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Manu’s Grab Bag: The title race is over

Juventus gets a hard fought W at Napoli to all but secure an eight straight Scudetto.

SSC Napoli v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

It’s never uneventful whenever Juventus visits Napoli — especially the last few seasons. And Sunday’s 2-1 win was not the exception. It was a hard fought, absolutely bonkers game with the two teams ending the game playing 10 v 10, bunch of close calls and high tempers.

Call me crazy, and I know the background is not quite there as with other historic rivals, but I think the true Derby D´Italia has been Napoli vs. Juve the last few years. They have consistently been the only team to really put pressure on the Bianconeri for the title and every single game is packed to the grills with anticipation and emotion. The hate is there, too, if you had any doubts refer to Kalidou Koulibaly’s foul on Paulo Dybala in the closing stages of the game as well as Napoli’s clear and unapologetic middle finger to the fair play rules immediately afterwards.

So, yeah, give me the Partenopei as a true showcase of Serie A greatest current rivalry any day of the week. All disrespect to Inter, get at least within 20 points from us at the very least before calling yourselves our “rivals”, you bums.

Let’s do it.

Trending Up: My confidence in Juventus’ dead ball game

Two goals from dead ball situations! Honestly, great to see.

To be fair, Juventus had scored 9 goals from dead ball situations before this game, with Emre Can’s header making it 10. And what a play! The design was great with Leonardo Bonucci making a stunt run in order to free up Can in the middle and for Federico Bernardeschi to place a pinpoint cross, making the German’s job that much easier. (All he had to do was think about what celebration he wanted to do.) I almost shed a tear that design was so beautiful. And we could probably use a couple of those in a couple of weeks against Atletico de Madrid.

Speaking of beautiful things, Juventus scored their first free kick goal of the season when Miralem Pjanic scored an absolute pearl from the spot. It was sure refreshing to see and almost made up for his absolutely ridiculous handball that got him sent off in the second half and put the game at risk… almost.

Weird how they finally get one once Cristiano Ronaldo stopped shooting rockets at the wall, huh? YES, COME AT ME, CR7 STANS, LET ME HEAR IT.

Trending Down: Cristiano Ronaldo

Two straight sections criticizing Ronaldo. I WILL BATHE IN YOUR RAGEFUL TEARS, CR7 STANS.

All kidding aside, Ronaldo had a pretty poor game — when you are around the same neighborhood as the goalkeeper for touches in the whole game, you know you didn’t bring your A-game. To top it all off, the missed chance he had on the counterattack with Bernardeschi was brutal, I mean look at this:

That’s as easy play as you’ll get and he completely flubbed it. Hell, I could have made that pass … granted in FIFA, but still! Light touch to the Y button, boom, that’s a goal and we skip all the drama.

Let’s make something clear, off the field issues aside: Ronaldo has had a great season. He will most likely finish as top scorer in Serie A and one of the most used and productive players in the squad. This is not a criticism of his season as a whole, but he looks a bit tired and should be given the day off against Udinese next Friday.

This Week’s VAR controversy

Am I crazy or does Juventus have an inordinate amount of controversial VAR calls? It’s nuts. This week we had Alex Meret’s red card and Alex Sandro’s handball.

Let’s dissect it. While Meret’s contact with Ronaldo was minimal, I think the red card is absolutely warranted and that seems to be the consensus amongst the general opinion, a small subset of degenerates who think every call that goes Juventus’ way is the wrong call aside. Napoli’s goalkeeper does interfere with the streaking Ronaldo, and if he doesn’t jump he probably gets tripped and hurt pretty bad. Reckless play by Meret, it’s unclear if VAR actually reviewed it, but the ref got it right.

As far as Sandro’s handball goes … look, I don’t know how you decide that was an intentional handball, especially after watching it in slow motion. I think it’s pretty clear the ball bounces off Sandro’s chest first. Either way, as a great philosopher once said, ball don’t lie as Lorenzo Insigne bounced it off the post and a disaster was averted. Still, very shaky game from referee Gianluca Rocchi as a whole.

Parting shot of the week

That’s just silly. Plus-16 over the runner-up.

Plus-24 and plus-25 over the Milan clubs. Plus-39 goal differential. Undefeated.

It’s reasonable for people to be focused on the Champions League. That is the elusive goal, that’s what the Ronaldo signing was about and it’s human nature to take for granted something that by now is expected. But to be this in control of the league, this early is almost unheard off. We are in March and for all intents and purposes Serie A is done.

At this point, the only thing that worries me is if Juventus social media team will run out of gimmicky hashtags to use whenever Juve wins yet another league title.

The bigger question, however, is this, can we make it 10 in a row? It’s not crazy to suggest, right? Sure, the Milan clubs have been constant disappointments this decade, marred in ineffective leadership and financial constraints. Napoli has presented strong competition, but has failed to close it out. Roma and Fiorentina have been decent on and off, but can’t really compete against the big boys. Not Juventus’s fault that all other Italian clubs continue to be the living embodiment of this meme.

The point being, competition has not been tremendously strong, but the fact still remains that an eight consecutive Scudetto is an astonishing feat . And yet, somehow even more impressive? It doesn’t seem like a big deal.

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