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Manu’s Grab Bag: Rumba de Barcelona

Juventus shocks Barcelona by three scores to top their Champions League group.

FC Barcelona v Juventus: Group G - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Never in doubt, not even for one second in doubt, always believed.

I don’t care about all the talk about the worst Barcelona team in years and it was two penalty kicks and all the caveats you want to throw out there. Juventus went to Camp Nou and put the smackdown on Barcelona by a score line of 3-0 on Tuesday night — that’s not something that happens every day, and regardless of circumstance something that’s worth acknowledging and celebrating.

While the esoteric significance of such a historic win can be debated all you want, for practical purposes this was also a massive win because now Juventus is going to go in the first pot in the Champions League draw for the round of 16. That’s no small thing considering that they will avoid the heavyweight favorites like Bayern Munich and Liverpool in the first knockout round.

To be the best you have to beat the best and all that, but if we can maybe wait a few more rounds to beat them — or better yet avoid them altogether! — it’s all fine by me.

Juve’s roller coaster of a season had yet another surprise, thankfully a good one this time, so let’s cook.

MVP: Weston McKennie

Consider me impressed.

When I did my start of the season power rankings, I put the young American in the wild card tier. Meaning, he might be just a rotational guy or actually get heavy minutes and be a key player. I wasn’t sure.

Looks like we have our answer because McKennie just stepped onto the field between two European heavyweights and did work. His pressing and constant hounding of Barcelona players was key in the early goings of the game to take control of the proceedings, he scored a tremendous goal to put the team up by two and then defended his ass off for the rest of his time of the field.

It was just a thoroughly impressive performance by a guy who few had even heard of earlier this year.

Runner Up: Cristiano Ronaldo – Didn’t have a tremendous game overall, but there are little to no other players you would rather have taking PKs in key moments. Also sacrificed a lot during the second-half all-hands-on-deck defensive plan Juventus deployed.

Season Leader: Alvaro Morata (6 points)

Winner: Gianluigi Buffon

There was a moment around the 20th minute of the first half when one of the many long-distance efforts Lionel Messi had on the evening was parried out by Buffon. As soon as he did so he sprung to his feet and proceeded to give absolute hell to his backline for even allowing such a shot to reach him.

It’s a scene Juve fans have seen time and time again during Buffon’s time as a Juventus player and one that shouldn’t shock anyone. What was shocking was that this was happening in a big Champions League game in the year 2020 as the 42-year-old Buffon turned back the clock to keep a clean sheet for the Bianconeri.

To be fair, Buffon didn’t really have that many difficult saves to make — testament to how little the Juve defense allowed Barcelona in terms of chances — but it was still remarkable that even in the twilight of his career he can still be as sure as ever on those saves. Not only that but the command and presence he has of the backline is something otherworldly. Despite how good Wojciech Szczęsny has been as the starting keeper — and he is the better keeper at this point in their respective careers — that ability to rally the troops and organize the defense is the one thing Buffon still has him (and most every keeper alive) beat at.

My No. 10

That’s Paulo Dybala on the bench heartily trolling Ronald Koeman with the internationally recognized sign of a VAR review after Juventus were given their second PK of the night.

Apparently Koeman was incensed that the Juventus bench were asking for a yellow card for Clement Lenglet, the culprit of the handball that caused the VAR review. This second yellow card would have seen the French defender sent out due to him already accruing one earlier in the match.

In the larger scheme of things, this didn’t really matter that much, but it was nice to see Dybala in good spirits despite all the things going on right now with his contract, form and place in the Juventus squad. The only thing worse than a star player underperforming is a moody star player underperforming. Luckily, it seems that’s not the case.

(If nothing else, the great VAR experiment of the last few years has given everyone in the world a lingua franca for a sign to troll your buddies when something they thought was a sure thing is not so much.)

Victory Lap

In the last Grab Bag, I continued to push the theory that this team has a lot of similarities to the 2015/16 team. While making that allegory I pointed out this tidbit:

“In that 2015 season, that Torino win sparked their rally that ended up with the Bianconeri winning their fifth straight title. I swear if after this, the team comes out guns blazing, beats FC Barcelona and goes on a roll I will never shut up about it.”

This is me, not shutting up about it.

Please disregard every other awful take I have had on this site and focus on this one time I was right, thank you very much.

Choose Your Fighter

I really like how the whole pointless media focus on the game as a Messi vs. Ronaldo debate can be neatly encapsulated in those two GIFs.

Neatly taking an insulated moment in a 90-minute match to base your entire argument around whatever it is you already believe. Never freaking change, social media discourse, never change.

(For what it’s worth, the whole Messi vs. Ronaldo debate is idiotic and I dislike people who choose to engage with it equally. So, in the interest of full disclosure, my take is that Santiago Ormeño, Puebla FC’s starting striker, is better than both. I’ve said my peace.)

Midfield Rankings

  1. Adrien Rabiot — Came on late to help preserve the lead. Was fine at it, I still think he’s the best of the bunch, but he’s got a couple guy nipping at his heels.
  2. Weston McKennie — Climbs back to second place after his massive game against Barcelona. Juventus were missing a midfielder like him for a while, and if he can keep pushing with those dangerous runs, he will be a no doubts about it starter.
  3. Arthur — Was good soaking up the pressure and distributing the ball against his former team. Did well, but he has such an enticing mix of skills that I still think he has several more gears to get to.
  4. Rodrigo Bentancur — Been better as of late, but I still think given the expectations we had of him coming into the season he’s falling short.
  5. Aaron Ramsey — Useful Aaron Ramsey! The second goal doesn’t happen without him and was key in the first half on Tuesday. If he can keep this up and have some sort of consistency he will shoot up the ranking easily.
  6. Sami Khedira — Still a really nice dude who deserves better.

Parting Shot of the Week

Obviously, the biggest and direct impact of this win will be their improved seeding for the Champions League Round of 16 as mentioned in the introduction to this piece.

However, the potentially bigger impact could be the mood and perception of the club and the locker room. Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus haven’t had back-to-back big wins like this ever, and we have talked about the need to start having some consistency and to start generating momentum. There’s no bigger platform to actually generate such momentum as this one.

Paradoxically, their biggest game will now be against Genoa on Sunday. I Rossoblu sit 19th on the table and has been exactly the type of team that Juventus has — shockingly — struggled against this season. If Juve come out and blow the doors of a team that is reeling and is decidedly less talented — as they should — it’s going to be further evidence this team might have finally turned a corner.

If they don’t, well, Tuesday was sure nice anyway.

See you Sunday.