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Manu’s Grab Bag: Resolutions

We talk Dusan Vlahovic’s big night, a story of redemption for a Juventus player and Kenan Yildiz pushing the issue.

Juventus v US Sassuolo - Serie A TIM Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

There’s two schools of thought when it comes to the New Year.

The first, more cynical one is that it doesn’t mean anything. The calendar is all a sham. A man made concept that is not even as accurate as it should be when it comes to measuring the rotation of our pale blue dot around the sun. The same person you are today in 2023 is going to be the same person you are tomorrow even if technically you are in 2024.

The second one is that yes, all of those things are true, but I still find it reassuring that as a collective human species we decide that a New Year is an inherent and natural opportunity to believe in self improvement. For one’s self and for everyone around you. There is optimism in that, there is humanity in that. Perhaps most people don’t capitalize on that and end up being the same old people, but just the communal belief of that makes it all worth it.

I subscribe to the second theory, and God as my witness it seems that our beloved Juventus is subscribing to that one, too. Tuesday evening against Sassuolo — the only team in Serie A that has defeated the Bianconeri all year long — they were decidedly a different team than the one they were in 2023.

Continuing their January romp, Juventus blew out Sassuolo by a 3-0 scoreline at the Allianz Stadium as they kept pace with Inter Milan in what sure looks like a legit title race at this point.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Dusan Vlahovic

That’s exactly what an €80 million euro player looks like, ladies and gentleman. Vlahovic continues his excellent run of form as of late and won the game with two gorgeous pieces of class to get himself a brace.

We’ve talked before about how Vlahovic seems like a guy that needs to be confident in order to produce the best results possible — and he sure looks like a confident man right now. You don’t attempt the shots he did if you are not feeling yourself somewhat and you sure as hell don’t make them either.

His free kick prowess continues to be a pleasant added bonus to his overall game and the water is finding its level when it comes to his finishing prowess. After leading the league for a while in big chances missed, it seems like he’s turned a corner and he’s executing high Leven finishes more and more often. Juventus are going to need this Vlahovic to sustain their title push.

Runner Up: Manuel Locatelli - Is there a more important player to this team right now than Manuel Locatelli? When he’s in form and playing the way he is right now this midfield looks exceedingly more competent. Slowly but surely you can see the vision Max Allegri had in making him a central midfielder as his passing range is starting to equal his defensive chops in that position.

We have to talk about Kenan

This Kenan Yildiz thing is real, people.

Sure, this was his “quietest” game of the past month, but the fact that he’s still getting starts over Federico Chiesa is starting to look less like an injury caused patch and more of a conscious decision by Max Allegri.

(Very quick but RIP to the “Max Allegri Will Never Start Young Players” narrative. It was always kind of bogus but between this year and last I think we can give the man some credit in the hand he’s had in developing all the youngsters that the Juve Next Gen program is churning out. Even in his first stint he’s always shown that if you are good enough you will get minutes in his squad and Yildiz is the latest example of it.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chiesa as much as the next guy. I’m super glad he got himself on the scoresheet again in this game, too. But, in the 3-5-2 formation that has been a mainstay for Juventus this season, Yildiz just fits the team so much better than Chiesa does. It’s no coincidence that Vlahovic — and Arek Milik — has looked a lot better when flanked by Yildiz rather than the Italian international.

Thanks to his vision, touch and distribution, Yildiz is a much more natural fit as a second striker — in a way Paulo Dybala was when played in that position — and the whole team naturally benefits from a guy with his skillset.

I’m very far from saying Chiesa is expendable thanks to Yildiz’s come up. After all, he is only 18 years old and he’s bound to hit a rough patch of play eventually as most teenagers playing professionally do. Also, with the imminent incorporation next season of Matias Soule, a formation shake up could be in the cards for Juventus that would allow Chiesa to slot in to a much more natural position wide.

But if his form of play keeps up, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that the Turkish wunderkind is the better fit to close out this season.

Redemption

Wojciech Szczesny had himself a hell of a revenge in this one.

After he imploded in the matchup against this very same Neroverdi squad back in September, you can bet Woj had this game circled. He has been as steady as ever since that game, but on Tuesday he came up with key saves in key moments to make this win as easy as it could be for Juventus.

Of biggest note was his one hander, all reflexes, parry save on a deflected shot by Domenico Berardi in a crucial moment of the game in which a goal could have made things a bit shakier than they had any right of being.

It was a solid game by a man who has embodied this year’s steady and reliable Juve style as anybody else.

Parting Shot of the Week

With the win, Juventus continues their win streak as they become the best team in Italy when playing in home ground with 8 wins and only two draws to their name.

They have also scored 15 goals in all competitions in their last four matches. I mentioned before about how it was a bit of water finding its level when it came to finishing for Vlahovic and I think that has something to do as well with their recent torrid goal scoring form. Juventus had been generating decent chances they had just failed to convert them. Chalk these games to them finally converting a decent clip.

As the second half of the season fully gets underway, the much maligned Bianconeri have matched Inter Milan every step of the way so far in what is a thrilling title run that could very well be decided in a few weeks time when the two teams meet.

Buckle up, people.

See you Sunday.