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Manu’s Grab Bag: Stunned

We talk the defeat in Milan, the lights shining too bright and the guys that stepped up.

Inter v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu via Getty Images

Well, the title race was fun while it lasted at least.

Juventus strolled into the Giuseppe Meazza on Sunday night hoping to leave it in first place with a win against Inter Milan and to set fire to the Scudetto race. Unfortunately for the Bianconeri, it was not meant to be, as the 1-0 scoreline did not favor the visiting team.

With the defeat — just their second in the season — Juventus fell four points behind Inter Milan, who also have a game in hand. If Inter were to win that game against Atalanta, the gap could open up to seven points — a lead that will surely feels insurmountable considering how well the Nerazzurri are playing and with no head-to-head matchups left.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Manuel Locatelli

This is the type of game that puts into question the ceiling of Manuel Locatelli playing in the center of the midfield.

We’ve seen stretches in which he’s looked at home in the position — dictating the pace, being accurate with his passing, defending extraordinarily. Stretches in which you can see what the vision was when Max Allegri started to play him in that position full time.

Yet, when the competition ramps up, he’s struggled mightily — and Sunday’s match was a fine example of it. Inter just lived in Juve’s side of the field during the first half, their relentless press coupled with the Bianconeri’s willingness to cede initiative to the home side wasn’t necessarily surprising. It’s not an untenable strategy either, as long as you have enough of a threat to break on the counter and a lot of that responsibility in terms of releasing outlet passes comes down to the center midfielder in that scenario.

Locatelli wasn’t up to snuff to do that on Sunday. Granted, he didn't get a lot of help from his wingbacks — who we will discuss in a second — but he just lacked the composure and vision to break Juve from the control that Inter held on the match. True, elite players in that position are supposed to help you steady the waters and hold possession in situations like that. Think of what a guy like Andrea Pirlo or peak Miralem Pjanic used to do playing from there.

You might think that comparing Locatelli to a guy like Pirlo is unfair, but if Juventus are going to get back to being a team with title-winning aspirations, that’s the bar that we have to set for a guy that should theoretically be a building block for Juventus moving forward.

Shook

Locatelli wasn’t the only guy who faltered under the bright lights of a huge Derby d’Italia.

Andrea Cambiasso, one of the guys that shone the brightest during Juve’s almost perfect January, was completely out hustled and out matched by a great Federico Dimarco on the wing. Cambiaso struggled to make an impact on the ball and was straight up dangerous in the second half to his own team as he rather foolishly gave up possession a couple of times close to Juve’s box. In a game that really needed a spark, a guy that most people looked for that spark was nowhere to be seen.

Kenan Yildiz was another guy that finally looked his age. After a torrid start to the calendar year, Yildiz struggled with the pace and physicality of the game as he got mostly neutralized from the game. It was probably a bit out there to expect a teenager to carry Juve in a game so important, but he disappointed in his biggest test so far.

Dusan Vlahovic wasted the only big chance the team generated in the first half with a legitimately atrocious first touch that was heard all around the world. Filip Kostic is still probably aimlessly trying crosses everywhere but the head of a Juventus player. Adrien Rabiot looked rusty and outmatched all game long.

Even the subs were bad. Federico Chiesa had exactly zero moments of danger during his time on the field, Timothy Weah was marginally better than Kostic, but it speaks more about how bad Kostic was really than anything great Weah did.

In a game in which every single player had to be perfect for Juventus to have any chance, almost everyone no showed. That’s a credit to Inter sure, but it’s also a reality check of how ready for prime time this Juve team really is. Or isn’t.

Bright Spot

I’d be remiss if I didn't shout out the guys who actually had performances worthy of Sunday night’s top-of-the-table clash.

Gleison Bremer and Wojciech Szczesny were incredible against Inter. Both of them had plays that saved goals against Inter that could have made the scoreline a whole lot bulkier than it ended up being.

FC Internazionale v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Simone Arveda/Getty Images

In terms of pure talent and form, those two are probably the only solid cases you could make that are better than their Milanese counterparts. Bremer is, for my money, the best pure defender in Serie A at the moment, as he held a guy like Lautaro Martinez pretty quiet, a feat in and of itself.

Woj has been on a streak of truly peak saves that have put him at a different level lately. Both were the lone bright spots for Juventus on Sunday and deserve a shout out.

(OK, Weston McKennie played pretty well, too, my mistake. Though I still don’t think he would crack the joint starting eleven of Inter and Juventus he played well on Sunday.)

Parting Shot of the Week

The Coppa Italia is a great competition, too, man.

There’s still a lot of season left, but with the way our hated rival is playing it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which they fumble a potential seven point lead. Still, weirder things have happened and despite getting outplayed on Sunday this game still marks only the second defeat that Juventus has suffered which is honestly still pretty great all things considered.

I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope that the tide can be reversed in Serie A, but you’re never out until truly you’re out. Let’s hope for a quick bounce back.

See you Monday.