finally over, but the punches keep coming for Juventus with an early kickoff on Sunday against fellow top four competitors Atalanta in Bergamo and another quick turnaround to face Sevilla in Europa League on Thursday.

It’s hard to say if Juventus will rotate again against Atalanta in order to keep some players fresh for the continental competition, so there’s no guessing what Juventus will turn up on Sunday, but considering that for most of us in the American continent the game will be between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. ... I’d recommend sleeping in.

See you Sunday.