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Manu’s Grab Bag: Second Gear

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A flat Juventus barely squeaks by Ferencvaros to qualify to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League.

Alvaro Morata (C) of Juventus FC celebrates with Federico... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you ever wanted an argument for the concept of momentum not really existing, all you have to do is watch this Juventus team and they will give you all the arguments you need.

After one of their better performances just last Saturday, the Bianconeri came out as flat as you can come out in Tuesday night’s Champions League encounter against Ferencvaros. Sure, they came out with a W and I will take a boring win over an exciting loss any day of the week, but still. We know Juventus can beat Ferencvaros, and this was more of trying to sustain some semblance of form and progress something that the team continues to struggle with.

If you want to look on the bright side, with the three points and FC Barcelona thrashing Dynamo Kyiv, Juventus punched their ticket to the round of 16 with two games to spare, so that’s something.

Nevertheless, it was a disappointing performance overall and not what we wanted to see from the reigning Italian champs.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Juan Cuadrado

Look, no one was great in this game, but Cuadrado was one of the better performers and the fact he notched two assists puts him over the edge for the recognition.

Granted, his first assist for Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener was more on paper than what he actually accomplished with the pass. But the cross to Alvaro Morata to win it in the dying seconds more than makes up for it. It was as perfect as a cross can get. Coupled with his overall steady, if not spectacular performance, and Johnny Square keeps quietly but surely having a pretty good season so far.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt — My guy played as the lone center back literally on his second game since coming back from injury. He’s truly a spectacular player.

Season Leader: Alvaro Morata (6 Points)

Winner: Alvaro Morata

It wasn’t just the goal, it’s that he is just a better fit for the way Juventus is playing right now. And that has to bode well for the future of his second stint in Turin.

Despite Ferencvaros’ extreme park-the-bus defending style that gave Juve a headache all game long, the moment the Spanish forward came onto the pitch more lanes started to open up and clearer chances started to happen.

That’s no coincidence, and his understanding of spacing and hold-up play do wonders. It showed on two key 1 on 1 plays, that Ronaldo and Morata himself failed to convert, but the point remains.

Surely, Morata is a must-start player for Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus at the moment.

Midfield Rankings

  1. Adrien Rabiot — Shone brightest due to his absence. Despite playing very little in this game, the few minutes he featured were more than enough evidence of his place in the midfield pecking order.
  2. Arthur — Stays second more due to the performances of the others than because of his play. He wasn’t awful, but the game needed him to unlock Ferencvaros defense and failed at that.
  3. Weston McKennie — The Jack of all trades showed he’s decidedly not a master of the right wing — which is worthy experiment, I guess, but it will probably be a one and done for the young American.
  4. Rodrigo Bentancur — Not his type of game. He recovered the ball well, but in general he remains a letdown this season.
  5. Aaron Ramsey — He got minutes, so that’s something. Remember how he was the best player on the field in the season opener against Sampdoria? Good times.
  6. Sami Khedira — Did not make the bench due to him being excluded from the Champions League list. FREE SAMI.

Hungarian Pride

We have poked some good fun at Ferencvaros in this space and on the Old Lady Speaks Podcast, but I do want to say that I felt a bit bad for them when Juventus managed to win the game on the last minute.

Lower-rung teams have very little if any chance when being thrust into these types of competitions but that doesn’t mean they don’t fight and care and want to win despite the astronomical odds against them. A draw at Juventus Stadium would have been a historic result for the Ferencvaros players, and considering the stakes for the group it really wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the larger scheme of things, so it’s not like Juventus would have really suffered by dropping points there.

Alas, real life very rarely plays by what would be the fairest result, so the big team beats the small team and that’s that. Still, they can hold their head high over this result I think, good story to tell the grandchildren later on in life.

On that note, considering Juventus is always automatically drawn in to the group stage, we tend to forget that there is a long, confusing and grueling path for other teams to actually make the group stage to begin with. Ferencvaros had to play three rounds of knockouts to even make it into the seeding, it’s absurd!

Take Linfield, from Northern Ireland. They won a preliminary round all the way back in August against the Tre Fiori Football Club of San Marino, they then beat — due to disqualification because of COVID-19 cases on the other team, but still — FC Drita of Kosovo.

Legia Warsaw of Poland beat them in the next round and then Warsaw lost to a club from Cyprus and so on and so on.

What I like about this is that, technically, one could make the argument that all those small teams played in the same tournament as all the big clubs in the world. That’s kind of a nice thought, even if those clubs play in a completely different world than Juventus or Barcelona or whatever, they were all part of the same competition. Now, that’s a nice story for the grandchildren.

Parting Shot of the Week

Speaking of small teams, allow me to partake in one of the oldest and proudest traditions in the blogging game. Shameless self-promotion!

As I’m sure you are all aware the Mexican League play offs are currently ongoing and for once, my beloved Puebla FC took part and managed a massive upset over heavily favored Rayados de Monterrey. The homies at FMF State of Mind gave me a chance to write a piece about it, so here it is if you want to check it out.

On another, sadder note, as I was writing this the news broke that Diego Armando Maradona passed away at the age of 60. He never played for Juventus or had anything to do with the club, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the massive impact and influence he had on the game.

He was truly a global icon and a rebel, he was the epitome of a work-hard-play-hard lifestyle and left an indelible mark wherever he went. There’s a lot of great stuff written about him but I especially like this piece by Brian Phillips. Maradona was an immense talent and an ever bigger personality, but his life story is one of a lot of pain and problems.

See you all Saturday.