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Manu’s Grab Bag: Crash & Burn

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Juventus failed their first big test of the season as they are outplayed by FC Barcelona in the first home game of the Champions League season.

(SP)ITALY-TURIN-FOOTBALL-UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE-JUVENTUS VS BARCELONA Xinhua/Cheng Tingting via Getty Images

Well, that sucked.

And it’s very easy to make the case for why Juventus lost 2-0 against FC Barcelona on Wednesday night.

They are missing a ton of guys — arguably two of their best five players and one rock solid starter — the team is very young, they are learning a new system, its still outrageously early to make any final verdicts and even with this loss they should still comfortably qualify to the knockout round of the Champions League.

That doesn’t discount the fact of how much of a bad time I — and probably a lot of the Juventus faithful — had watching the game. Other people have mentioned it, but this felt like a game of FIFA where it was all breakneck attacks from one goal to the other with very little tactical control of the match.

All and all, it was a very disappointing performance in which all of us Andrea Pirlo believers took a step back to reassess our short term expectations for this team.

A lot to talk about, very little of it good, so let’s get going.

LVP: Paulo Dybala

The case for Paulo Dybala is similar to the case for Juventus as a whole.

If you want to find excuses for the poor performances they are plenty, short off season, a number of claims that he is not 100% physically and a recent battle against sickness that has prevented him from achieving peak form.

Then again, he is Juventus’ No. 10, he is one of the vice-captains and he is the damned Serie A MVP from last season. You can cut the guy some slack, but still, it’s hard to defend what was an anonymous and listless performance from the guy that at this point in his career — and especially with Cristiano Ronaldo out — should be the player leading a team and really setting the pace.

As an unabashed Dybala stan, this hurts me more than it does you all, but fair is fair and from the type of player he is and what we expect of him I have to name him the LVP of the game.

Season Leaders: Alvaro Morata and Aaron Ramsey (2 Points)

Winner: Danilo

Raise your hand if you thought Danilo was going to be the best defender for Juventus this season so far so I can call you a liar straight to your face.

We can have a debate about whether Danilo was the best player on the pitch for Juventus against Barcelona — there’s not a lot of candidates, but Wojciech Szczęsny was pretty damn good, too. I don’t think we can have a debate about Danilo being the most reliable and best defender in the season. His shift to fullback/center back has been an absolute shot in the arm for his career and he showed out against Barcelona leading the team in tackles and all around being a stout defender for the whole match.

In a game where there were very few positives, Danilo kept on keeping on and continued his surprising campaign.

Loser: Merih Demiral

Look, Demiral is really good and, because he fits the profile of the strong, stout, warrior type of defender we have come to appreciate in Juventus land, he has become sort of a fan favorite. Obviously the board thinks highly of him as well as they steadfastly refused to sell him despite reported interest from a lot of clubs.

However, I think we can all agree that he is still pretty far from being the type of player that should be starting in big Champions League games. Despite a couple decent clearances, he was all over the place in his first big start in the European stage. He started by misplacing a pass right into Lionel Messi that almost costed Juventus an early goal and was in general very shaky with the ball on his feet.

A reckless foul in the second half costed him a second yellow and the red card which means he will miss the Ferencvaros game, which sure it is Ferencvaros, but is still not ideal to have your one healthy center back suspended for that game.

Loser: Federico Chiesa

Boy was this game a showcase for everything Chiesa does badly.

He was consistently trying to force the action, trying to dribble between two or three defenders and making head scratching passes on attack. When he wasn’t losing the ball he was just, not doing a whole heck of a lot.

To put a cherry on the awful sundae of his day, it was his deflection that caused the first goal of the evening in a long distance shot from Ousmane Dembele. The left is not his preferred flank, but still, Chiesa has to be much, much better than that if he has any plans to compete and be a starting 11 guy moving forward.

Alvaro Morata vs. VAR

I will not and I repeat, will not, relitigate the VAR offsides/spirit of the rule debate. At this point, it doesn’t matter and some of those calls were clearer than others.

What I did wanted to figure out was how inexplicably uncommon is the bad luck that Alvaro Morata has had in the early season when it comes to plays being reviewed by the virtual referee.

So far Morata has had five goals disallowed by VAR reviews, for reference in last season in the Premier League the teams with most goals disallowed by VAR were Sheffield United and West Ham with the exact same number, five.

In the span of three games, Morata somehow managed to get the same amount of goals disallowed by VAR that the unluckiest team in England had for the whole season. That’s almost more impressive than scoring those five goals would have been, our guy is making history in all the wrong ways.

Despite that, it is worth mentioning that Morata is in the short list for best player of the team in the early season and considering how unlikely it is that he keeps getting every goal disallowed you have to imagine it will even out at some point and those no goals will start turning into actual, real scores.

The Midfield Question

One of my guilty pleasures is watching cooking shows, especially cooking shows where there is some sort of competition like Top Chef. My favorite moments are always when a Michelin star winning cook, who could create the most delicious thing you have ever eaten in a heartbeat in a normal setting gets a challenge when they have to whip up something edible with freaking rattlesnake meat or some other weird thing like that.

It fascinates me to see a person that has dedicated their entire life to cooking, outright admit to the cameras “I have no idea how to cook this, I have no idea how this even tastes but I’ll wing it I guess”. Sometimes they pull it off, sometimes they don’t, but it’s always riveting TV.

To me, Pirlo is the chef and Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, Weston McKennie and Aaron Ramsey are the proverbial rattlesnake meat. In my heart of hearts, I believe there is a quality midfield hidden in those players — they are good, quality guys, but it’s going to take a good cook to figure out the right mix of those ingredients to actually make it better than the sum of its parts.

In the meantime, it’s fair to say the duo that was trotted by Pirlo on Wednesday was not the correct mix against the Blaugranas. Bentancur and Rabiot did relatively well getting the ball back, but they lacked the finesse to break down a Barcelona team that was for large stretches of time pretty content to let the Bianconeri have possession of the ball and counter them to death.

Pirlo has time and a lot of combinations to try, let’s hope he manages to find the right mix as soon as possible.

Loser: Federico Bernardeschi

Yeah, I kind of don’t really want to talk about him any more than that.

Parting Shot of the Week

At this point, all you can do is preach patience when it comes to Andrea Pirlo and Juventus.

You have to hope that with more time and more games the team finds the right way to use their players, you have to hope they start playing in a more cohesive manner, that they get their injured guys back, that some of the young guns start developing.

It’s a long season and thanks to their group, Juventus should still make the next round — most likely as the second place but still — and they are only four points off first place in Serie A, this is far from a crisis yet.

This team is too talented to play like this and too good to stay down for a long time.

It doesn’t make the losses sting any less, but it’s the only thing we can do right now, wait and hope.

See you Sunday.