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Manu’s Grab Bag: Putting a bow on 2023

We talk closing out the calendar year, the overperfoming Juventus and my feelings being hurt.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A TIM Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

In the final matchup of the 2023 calendar year against Roma, Juventus played one of their most Juventus-like games of the season.

They mostly gave away possession of the ball, got a goal early in the second half, defended like hell and — most importantly — came away with the 1-0 win over Roma on Saturday night. Just like they have done all season, as they notch their 13th W of the 2023-24 campaign and finished the calendar year in second place with 43 points, only two behind Inter Milan in the Scudetto race.

It was a fitting way to finish out the year from a team that has been as steady as steady gets in the way they have found success so far this season.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Gleison Bremer

The torch has finally been passed from Giorgio Chiellini to Gleison Bremer after this game.

It started with the No. 3 that both center backs wore on their back. It continued with their lynchpin defending and physical style as the heartbeat of Juve’s backline. And has now been completed thanks to Bremer having authored a game on Saturday in which he completely erased Romelu Lukaku from doing much of anything.

Lukaku, to his credit, has had a pretty good first half of the season with 15 goala in all competitions and has filled a perfect role in Roma’s squad next to Paulo Dybala. But he was the latest striker this season to be kept in Bremer’s pocket, as the Brazilian international took him out of the game entirely.

The big defender has been one of Juventus’ best performers this season and this game showed how absolutely domineering he can be when he’s on his best form.

Keep doing that No. 3 proud, my guy.

Runner Up: Dusan Vlahovic - His gorgeous back heel assist for Adrien Rabiot’s winner is the highlight reel play of the day, but his overall play was pretty impressive as well. Robbed from a goal early on thanks to fantastic block from Gianluca Mancini, he played a perfect game for the system that Juventus currently employs. Let’s hope he can finally start showing us these type of displays with some consistency in 2024.

Uniti

Last season, as the team was embroiled in the Prisma investigation scandal that ended up costing them European participation, the Juventus social media accounts would consistently use the hashtag #Uniti — which means “together” for all of our non-Italian speaking brethren out there — as a way to kinda rally the troops and show that the squad was together despite all of the adversity.

It was ham fisted, sure — as most things the Juve social media team tries — but it was worth a shot, despite the fact that the fans were never really all that behind a team that wasn’t playing particularly well and the players themselves really didn't seem to be enjoying the season all that much.

This season, though?

Obviously the fact that they are doing a whole lot better now in terms of results helps. But this genuinely seems like a team that came out of the ashes of last year’s disaster better off for it and it shows on the pitch. They sacrifice, they bite, they play hard, they go balls to the wall in every single game and you just know that teams that have to play them do not look forward to the matches at all.

Last season, we got tired of writing about “sleepwalking” performances, of a team that really didn’t play together or knew what they were supposed to be doing. Regardless of what your opinion is of the style this team plays, we can’t make this criticisms anymore this season.

Not only that, but both the fans and the team have managed to make the Allianz Stadium a tough place to play again. After enduring a whole campaign in which seemingly every team could come to Turin and get points. Juventus are undefeated at home and have conceded only four goals all year when playing at the Allianz.

Yeah, I buy #Uniti now.

Loser: My Feelings

Watching Dybala in a Roma jersey is still so freaking weird and I don’t particularly like it.

Dybala was one of the better players for Roma on Saturday night and had probably their two most dangerous scoring chances in the match, but goddamn, I still think he should be wearing the black and white stripes, man.

Winner: Max Allegri

In a battle of which team could defend the hardest, Allegri came out on top against Jose Mourinho.

(Side note: I really like Mourinho now? Maybe because he’s with Roma, a team that out of all of Juve’s rivals I actually kind of like, or maybe it’s just that his antics have gotten funnier with age, but I find him an endearing character now — which was decidedly not the case before.)

With the win, Max has gotten a monkey off his back during his second tenure at Juve in terms of not being able to beat top-level competition in Serie A, as they finish out the calendar year with wins over Napoli, Roma, Lazio, Milan and Fiorentina already this season. We can hem and haw about how the team plays and whether or not defensive football is — or should be — the way forward for this team. But the facts are that Allegri had one of the hottest seats in football when the season started and he has answered by winning all of one game so far and has his team in the thick of a Scudetto race that, on paper, this team should not be anywhere near.

Allegri now has 76 wins in Serie A by a 1-0 scoreline, the most of any manager in Serie A history. Here’s to a 2024 of many, many more.

Parting Shot of the Week

I’m sure 2024 has in store for us many more debates about Juventus football. About Allegri, about Dusan Vlahovic and the young guys and Federico Chiesa and pretty much every single thing that can be up for debate.

But after a season in which Juventus never really threatened for any sort of title, lost as many games against low-level competition as I can remember, and seemed to talk more about legal stuff and penalties and an intimate knowledge of the FIGC bylaws, I’m happy that this year we can talk about a team that is honest to goodness overperforming and actually threatening Inter for the title.

Whether or not this team can continue to do this in the second half of the season is still left to be seen, but I think we can safely say that 2023 is finishing way better than 2022 did.

Happy New Year, everybody, and let’s make the next one great.

See you Sunday.