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Manu’s Grab Bag: Back in business

After a shaky start, Juve is back in the W column with a solid win against Sassuolo.

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

After a shaky, and I mean shaky, first 20 minutes on Sunday in which Juventus was giving us more of that trademark, deer-in-the-headlights kind of play that they had been displaying the last few games, the boys managed to turn it around and put forth and impressive 3-0 win against Sassuolo.

With Champions League play against Atletico Madrid just around the corner, a decisive win like this was crucial to start getting some rhythm and confidence back after the last couple dispiriting weeks.

Not everything was perfect, for example, the first time I realized Sami Khedira was playing was when he scored a tap in in the 22th minute. It was still, encouraging to see them comeback and keep their poise after a rough start.

Let’s cook.

The “Let’s build a team like we are playing FIFA” Award

I’m an avid FIFA career mode enthusiast, and I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I play I don’t like to play with good teams, it makes things too easy, too straightforward. My favorite thing is to take a minnow team in the second flight and slowly but surely build them into an European powerhouse. The inherent difficulty, of course, is that you have a bad roster and no money, so you have to buy young players to develop and old, cheap, crafty veterans to shore up your team.

So, of course, that I respect, recognize and encourage the way Sassuolo is building their team. They are applying the same concepts to a T. Loaning out young guys with potential like Domenico Berardi, Pol Lirola and Manuel Locatelli, then making their transfers definite. Hey, need a back up striker? Old, crafty guy Aleesandro Matri is here! Before selling him to Barcelona (?!?) they, somehow, also had Kevin Prince Baoteng in their squad.

I love it, it was a whole match of remembering guys and realizing that prospects are always a crapshoot. Remember when Berardi was the second coming of Pavel Nedved and Lirola would be the heir apparent to Stephan Lichtsteiner? They are fine players, but they never quite reached the level everyone hoped. Speaking of which…

The “Nut Up or Shut Up” Award

For years now, we’ve been listening how Daniele Rugani is the future of the Juventus defense. When he first joined the club, we all cut him some slack because he was behind the famed BBC and playing time was going to be hard to come by. Understandable, really. But that was 2015, almost four years now, two parts of the BBC have either departed the club — and rejoined — or precipitously fallen out of form due to age. And, yet, Rugani has struggled to truly establish himself as a starter, let alone a day-in, day-out elite center back like Giorgio Chiellini, the man he’s supposed to replace down the line.

But now, with Medhi Benatia getting filthy rich in Qatar, Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci hurt (or inconsistent and in the case of Bonucci) and Andrea Barzagli just straight up old, this is the time for Rugani to finally show everyone why he’s supposed to be the heir apparent.

Outside of an egregious mess up in the early part of the game, that he was lucky enough to be bailed out by both Woj and the VAR, he played a rather solid game. I’m still not totally sold on him as the starter against Atletico de Madrid, something that has decent odds of happening. But one thing is for certain, this is the time for Rugani to stop being someone who has “potential” and either show that potential and start pushing Bonucci and Chiellini for minutes or end up being a solid third option center back and nothing else.

This week’s VAR controversy

Oh, boy another VAR debate! Lucky me!

The inherent flaw with VAR is the same one that any other replay system has, like in the NFL or NBA. Most of these calls are razor thin and replaying them over and over again in slow motion generally shows that. Take Sunday’s play involving Wojciech Szczesny, you can easily make the argument that he takes the legs out of the Sassuolo player and should be a penalty, yet other angles show he pokes the ball out first. Depending which outcome you want, you’ll probably find the angle that either proves or disavows your point.

Truth is an NFL-style rulebook would probably help a bit. For those of you who don’t follow American football, the rule essentially states that the replay has to show enough evidence to overturn the original call on the field. So, unless the replay shows incontrovertible evidence that the call on the field is wrong, the call on the field stands. While the rule is solid, the replay system in the NFL is still cause of controversy every week.

VAR is still relatively new and will continue to have growing pains, but let’s hope the people who make the decisions find a way to figure out the way to make VAR as fair as possible.

Panic Button update on: Our mangled backline

Martin Caceres is a starter. Yes, the man who was just brought in as an emergency January signing, a seldom-used defender at Lazio is now the starter for the best team in Italy and boy, did it show.

To be fair, he improved as the game went along, but in the first half he looked slow and extremely out of rhythm, which was to be expected. I liked the Caceres signing, as depth, just because he can play several positions and knows the system. I don’t really like the signing if he’s suddenly going to be the starter.

And, yet, who else was going to start? Chiellini and Bonucci are still hurt and while Barzagli is just back in the squad after his long-term injury, he might be the only defender slower and more out of rhythm than Caceres.

Some reports signal that Chiellini and Bonucci might be back for the Atletico clash, but if they are not, Caceres will suddenly start in the most important games of the season to date. If that won’t make you hit the panic button, I don’t know what will.

Panic Button: Pushed, continuously.

Winner: Paulo Dybala





All around solid game for my large adult son.

Fun with numbers

One of the weirdest subplots of the Ronaldo signing is that for whatever reason, everyone decided he should take all the free kicks, despite the fact that he is not very good taking free kicks. And this is not just a hot take, Cristiano Ronaldo stans, here are some facts:

  • Last time Ronaldo scored a free kick goal was against Spain in the group stage during the Russia World Cup last year, that’s 8 months ago.
  • Last time Ronaldo scored an official free kick goal with his club was against Atletico de Madrid in 2016 (!!!), for those of you keeping score that’s almost three years ago.
  • During his time with Juventus, Ronaldo has taken 23 free kicks — 17 have hit the wall, 5 have gone out of bounds and one was saved by the goalkeeper. Zero goals.

I get that he is the big star, and no one is disputing the fact he is a fantastic player, but in a team that has Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala, there is simply no reason for Ronaldo to be taking any free kicks with those two on the field.

Song of the week for … Juventus FC

Back in Black, by AC/DC!

After a few subpar performances, it sure was a sight for sore eyes to see Juventus win a game by a large margin. Especially at the Mapei Stadium which had been a tricky place to play for Juventus last few years.

It was only a couple of games, but oh boy, forget the hearse ‘cause we never die.

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