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Manu’s Grab Bag: Two feet on the ground

We talk Pogba not getting hurt, the future of Juve’s youth sector and not overreacting.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A TIM Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Juventus had a lackluster result against a mid-table team in which they played uneven halves of football and if only a few things had gone their way they could have possibly won the game in the end.

How many games could you have applied the above description to last season?

Well, reset the tally for this season to one and counting. Juventus dropped their first points of the 2023-24 season on Sunday after a 1-1 draw against Bologna in their home opener in which they played out the script to a tee ... with some exceptions that we’ll talk about in a bit.

Let’s cook.

Offensive Player of the Week: Samuel Iling-Junior

Give it up for the youngster picking up his very first points of the season thanks to a gorgeous cross to notch the assist on Juve’s lone goal of the evening.

In last week’s Grab Bag, we openly speculated if Iling-Junior and Andrea Cambiaso had taken the job away from Filip Kostic and this week just seemed to confirm that notion. Cambiaso was not as effective as he was in the season opener against Udinese, but Iling-Junior provided the shot in the arm that the team needed. Both players have now delivered delightful crosses that directly led to goals in back-to-back games.

As the transfer window closes, it sure looks like Iling-Junior is going to permanently handle the duties of backup left wingback. And as long as there are more crosses like the ones he delivered on Sunday coming, I’m OK with that.

Winner: Paul Pogba

I understand the bar is pretty low for this, but Paul Pogba played close to 30 minutes, and as of this writing he is not permanently hurt because of it. That’s a win in my book.

Pogba played an uneven matchup. He was inaccurate — as was much of the midfield — and looked like a guy that hadn’t played competitively in a while. He also played a huge role in the movement that led to Juve’s goal by providing the hockey assist with a great play to set up Iling-Junior and had a couple of moments that made you remember “Oh, yeah, this guy was one of the best midfielders in the world at one point.”

I know everyone is of the idea that relying on Pogba to give you anything at this point is fool’s gold, but I remain mildly hopeful that if he can stay healthy and start getting some real minutes, this team could be drastically better.

Same Old?

One of the biggest takeaways of last game was essentially whether Juventus could sustain the top form they showcased against Udinese. Obviously, the results were not quite there, with that being said — and despite some spells of play that definitely reminded you of last year — there were still some relatively encouraging signs.

The more offensively minded style that propelled Juventus to their first win of the season was still mostly there on Sunday. The pressing was there, the overlapping runs were there. The only thing that wasn’t quite there was the actual execution. That’s no minor thing, for sure, but at least tactically speaking this is a team that was doing a lot of the same things that had them looking really good just seven days earlier.

With some luck — and perhaps some extra passing drills in training? — maybe this team can look a lot more like the one at Udinese than the one we saw in their home opener.

Winner: Kenan Yildiz

All it took was a haircut for the young Turkish international to suddenly get a new contract extension. Yildiz continued his meteoric ascent from primavera/Next Gen promise to getting minutes in back-to-back Serie A games to getting a long-term commitment from the team.

As the transfer window comes to a close, Yildiz seems like a lock to remain with the first team for the foreseeable future — which is a testament to his talent, but also of how highly the team thinks of him for not only the future but as a contributor for the present as well.

With Cambiaso, Tim Weah, Nicolo Fagioli and Fabio Miretti figuring to play a heavy burden of minutes, the renewal of the squad seems like it’s well underway.

Parting Shot of the Week

Wasn’t that a bummer? After riding high, the Juventus faithful seem to be back to square one in terms of expectations for this team.

My take remains that this team is not as great as they looked for 45 minutes in the opener but not as bad as they looked for some stretches this Sunday. Until we have a bigger sample size, the name of the game continues to be not to overreact one way or another.

See you Sunday.