To quote the great manager Lou Brown in the acclaimed — OK, not really — movie Major League II:
It has happened before, indeed!
In a massive Sunday afternoon clash to solidify their top four position, Juventus traveled to Bergamo to face an always-pesky Atalanta side who themselves were fighting for their European chances. With Lazio dropping points the day before, a win here would have set up Juve nicely in the second spot and put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack in the hunt for Champions League spots.
With Juventus struggling to find consistency the entire season and considering they had already wanted numerous chances to leapfrog Lazio in the standings, this could have gone absolutely anywhere. Luckily, we got some semblance of good form from the Bianconeri and, with goals from Samuel Iling-Junior and Dusan Vlahovic, they deservedly beat Atalanta 2-0 to keep the good times rolling for at least one more match day.
MVP: Samuel Iling-Junior
Screw it, let’s buy into the hype, why not?
In his very first start with Juventus’ senior team, Iling-Junior proved that he more than belongs on the field with a dazzling performance that shocked and awed Juve faithful everywhere. Let’s put it this way: the 19-year-old Englishman shined so brightly that later that very same Sunday there were already transfer rumors linking him to Premier League teams.
We knew from his dazzling cameo against Benfica in the Champions League group stage — remember that? Jesus, this season has been so freaking long — that he had extraordinary, if raw, offensive skills and he definitely showcased those against Atalanta. But it was his defensive performance and remarkable positioning that really put him at a different level.
When you can be as good as he was offensively and still rack up five tackles while playing positionally sound football in your first ever start in Serie A? He might be special, folks.
(I openly questioned why Iling-Junior wasn’t getting more minutes early on but this might be a similar case to Federico Gatti or even Nicolo Fagioli. Sometimes, coaches have to, you know, coach guys and maybe they were waiting on him to become a more mature player before giving him a shot. It worked for Gatti, it worked for Fagioli and it might have worked out for Iling-Junior, too.)
Runner Up: Dusan Vlahovic - Hey, look who’s suddenly looking confident once again? I pretty much dedicated the entire previous Grab Bag to the theory that once he started to get his groove back Vlahovic could be a difference maker and if his cracking shot to kill the game off late is any indication we might be getting that difference maker striker that we all so desperately want to see.
A little bit of Respect
Let me just give a quick shout out to a man that we usually don’t throw a lot of praise their way: our dear friend — and forever prospect — Daniele Rugani.
He’s been the absolute perfect squad rotation player this season and his performance against Atalanta was another example of his weirdly invaluable presence in this team. He came in with really no game flow to speak of and essentially pitched a shutout on a tricky Atalanta attack, leading the team with six clearances and acting as the only natural center back on the pitch.
On this squad, there is a clear pecking order and we know where Rugani falls in it. But it’s worth mentioning the talent of a guy who is always available, really doesn't complain at all about his playing time, seems like a good teammate and, when he’s called upon, is able to step up and perform to a more than adequate level.
Sometimes we talk about how we can’t believe certain players are still on the team and what not, but when I look at big Dan Rugani play like he did on Sunday it becomes very clear to me why they decided to keep him around.
Game of Numbers
You know what’s a pretty neat thing to have as a coach? A full deck of cards, that’s what.
Between injuries, unavailability and the hellish crunch of games that was the month of April (and 2023 as a whole), we got accustomed to Juventus having to field less than idea lineups or rely on guys that were clearly very tired and burnt out.
While Juventus are not entirely out of the woods just yet in terms of schedule — hello, game against Sevilla on Thursday! — at least the crunch is slightly less and guys seem to be getting healthy at the right time.
I know that they are not at 100% yet, but it makes an absolute world of a difference to be able to bring in a suddenly impactful Paul Pogba off the bench or a guy like Vlahovic finding his rhythm again. If you give a guy like Juan Cuadrado some rotation he can still show flashes of his old self. And I’m sure a much deserved breather for Gleison Bremer and Federico Gatti are only going to make them more effective moving forward.
This remains a flawed team with questionable coaching at its very core but its undeniable that large stretches in which this team suffered was in no small part due to being constantly short handed. IF you are going to suddenly be healthy, they couldn’t have picked a better moment to do so.
(Pour one out for my guy Mattia De Sciglio, though. People know I’m not the biggest fan of his game, but suffering the type of injury he did is just brutal for anybody and you never want to see guys get hurt. Here’s to a quick recovery for everyone’s favorite multi function fullback.)
Parting Shot of the Week
With this team, any sort of semblance of good form can disappear just as quick as it came, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better to come into their first leg of a Europa League semifinal against Sevilla coming off back-to-back wins compared to the alternative.
Knockout games are an entirely different beast though and you never know what will happen with Sevilla in the freaking Europa League. Still, this team has as decent of a shot as any to make it to their first European final in six years. I’m excited. God help us.
See you Thursday.