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Manu’s Grab Bag: Halfway Mark

We talk the two legged tie that wasn’t, important assists and black and white days.

US Salernitana v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The good news is that in what felt like a good, old-fashioned two-legged tie against Salernitana, Juventus moved on with an aggregate score of 8-2.

The bad news is that it actually wasn’t a two-legged tie, and despite trashing the relegation battlers from Salerno 6-1 in their Coppa Italia fixture midweek, Juventus had to struggle to beat Salernitana ontheir home turf, barely scraping by with a 2-1 win Sunday night.

It was a textbook trap game. After everything went right Thursday night at the Allianz Stadium — after the first 60 seconds, of course — you could bet that Salernitana wasn’t going to make it easy in their home turf.

Still, despite the Seahorses’ effort, Juventus found it within themselves to pull out another three points to finish the first half of the 2023-24 season within two points of league-leading Inter.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Danilo

This award should arguably go to Max Allegri, who changed the complexion of the game by taking out an erratic Federico Gatti at halftime and switching the Brazilian defender over to the right side of the three-man backline. That move alone changed the entire build-up and offensive phase of the game in the second half — and Danilo was a key part of it all.

While the defense is probably tighter with three natural center backs playing in Allegri’s 3-5-2, it’s clear that this team needs Danilo there to help with distribution from the back and his fullback chops shine when he’s asked to push forward on the field.

Don’t get me wrong, it will never not be an adventure to watch Gatti cavalcade forward on the attack when the lanes open up for him, but he is hardly going to serve up a peach of a cross like Danilo did for the game winner.

With Gatti being a bit too error prone as of late, it might be a good time to rest the big galoot and give Danilo more minutes in that right side of the pitch.

Runner Up: Dusan Vlahovic - Wasn’t a great all-around game from Vlahovic, but he remained engaged and hard working through it all and got his reward at the end with a thunderous header to get the winning score. He was brought in to be a game deciding player and recently he’s living up to that billing.

Stepping Up

Allegri had five outfield players available to him from the bench.

Allegri used all of them during Sunday’s game.

Sure, some of it had to do with the injury crunch and some players serving suspensions, but that’s still remarkably thin for a team that, by all intents and purposes, is in the mix for the Serie A title this season.

Not only was the bench thin, but it was pretty inexperienced as well, with three of the players being subbed in are part of Juventus youth movement in Fabio Miretti, Joseph Nonge and Samuel Iling-Junior. That’s the bad news. The good news, however? They all stepped up to the moment to help Juventus get the win in a game that had all the signs of a frustrating dropped points situation.

Iling-Junior had the biggest impact. Coming on for the beleaguered Filip Kostic as soon as the second half started, his dynamism was on full display as he gave Salernitana fits on the left wing and ended up scoring the goal that drew Juventus even. Miretti had one of his better displays, as he was stour defensively and a contributor offensively, significantly less erratic than he had been recently.

Nonge was the least impactful, but he did serve as an ideal hype man for Vlahovic as he celebrated the goal that gave Juventus the win. Good situational awareness, as valuable as an actual assist, in my opinion.

US Salernitana v Juventus FC - Serie A TIM Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

All joking aside, Allegri’s moves worked and Juventus won, but it is worrisome that in a tight spot he has to rely on players that are pretty untested. It worked against Salernitana, but will it work against top-tier competition in the league? It’s something worth monitoring at least.

Highs and Lows

Pour one out for my guy Giulio Maggiore — a beast in some FIFA save I had at one moment in which he flourished under my tutelage — who experienced the entire fulcrum of emotions in one game on Sunday.

He got the highs of scoring a beautiful goal to give Salernitana the lead, hitting the ball as true as true gets to beat Wojciech Szczesny to the far post and send the home fans into a frenzy, believing that the upset was possible.

Only to bury those hopes and get himself shown a second yellow card early in the second half by childishly fouling Adrien Rabiot on a counterattack and leaving his team down to ten men for the majority of the second half. It proved to be a handicap that was just too much for poor Salernitana, who despite playing a decent match caught another loss this season as they remain the worst team in the league and the odds on favorite for relegation.

Parting Shot of the Week

With this game, Juventus officially completed the first half of their season — and the results are extremely encouraging. This team is literally on a Scudetto-winning pace even though they’re not in first place. The’ve lost precisely once in the entire 2023-24 season. They are within two points of the top of the table and 13 (!!!) ahead of the fourth-place team and the final Champions League spot.

Considering everyone pretty much agreed at the beginning of the year that the ceiling for this squad was a top four spot, it’s fair to say that being in the thick of a title challenge is exceeding expectations. Who knows if they can keep this pace up for the remainder of the year, but they have shown enough for me to be convinced that this is a team with much higher aspirations than a top four spot. This is a team that can and should be fighting for titles again.

That feels damn good after the last few seasons, let’s enjoy it.

See you Thursday.