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Manu’s Grab Bag: Hope

We talk elite strikers, moves that worked and Juventus giving positive signs.

Football, Italian Serie A: Juventus FC vs SS Lazio Photo by Federico Tardito/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

I had a hard and fast rule when it came to early hours games for Juventus: If I have to wake up at or before 7 a.m. on a weekend, I’m not watching live. I’ll catch the replay, I’ll watch the highlights, I’ll read all the excellent recaps and content here at your friendly neighborhood Juve blog BWRAO — self plug! — but I will not wake up that early on a freaking weekend.

This rule has applied even more because, for the last few seasons, odds were that you were just waking up to watch Juventus either self-combust in a horrible game or turn in a barely average performance that more often than not just put you to sleep anyways.

However, thanks to their decent start of the season this year — and a handy assist from my dog, who was a straight up punk and decided she wanted to go for her morning walk at 6:30 a.m. — I watched the game live, and ... I was shockingly not disappointed.

Juventus played one of their best games in at least a couple of years, as they dismantled Lazio in a convincing 3-1 victory at the Allianz Stadium. It was as good of a performance as they could have authored in a result that was, pretty much from the get-go, never in doubt.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Dusan Vlahovic

I remember early on in Gonzalo Higuain’s tenure with Juventus a game against Sassuolo in which the new signee scored a brace in a 3-1 win. The second goal was a banger, but the one I really want to talk about is the first one.

(You can find both on the video below)

At first sight, it looks like a relatively normal goal — Juventus hits Sassuolo on the counter, Paulo Dybala releases Higuain with a perfectly weighted pass down the right wing and he scores easily in the box with a low and sharp shot near the post. It was unstoppable. It almost looks easy, but it’s not. There’s a certain quality that elite strikers have and that is how clinical they all are. If you give them the slightest opening they’ll make you pay because they only need one shot, one chance to make the play.

Think of the difference between the finishing of Higuain above and, say, other Juve strikers current and former. Think of Moise Kean, Alvaro Morata or Arek Milik — they are all good players, but they miss those shots far more often than a guy like Higuain did. They don’t make it look as effortless, they don’t make it look as easy. That’s the difference between good and great.

Dusan Vlahovic was great Saturday. Neither one of his goals were easy, but he sure made them seem that way. On his opener, he had to one-time a tricky pass from Manuel Locatelli that is in that weird phase between on the ground and in the air. On the second, he had to control a long ball from Weston McKennie, dribble through two defenders and find the space between a third defender that’s closing him out. Lazio gave him tiny windows to make those plays work. He made both work somehow. Vlahovic still has a long way to go before reaching the heights that a guy like Higuain did, but games like the one Saturday make you believe he can get there.

Runner Up: Weston McKennie - The right wingback that could. Nobody and I mean nobody had any hopes that McKennie could make that fit as a right wingback work but he had one of his best games in a Juve shirt while playing in that position. He made use of every ounce of his athleticism and physicality as he thrived both in defense and in offense. Just a great game from a much maligned guy that never really deserved it. Good for him.

Winner: Max Allegri

You know what? Paraphrasing the words of one Teddy KGB in the movie Rounders:

He beat us, pay that man his compliments. Playing Federico Chiesa in a quasi-second striker role is actually good. The 3-5-2 looks great. Even McKennie is playing well as a right wingback. The fans are straight up chanting his name in the Curva Sud after — once again — beating Maurizio Sarri in a big game.

A lot of the funky stuff that we were not sure about when the season started suddenly start making a lot of sense when the team performs like they did in this game. Of course, the big question will be whether they can keep this up, but this feels sustainable in a way that other spurts of good form don’t. A big factor of why I believe they can keep this up is the fact that they don’t have to prepare for a game every three days as they have been doing for essentially the last 13 years.

The team has more time to assimilate concepts and train them during the week. They can afford to go through growing pains. They can afford to stick with it when you don’t have to play Paris Saint-Germain two days after a Sunday kickoff in which you didn’t look all that great.

We mentioned before how the tactics and playing style of Juve had remained consistent so far and that it was all about execution now. Well, execution is slowly but surely getting here.

Parting Shot of the Week

The Allegri 2.0 era has a — not unwarranted — reputation of folding against the tougher opposition. Every time they would drop points against fellow top four competitor or in European tournaments, some version of the same tweet would pop up making note of how bad Juventus was against good teams.

With that context, it was key for Juventus to get their first positive result of the season against a quality team over the weekend. Lazio may or may not end up challenging for titles this year, but this undoubtedly was Juve’s toughest test to date and they passed it with flying colors.

It’s very early, but Juventus so far has given us enough to hope so far.

See you Saturday.