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Manu’s Grab Bag: Dazed and Confused

Ajax moves on, as the Dutch side put on a clinic in Torino.

Juventus v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Truly a breath of fresh air. We just watched a squad firing on all cylinders, play the exact game they needed to play, while out-playing, out-coaching, out-hustling and just running off the pitch a clearly inferior squad.

This is what happens when you maintain continuity, invest in the right talent, play to win and you do so it with some goddamn panache. I enjoyed watching the lads, thoroughly and I look forward to watching them go on and take their rightful place as a European powerhouse.

But enough about Ajax! Let’s talk about our bottling ass squad, shall we?

On we go!

Loser: Juventus

If you didn’t know any better, a random football fan would have been hard pressed to imagine that Juventus was supposed to be the favorites in this matchup. It’s really hard to find one aspect of the game in which Juventus performed well.

The midfield was overrun all game long, as we got the trifecta of getting Bad Blaise Matuidi, Bad Emre Can AND Bad Miralem Pjanic. All due respect to all three of those players, who have seen better days without a doubt, but all of their vulnerabilities were exposed on Tuesday night’s match. We all know Matuidi has a rough touch, to put it kindly, that Pjanic lacks physicality and Can is hit or miss with his positioning.

So it was a true joy to watch all those three vulnerabilities get exploited by a superb Ajax midfield all in one game. After flirting with disaster against pressing teams for what feels like two or three years now, we finally got the meltdown we all saw coming in the middle of the pitch.

Let’s talk defense, though. Hell, I’ll do y’all one better:

Juventus v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

If that isn’t this season’s failures in a nutshell. You got Daniele Rugani, who despite a promising showing in the Netherlands, continued to disappoint those people that have him pegged as a future starter with his outing on Tuesday. Alex Sandro has looked like a shell of the guy who was, arguably, the best left back in the world a couple seasons ago. And Leo Bonucci, a marquee signing that has consistently underperformed all season long and threw in a few off the field controversies to boot. The three of them, failing to stop what would ultimately be the deciding goal from Ajax defender and Juve transfer target Matthijs de Ligt, a guy who is leaps and bounds a superior player than the after mentioned trio.

A picture says a thousand words, indeed.

Winner: Wojciech Szczęsny

Probably the sole bright spot of Juventus squad, with a case to be made for Paulo Dybala before getting hurt and Cristiano Ronaldo due to his goal.

Woj, and some shaky officiating, is legitimately the only reason this game did not turn out to be a blowout. Not a whole lot he could have done in Ajax’s two scores, but he saved a few shots that should have gone in and acted like one of the few players out there that actually cared.

With an uncertain future lying ahead for Juventus, we know one thing at least — the sticks are covered by the Polish keeper.

Panic Button Update: Just … the whole damn thing, man.

It really bears mentioning again how every single thing we knew was a weak spot for this team came to fruition this game. The midfield fell apart, the underperforming players never got to where they were expected to get, they could never break the press and the lack of depth hurt them when they needed the most.

(Somewhere in the Middle East, Medhi Benatia laughs and laughs as he counts his millions.)

And just to be clear: This is not a fluke, this is not just a team waking up on the wrong side of the bed and getting beat by an opportunistic squad. Truth is, you can only walk the tightrope so many times before you fall and Juventus showed all of these issues time and time again during the season, getting by on flashes of talent alone, never really finding a solution to the recurring problems that ailed the team.

Tuesday was just a culmination. It almost happened in the Round of 16 against Atletico Madrid and if it didn’t happen tonight, it would have happened sooner or later.

Truth is, outside of some early spells in the season and some intermittent moments, Juventus was a consistently underperforming team that had fundamental flaws, that were just waiting to be exploited by the right team.

Who would have thought that team would have been the young Dutch upstarts, but so it went.

Panic Button Update:

The #AllegriOut Meter

To be fair, Juventus brass came out of the woodwork to defend Max Allegri and to state over and over again that he will be back as manager next season. So this is just completely uninformed speculation, but it sure feels like his time with the club has run its course.

I have often been a staunch Allegri defender, and I think at least, with good reason. The numbers speak for themselves; Juventus has been by and large one of the most successful clubs in Europe, both domestically and in continental competitions during his tenure. Four straight Scudetti and Coppa Italia, with a fifth Scudetto all but mathematically secured. Two finals appearances and a fixture in the knockout rounds in the Champions League, the team grew leaps and bounds from the Conte days where Juventus was a fixture … in the Europa League. Sure, the Big Ears trophy continues to elude Juventus, but to consider the entire Allegri tenure a failure because he hasn’t been able to win it is pretty short sighted.

To consider this season a failure, though? Pretty fair.

Even as an Allegri Stan, it sure looks like his time at the club has gone as far as it can possibly go. Probably time for a change.

Five out of five in the #AllegriOut scale. The “Got thoroughly owned by Ajax at home in the Champions League” of the scale.

Hot Seat: The Juventus project

Just financially it will be very interesting to see how Juventus manages to keep some sort of fiscal balance. You don’t shell out €100 million for Ronaldo — with €30 million net for wages — €40 million to bring back Leo Bonucci, an extra €40 million for Joao Cancelo and whatever outrageous wages Emre Can got to get bounced in the Champions League quarterfinals.

You do that to win it, plain and simple. Not only for the sporting reasons, but also for the financial windfall that comes with lifting the most coveted club trophy in football.

How does a financially strapped squad, reinforce on the go, without selling any key players? That’s a question that I, and Juventus’s bookkeepers, would probably like to know the answer.

The most likely answer, though? They don’t. So, it’s very likely we are saying goodbye to the likes of Paulo Dybala, Alex Sandro or even Miralem Pjanic. We might very well be looking at the end of an era for Juventus.

Song of the week for … Juventus FC

The End by, The Doors!

Of our elaborate plans, the end.

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